In addition to our regular match previews on the eve of our CL fixtures, we’re publishing a series of articles looking at each of our host clubs and their cities in a little more depth. Today, Matthew Philpotts guides us through Milan.
Rijkard, Gullit, van Basten. Maldini, Baresi, Costacurta.
At the dawn of the 1990s, Kevin Dillon, Roy Aitken, and Micky Quinn didn’t quite have the same cachet. Neither did Mark Stimson, Kevin Scott, and Benny Kristensen for that matter.
And needless to say, the crumbling windswept, half-empty terraces of St James didn’t inhabit the same world as the shimmering jewel of the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza and its iconic winding ramps that we first witnessed at Italia 90 and then on Football Italia. Thank God the now creaking old edifice has recently been saved from impending demolition!
While we were getting relegated and sinking inexorably down Division Two, Arrigo Sacchi’s “immortals” were winning back-to-back European Cups in 1989 and 1990. Sandwiched in a run of three CL finals in 1993-95, the 4-0 destruction of Barcelona by that team’s immediate successors, Fabio Capello’s “invincibles”, was an era-defining victory.
AC Milan were truly the icons of that age.
Mind you, it wasn’t always that way before those Berlusconi bunga bunga teams of the late 80s and early 90s. Founded in the 1890s, Milan enjoyed unprecedented success in the 1900s with three Serie A titles, before another trophy-laden period in the 1950s. In between, not so much. In fact nothing at all. Remind you of anyone, just a little?
If we’re doing comparisons, then Milan, like Newcastle, is very much a standard bearer for the North, with very different cultural attitudes, or at least perceptions, than the South of Italy. And like Newcastle, it’s an area shaped by its proximity to the country’s northern border. Extending into the Alps and butting up to Switzerland, the wider Milan area is strongly influenced by Central European traditions rather than those of the Mediterranean South which so many associate with Italy.
But there the similarities end. While the two cities might share a fierce work ethic, Milan’s status as the economic powerhouse of the country – the wealthiest city in Italy and home to the Italian stock exchange – gives the Milanese a reputation for being more business-like, stand-offish, and snobbish and less convivial and welcoming than their Southern compatriots. Hardly a match for the legendary Geordie hospitality.
In footballing terms, it’s perhaps no coincidence then that it was the two Milan clubs that pioneered a more hard-headed professional approach in Italy in the 1950s, including the adoption – from Switzerland, as it happens – of the uncompromising, ultra-defensive catenaccio. Success followed. Lots of it.
As for the division within the city between AC Milan and their fellow San Siro residents Inter, that came from a split in the original Association Football and Cricket Club of Milan in 1908. While Milan – ironically always given its English name even in Italy because of its English founder – wanted to concentrate more on Italian players, the breakaway club founded its identity on being open to all nationalities. Hence Internazionale.
Thereafter, it was traditionally Milan whose support came from the working classes and trade unions, while Inter fans were more bourgeois and middle class. In fact, while Milan were once known as the casciavit, literally “screwdrivers”, to reflect their blue collar origins, Inter were referred to as bauscia (braggarts or snobs) and their fans as moteretta because they could afford to drive scooters while their rivals relied on public transport.
That distinction has long since evaporated, not least because of the Berlusconi years and Milan’s wealthy reputation. Toon fans travelling this time around will be drinking – resolutely mackem-free – in the midst of Milan fashion week. But where?
Well, the bars and restaurants of the canal area are the obvious place to start. A visit to the Duomo and then a saunter through the sumptuous shopping colonnades of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II are a must. If we’re going the whole hog, then a visit the opera at La Scala or a trip up the road to Lake Como would be suitably stylish accompaniments to the football in swanky modern-day Milan. A personal favourite is the design museum, the Triennale di Milano.
Understandably, much attention next week will be devoted to Tonali’s return to the boyhood club that sold him, but that’s small beer in the grand scheme of things. With their seven triumphs in Europe’s premier club competition, I Rosseneri are genuine European footballing royalty.
And for those of us whose footballing education came in the late 1980s, this feels like unfinished business. Last time around, we got to play at the San Siro but not against the red and black shirts that Maldini and van Basten wore in that version of football that seemed so impossibly far-removed from our struggles to compete with Plymouth, Oxford United, and Port Vale. It still seems crazy that we’re here at all, no matter the result.
Oh and that’s also the same shirt, let’s not forget, that was borne in such style by the mighty Andreas Andersson. But that’s an altogether different story.
Newcastle United – Key information for Newcastle fans travelling to Milan for the Champions League tie – click here
Newcastle United Supporters Trust – Supporters Trust Guide to Milan – click here