Venezia 0 Spezia 0 (15th September 2017)
I really thought I’d love Venice. It always looked such a beautiful place in photographs, full of charm and history. Unfortunately I visited a Venice under near permanent grey skies, with bursts of rain now and then, which showed up its flaws more than its good points. I still enjoyed the place, but the city I thought would probably be the highlight of my trip left me with a bit of a feeling of disappointment.
It was sort of the same with Venezia’s football club. I have a kind of soft spot for the club after “managing” them for a few seasons on the game Football Manager, many years ago. I kept them up in Serie A in 2002, and thrived with them for a year or two after, which was a big improvement on Venezia’s real Serie A season of 2001/2, where they sunk without trace, gaining just 3 wins, and finishing 22 points adrift of safety.
It was due to that that I had a good element of anticipation, heading to the far end of the island that makes up the famous part of Venice, almost immediately after checking into my hotel. I’d come prepared. Venice has no streets as such, just footpaths, and even those require some careful navigation due to the limited number of crossing points of the canals that crisscross the city. The only way to move even moderately quickly is on the vaporetto, the small ferries that take passengers on routes around the Grand Canal and the other islands. As luck would have it, Line 1 of the vaporetto had a stop just a minute away from my hotel, and would take me within a quarter of a mile of the stadium, at the St. Elena stop, at the far end of the island.
There’s always a slight satisfied moment in any foreign city, when you feel like you’ve mastered the local transport network. I was just getting that as the vaporetto pulled away from the Giardini stop, one before St. Elena. I’ve got the hang of this, I thought, as St Elena came into view. I’m using this service like a local now. Any smugness didn’t last too long though as the vaporetto powered away, clearly making no effort to slow for my desired stop. I watched the stop drift away 100 metres away to my left. It could have been worse. The next stop was about a mile away, on a different island, but was the last stop on the line, so I just waiting for the thing to turn round, and I’d have to walk to the ground from Giardini.
I had hoped to buy myself a green and black Venezia scarf outside the ground, but there looked to be nothing in the way of merchandising, official or otherwise outside. Inside, the ultras were selling t-shirts, but they weren’t really to my taste.
While the main island of Venice has some quite beautiful architecture throughout, it’s not an accident that the football ground doesn’t appear in any tourist brochures. It is right next to a canal, but there are no gondolas in this neck of town, and no tourists either. The exterior of the ground might be old, but UNESCO are unlikely to slap world heritage status on it any day soon. From the outside, the main stand did look a little neglected to say the least.
From the inside it wasn’t quite so bad. It’s an old stand, but the addition of a press box on the roof makes it look a little more substantial than it really is. Multiple roof columns at the front are part of the reason that those who opt for the main stand are really looking for shelter rather than comfort. I’d purchased my ticket, rather unnecessarily online, for the open home end a week or so before. The edges of the main stand curve round slightly, as if there were plans to continue the stand round the stadium at one stage. It’s easy to get the impression that hasn’t been an overall plan since then.
Sections of the ground were damaged when it was hit by a tornado in 1970, but even then, photos suggest damage was to temporary structures plus the odd wall. Indeed, from inside the ground you can see what looks to have been the rear walls of old stands once upon a time. The three other sides now just have temporary uncovered seating, not even running the full width on two of the sides. Photos show that these temporary stands used to be much larger at the turn of the millennium. The ends used to be quite scarily high and steep, for certain, probably at least double their current height.
A quick search online suggests the club owner got frustrated with the lack of progress in building a new stadium around then, and it’s not difficult to see why. Relegation, bankruptcy, and a much reduced capacity followed, although the club is back in Serie B at least, backed by a very ambitious American owner. He sees the club as having a huge marketing potential due to the city it’s in, and hopes to attract some of the 30 million visitors a year the city to gets to watch a game of football as well.
Sadly the stadium doesn’t really rival the majesty of strolling through the Piazza San Marco, and if Venezia’s matches get a reputation for being as bad at the one I had to watch, it’ll be a while before the Stadio Pierluigi Penzo gets added to Venice’s “must see” list.
I thought at first that the visitors, Spezia, were being rather negative, but the home side, despite some colourful support, didn’t really have much of a plan to break them down. Maybe with two promotions in two seasons a degree of pragmatism was in evidence. This would be Venezia’s fourth game of the season, and three of those were to end 0-0.
It’s hard to really review a game where so little was happening. All I know is that a disappointing evening got a bit worse in the second half when the rain started coming down, and I began weighing up which I would prefer most – a goal or for the rain to stop.
Luckily I got my wish for one of those two, with the rain ceasing with about 20 minutes left. Spezia also came out of their shell in the last 10 minutes too, after the home side were reduced to 10 men after a home player saw a second yellow. Even though I wanted to see Venezia win, it had got to the stage when either side scoring would be merciful, but neither could manage it. Indeed, I can’t recall a single good chance all evening, although there no doubt were one or two.
The final whistle heralded the dampest of squibs. The home fans stayed behind the goal to sing their appreciation of the team, and they certainly must be a very appreciative bunch. And I counted my blessings. I’d chalked up another ground, got a programme, and the rain had stopped before I got properly wet. And it has to be said, it is a heck of a public transport journey back. Passing St Mark’s Square and stopping off at the Rialto Bridge for a beer is, after all, a little bit different to taking a football bus back to a park & ride. The new American owner might just have the right idea after all.