Your hungry eyes are first greeted by the protruding, maroon, metal slabs, positioned at each corner of San Siro like wings on some interstellar orb. Star-struck, and gaining closer to the place you’ve been dreaming of for the past month, you’re instantly drawn to the iconic coiled columns, engines, poised to shoot off into a distant galaxy. And as the undulating roof, the tunnelling facade and the razor teeth of the upper-tier come flooding into view you really are half-expecting some green, one-eyed, eight-handed creatures to stumble across the car park. But don’t let the futuristic looks fool you. The stadium hasn’t been fully renovated for 30 years. And this is where the magic lies. San Siro manages to marry old and new, authenticity and freshness. It is, for FTT, having also visited the Camp Nou (it’s only other feasible rival), the greatest stadium on the planet.
Last weekend, I was lucky enough to visit Milan, have a tour of the San Siro and also watch an Inter Milan game there. If anyone knows anything about the San Siro, it is that it is one of the few stadiums in Europe shared by two clubs- two giants, at that. How they manage it, is somewhat fascinating. AC Milan and Inter Milan have long shared a fierce, bitter local rivalry, dating back to the years of Giuseppe Meazza- arguably the greatest Italian footballer of all time who made the controversial switch from Inter to Milan (and whom the stadium is formally named after). The contrasting philosophies between the two sides is most starkly portrayed in, well, quite an unlikely place: the changing rooms. Milan’s holds 23 leather-decked thrones, reminding each individual their privilege and importance of playing for the club, valuing the talent and power of an individual very highly. When you think of Milan, you think of Rijkarrd, Van Basten, Baresi, Maldini, Gullet, Ronaldo, Ibrahimovic, Cafu. Inter, though, opt for the simple bench, emitting teamwork, squad chemistry and bonding.
And the Nerazurri were doubtless the more successful club in the start of the 19th century, winning 3 Serie A’s and 1 Coppa Italia in the 1930’s but over time the honours have evened themselves out, with both clubs now tied on 30 domestic trophies, and a few memorable spells of pure dominance. For Milan it was their back-to-back European cup wins in the late 80’s under the legendary Arrigo Sacchi, while Inter fans will never forget winning four league titles on the trot between 2006 and 2010, polished off with an emphatic treble under Mourinho in the final year.
It seems ludicrous that these two heavyweights don’t hold a stadium of their own, which they used to, in fact. Inter used to play their home matches at a ground called Arena Civica while Milan were at the San Siro. In 1935, though, Milan sold the stadium to the city council, who felt it necessary to bolster the size of the ground and improve the facilities as football became a real fashion, and was beginning to globalise. Inter played their first game in the San Siro in 1945, and although the stadium has gone under multiple renovations, they still share it to this day. Indeed, there is much hassle.
Decorations are completely changed weekly, fixture lists have to be meticulously planned (one team home, the other away), and then you have to go about satisfyng both sets of ‘ultras’ (groups of hardcore, Italian fans), which is by no means a simple task. Yet, after 30 years of practice, the transition is seamless and, for me anyway, San Siro is somewhat otherworldly in the way that such a gigantic monument can morph into it’s polar opposite so frequently.
You sometimes forget how different football can be just 800 miles away. I was dismayed by the smoking permitted at matches, taken aback by the noise and passion of the ultras (which makes the Lower Bridgford End at the City Ground look like a family stand), and having played against an Italian side and also having watched two youth Inter matches (one of which being a feisty Milan derby), noticing the pre-match clapping for the parents who have brought them there was admirable to say the least. The visit to Milan reminded FTT of the sheer beauty of football, the way it brings all corners of life together, the contrasting cultures, the diversity- a game where everyone can find their place. Oh, and by the way, Pepperoni pizza is really not what you think it is in Italy.