New Soccer or Old Soccer? – (from Corriere della Sera – Feb 2007)

A wall in my pretty little hometown, Crema, now has some graffiti. It’s unsightly, like all graffiti, but interesting. NOW AND FOREVER AGAINST MODERN SOCCER! Our anonymous author has a point. There is old soccer and there is new soccer. And we have to choose. Procrastination is no longer an option.

What is old soccer? It’s the soccer of decrepit grounds, extreme passions, extravagant choreography, inadequate terraces, tight-knit gangs, and unsavory restrooms. It’s a locker room of the emotions where parking is a challenge, access is complicated, the stairs are steep, and getting out is far from easy. There’s always a car, emergency lights ablaze, blocking the traffic to let some big cheese – who gets free tickets for the whole family – leave in a hurry.

What is new soccer? It’s a soccer of clean grounds, controlled passions, restrained gestures (or else be thrown out), colorful groups, and impeccable facilities. It’s a civic stadium where parking is easy, access straightforward, and departure expeditious. In Italy, there will always be cars with emergency lights flashing and a big cheese inside. But there won’t be so many, because stadium seats will sell out fast and spineless club officials will find the courage to say, “Senator, buy your own ticket.”

Old soccer has grown old gracelessly. It’s gone from being romantic and spontaneous to sinister and dastardly. What was once a fine fresh product has gone sour. Enthusiasm has become excessive. Passion for one team has turned into hatred for someone else’s. Rivalry has morphed into rioting. For some fans, what was once a hobby has become a source of parasitic income. We didn’t need this latest tragedy to find that out.

And the grounds have also grown old. We had an opportunity, with the 1990 World Cup, and we frittered it away in an orgy of waste, graft, and overblown ideas. Today, we have crumbling stadiums that city councils should give to the clubs for nothing, and hope that they’ll take them. The story of the tattooed, hooligan-like groundkeeper at the Massimino stadium in Catania who set his dogs on the police is a perfect image for the disaster: the soccer stadium as a lost, Gothic wasteland way beyond redemption.

In Britain, which is often on people’s lips these days, this is all history. In the UK, the passage to new soccer was more than just a reaction to violence: decaying grounds also contributed. In 1985, a stadium at Bradford caught fire, causing fifty-two deaths, and in 1989 the Hillsborough disaster left ninety-five more people dead. I remember the 1985 Champions Cup semifinal at Anfield, Liverpool, the most romantic soccer ground in the world. On the Kop, the terrace built in 1906 that takes its name from a hill where a battle was fought during the Second Boer War, there were 24,000 standing fans squeezed in so tightly that it was impossible to move. Reaching a restroom was unthinkable. Koppites used to say “Just do it and wrap it up in the Echo” (the local paper, the Liverpool Echo). But that was then. In 1996, the legendary Kop became all-seater: now 10,000 spectators, all sitting down, have reachable restrooms at the foot of their gangway.

What’s the problem in Italy? Well, new soccer has yet to see the light of day and the old version, although on its last legs, doesn’t want to die. Will games be played behind closed doors until next summer? That’s a minor detail. The main thing is to decide where we want to go. My feeling is that there seem to be so many thugs – the ones who like to play at war using the match as a pretext – because they shout a lot. Many of the so-called Ultras, the hardline fans, are just people who are mad about soccer and one team. They realize that old soccer has had its day.

So the question we all have to answer is “Do we want new soccer?” Or do we want to smother it in the cradle, and just forget about it?

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RIDING WITH MY SON IN A FERRARI
(from Corriere della Sera, Feb 2007)

It is scientifically proven that a man at fifty will fall for something silly: a fast car, a fast woman, or fast living. The first of these is easiest for wives to forgive, especially if the fast car is on loan, and can be used to blackmail a teenage son (“Do your homework and Dad will take you for a ride in his Ferrari”).

We arrived in Maranello on Friday afternoon and quickly found ourselves hurtling round the Fiorano circuit in a Scaglietti. The test driver, a nice guy so short he could have taken a nap in the ashtray, was shouting in the Modena dialect: “Sorry, we’re going slow because it’s raining and the track is like glass!” Needless to say, “slowly” is precisely how we’re not going. In the rear mirror, I can see my son grinning in ecstasy. It’s a promising start.

5 pm – We visit the production line of the F430, the erotic dream of every car enthusiast. Next we go to the wind tunnel, where young-looking engineers are working on a scale model of the Grand Prix car. The area is off limits. We only get in because the Ferrari people know that I can only tell a spoiler from a steering wheel by the shape. They’re right.

6 pm – We leave for Tuscany. I’m driving. We take the A1 to Parma and then hit the Autostrada della Cisa. Fantastic. This Ferrari is a jet plane on wheels. When we overtake other cars, they seem to wave hello. My son, Antonio, fiddles with the – somewhat self-willed – heating system and won’t switch on the radio. He wants to listen to the engine. It helps to have spent years driving an Alfa with a sequential gearbox, I tell him. “Dad,” he says, “we’ve just been overtaken by a Honda Civic.”

9 pm – The architects who built Lucca didn’t expect to have to cater for ten square metres (490 x 196 cm, to be precise) of Ferrari on a wet night. The satnav sounds upset. The synthetic voice gets more and more irritated until we end up stuck in a lane with an artistic name, to the delight of the local kids. We reverse out. Everything’s OK. It’s less OK when we park in the hotel yard. A modest column that has stood there undisturbed for centuries comes into contact with the mudguard. You can see the dent, but I say nothing to Antonio. He’d find it a tad too amusing.

SATURDAY 11 am – We cycle round the walls and leave. The Scaglietti is like a sailing ship: sheer joy on the open sea, but harder to handle in harbor. We emerge from the town center and head for Versilia. Luckily, my son hasn’t noticed the bump on the mudguard.

Midday – Marina di Pietrasanta. He’s noticed. His eyes bulge: “You did that! Yesterday! And you said nothing!” I tell him there’s no problem. Ferrari mechanics know what to do about a scratch on a Ferrari. Antonio is unconvinced, but a stroll past the Bagni King bathing center on the deserted beach takes his mind off minor road accidents.

1.30 pm – Forte dei Marmi, the Maito restaurant, where the humble clams aren’t so much cooked as invited to commit suicide in deference to the diners’ income. The attendant, who supports Inter Milan, has his own scale of values. The most impressive automobile gets the best, most visible parking spot, practically on the promenade. Today, there are Maseratis, another Ferrari, an Aston Martin, Porsches, Audis and BMWs galore. But the top spot goes to us. Could it be because I support Inter Milan, too? Antonio notes: “If we’d come in our Volvo, they’d have made us park on the beach.” We sit down to eat. Romantically, I look out to sea. Excitedly, Antonio faces the parking lot.

5 pm – Rapallo/Portofino. In comparison with these Riviera di Levante towns, Lucca has the wiggle room of the Mojave desert. We pass swiftly through. The Ferrari glides off in fifth and sixth gear, from 1,500 RPM. I observe that only youngsters and old men – there are plenty here – point us out. Like a truly beautiful woman, I opine, the Ferrari manages to pass unobserved. The metaphor fails to convince Antonio. “Dad, mind the curves.” I think he means the ones in the road.

7 pm – We arrive in Alassio and fill up with gas. Without having to take out a bank loan. Another surprise.

SUNDAY 10 am – The Turin-Savona autostrada. Not very many cars, sunshine, French mountains on the horizon, and a fast, twisting Italian road. The Scaglietti hugs the road like glue. Antonio, who is fourteen, could drive, but I refrain from telling him so or he’d want to try.

Midday – The Turin-Piacenza motorway. It’s deserted. Keeping to the speed limit is torture, like being locked into a cake shop on the first day of a diet. Antonio is enjoying the countryside and is moderately happy with Dad’s driving. We haven’t been passed by any more Honda Civics.

4 pm – Maranello. We hand over the Ferrari, and say our thanks. Severgnini Jr looks heartbroken, as if he is saying goodbye to a close relative. On the way back to Crema, he pushes the Volvo’s seat back and falls asleep. Either it’s a protest, or he’s thinking about that courtyard in Lucca. That must be it. Every so often, he smiles.

——-

He scraped the Ferrari in the parking lot and didn’t tell me. He didn’t say a WORD! But aren’t I the adolescent in the family? He says he barely “made contact” and it was the fault of the hotel porter who told him to “Come on, don’t worry”. When I saw the dent the next day, I asked him if the airbag had popped out. I might have been exaggerating a bit.

But I really adored the car. It’s fantastic and so easy to drive that even you managed, Dad! The 540 bhp and the 12 cylinders/351 cubic inches made their presence felt, especially when we were accelerating as they pressed us back into our seats. It may be a supercar but people didn’t look very surprised, perhaps because Dad was driving carefully. Too carefully. Or it could have been the color – gray – which doesn’t catch your eye the way Ferrari red does. But when we turned the key in the ignition, the growl echoed everywhere. That was great, almost musical. Cooler than Coldplay.

The only two little things that gave us a bit of trouble were the heating and the navigator, which was useless in the streets of Lucca. That said, the Scaglietti is the best car I’ve ever been in. I wonder if Dad will buy me one when I’m eighteen. Somehow, I don’t think so.

ANTONIO SEVERGNINI

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