Is there a more pure way of enjoying our sport than watching it along with the thousands of fellow pilgrims of the day? Stadiums are structures of brick and mortar, but on match day, they breathe and scream and groan.
It was not before the match between Milan and Juventus ended, when I realized how much I love going to stadiums and arenas. How elevated they make me and millions of others feel. Often a crowd of five hundred or one thousand suffices, but bigger the crowd, bigger the sensation (obviously). And in Italy—at least—fixtures don’t get much more box office than Milan v Juventus.
I didn’t interview any locals or any supporters while in Milan. I didn’t do too much analysis of the course of action either. I had in-depth discussions with no one, and I wasn’t anywhere near the media-related areas. In short, I was merely one of the neutrals, just soaking in the atmosphere alongside the Milanistas.
What broadcasts often fail to transmit is that last inch of liveliness and unity. Sure, you can spend a match online—using a second screen—but for some that dims the experience and makes for faded memories. The match should be the only thing on one’s brain for those one hundred and five plus minutes.
Stadium, on the other hand, resembles an organism, reacting to the most tiniest of things simultaneously and with full of colour. The reaction is spontaneous, gesticulating—not that of tired GIFs or recycled banter. Like a canvas of renaissance art, the stadium is filled with faces—with each of them bringing along their own expressions.
“Pizzaiolo: ‘Milan or Juventus?’
Me: ‘Milan. Of course Milan.’”
The person sitting next to me, for example, was Milan supporter—a walking talking representation of amour fou, I might add—but oh-so refreshing in his manners. Not a troll-like product of this dumpster fire called social media. Sure, he reviled and abused Leonardo Bonucci with an admirable passion. Sure, he flipped the most internationally recognizable hand signal to the referee—not once, but twice. But emotions were complex. He laughed at Ronaldo for skying his long-range strike, but also oohed and aahed in the face of his deeds and sashaying.
Through this awkward transition, I must say that Ronaldo missing a sitter in the pre-match warm up, hence cueing up a segment for light pandemonium, felt and feels—for lack of a better word—real. Immersive. The match experience is akin to a bubble which surrounds the viewer, allowing them to forget their troubles for a moment. How we all got there? How different my life must be from the life of the person sitting next to me, how our beliefs and problems differ from one another. One is crippled with unfulfilled ambitions, while the other hasn’t been able to sleep for more than two hours per night ‘cause his mind has been racing through an upcoming presentation.
But as I previously said, for a moment, all of these problems disappear, and it’s not until the game’s dying moments when they reemerge.
A circular cliché and partially inane clause to say, but it’s true when marketing campaigns proclaim that football unites us. Imagine, a man like Sadio Mané squishing a man like James Milner between his arms, or the audience screaming, “Grande Bakayoko”, for something as simple as a conquered aerial duel. It takes something special, something like football, to make that happen. This sort of thing would be unimaginable out here, in the real world. In metros, few talk to strangers, but in a football match, one has thousands of people huddled together.
In this particular match, in the 83rd minute, a seemingly mundane header arrived at Medhi Benatia’s direction. He surged forward before a clumsy Gonzalo Higuaín challenge disrupted his momentum. Benatia fell to the turf and began an operatic breakdown. The referee Paolo Mazzoleni issued a free kick for the reckless challenge, but the Argentinian was having none of it. Instead, he opened his wordy casket to launch a full-on rant at Mazzoleni with figurative froth forming at his lips; the result being a yellow card for dissent and a straight red card for persisting with the complaints.
Seeing that Ronaldo had killed the game just two minutes prior to the incident, it was perhaps understandable to see a young man putting away his phone, only after seeing the ongoing commotion. Having read the room, this person belatedly joined the protest, even if he hadn’t seen the transgression himself. Like witnessing a kid being bullied, he started shouting something at the referee.
Due to my limited-slash-non-existent experience in Italian language courses, I have no idea what he said. However, I did pick up one word: merda. “Whatever that means.” Given this bomb-filled environment, I found my occasional “Ma che vuoi?”, “cornuto” and “‘ntaccatu” gestures justifiable. It’s onerous—if not impossible–to not believe in Juventus’ carte blanche to foul when one is surrounded by the Milaneses.
An amount of people equivalent to the population of Lafayette, Indiana, watching over the green, immaculate pasture. The seats rising vertically, and whistles vibrating one’s eardrums. Oh, the whistles. Bonucci—even if deep in the locker room and sidelines—was on the receiving end of whistles so loud, I briefly thought to myself: “This is a good day to rupture my hearing.”
That made me wonder what it would be like to witness Superclásico, taste the forbidden fruit one day.
How ethereal it would be to celebrate a goal with Boca Juniors supporters, Los Xeneizes? Without uttering a word, I could make more friends—feel connected with more people—in an hour and a half than I have felt during the preceding one and a half years of everyday life.
Each and every stadium has its own flavour that goes beyond the mere sphere of words. In Milan, the reaction to the referee’s affirmative penalty decision felt a hundred times realer than any of the England fans’ early beer-throwing performances this summer. These emotions can bind us and leave us glowing, take away our words. They can push us down the stairs, desolate to naked disjointness.
“We’re in a world, our very own / Sharing a love that only few have ever known”
— Larry Kusik and “Speak Softly, Love”
In the end, of course, the game in question had to come to an end, and consequently we were obliged to descend to our everyday lives. Juventus laid hold of the three points (unsurprisingly), with goals by courtesy of Mario Mandžukić and Ronaldo. This bore little significance, however, to my neutral point of view. I had gotten the escapist experience I had craved for. I had stepped into another, worryless, world in Milan.
I had strengthened my love for the stadium experience. For those shrines which make us feel like kids again.