Spezia 1 Novara 0

Spezia 1 Novara 0 (19th September 2017)

It was something of a first, being wished “Happy Birthday” by the young woman in the Spezia ticket booth, as she entered my passport details onto my ticket for the game. There can’t be many people who regard a night out at a Serie B as a birthday treat, but had I been at home I’d have spent the night watching a miserable 0-2 defeat to Swansea in the League Cup, so this was definitely a step up.

Nor would a night out in Genoa, where I was now staying, been much of an alternative. Most bars looked either like crushingly “cool” places, where the hipster-bearded barman would never smile towards his one customer for fear of not looking serious and moody for a second, or places where the aged customers would be having heated conversations about the crapness of something to the barman, who’d be wishing he was somewhere else.

My alternative had been a British style pub in Genoa, which certainly looked the part, but was cursed by a barman/owner playing terrible music, from experimental prog rock to songs of the 50s, or earlier. I’m not saying that playing Ella Fitzgerald or stuff that a 70s Rick Wakeman would have dismissed as pretentious was the reason the pub was always so dead, but it can’t have helped.

Spezia play in the town of La Spezia, 60 miles down the coast from Genoa, and only used by tourists using it as a base for visiting the “Cinque Terre” set of five heavily touristed picturesque coastal villages just west of the town. Although I would also visit four of the five Cinque Terre towns, my experience of La Spezia itself was limited by my train from Genoa arriving 45 minutes late. This allowed me to do no more than go straight to the ground, about a mile from the station, and straight back again afterwards, due to having to catch the last sensible train back. I did not want to be on the later 2.5 hour stopper service.

The train from Genoa had left in glorious early-evening sunshine, but halfway down had slipped under the edges of a dark storm just out to sea, with forked lightning and monumental rainfall turning the sky charcoal grey a short distance away. With Lightning flashes illuminating the hills to the north of the ground as I approached, I erred on the side of caution and opted for the €25 seats at the side rather than the uncovered “curva” end – for once an actual curve – behind the north goal.

I really liked Spezia’s ground. OK, I’d draw a veil over the temporary seats which formed the away end, where a small knot of Novara fans were watched over by an unnecessary line of stewards. The megaphone held by the “capo” the cheer starter for Novara, seemed even more unnecessary with such small numbers. He could have just told them all individually.

The stand I was in was a single-tier stand of about 3000 orange seats – I can only imagine orange ones were cheaper, as Spezia play in black & white. The head of an eagle was painted on the back of the stand, along with “Spezia Calcio” enlivening what (if seen on Google streetview) used to be pretty dreary frontage for the club. Underneath, the club shop remained shuttered and closed, because obviously on a matchday they’d be absolutely no demand whatsoever for club merchandise.

Opposite was a smaller old stand, holding about 1000, that looked straight out of the English lower divisions. With it’s propped roof and pillars, it looks like one of those historic non-league “gems” that would have groundhoppers cooing about character and tradition, as they tick off a ground they’ve been meaning to do for a while.

The end curva was a substantial terrace which reminded by, if you discount the curve, of the Tilehurst End at Reading’s old Elm Park ground. Nominally it was actually a seated stand, but the “seats” were just numbers painted onto concrete blocks, and everyone stood.

I liked Spezia as a team too. Despite their rather cautious approach to the game in Venice, here, at home, they seemed quite a gutsy enthusiastic team, full of energy and running. They also had the good nature to score an early goal too, tapping in after a corner was flicked on. From there they always had a threat, and looked like they could have put the game to be by half time, if only their shooting had matched their enthusiasm.

In the 2nd half, the Italian curse of being over-cautious crept in, or maybe Novara just had “a little bit of a talking to” by their manager at half time, as they were much more involved. Regardless, the Spezia fans behind the goal kept singing away, and even some of the fans in my side stand had a go at times too. It was only half full, but you could tell it’s be a great place to be with a full house.

Novara did what they could to spur their team on too, but with such small numbers it’d didn’t amount to too much. Novara definitely had the best chance of the 2nd half too. A flicked on corner wasn’t dealt with well by the Spezia keeper, who could only parry it out to a Novara player inside the six yard box, at the back post. He was able to scramble and save the resulting shot though, and even when it bounced straight back and another shot came in, he got enough of his body in the way to make it roll across goal, where a defender was able to hook it away.

One thing I’d not managed to do was get a programme, partly due to my rush to get in, and partly due to just forgetting for look for one. It looked quite a nice glossy effort too. OK, I wouldn’t be able to actually read it, but that’s not the point. With about 15 minutes to go though, a guy at the end of my block got up and walked out. I couldn’t tell if he’d just gone out the back for a smoke (probably not, as the stewards would happy stand there smoking) or had left. What he had done is left a programme on his seat. I’ll nab that on the way out, I thought. Unfortunately, about a minute before I left, I turned and saw it was gone. Some evil git in the seat behind, who had three of the buggers in his hands as far as I could tell, was the most obvious culprit.

Despite it being a good game, and still poised at 1-0, with that train I had to catch, I had no option but to leave with it just ticking to 90 minutes. I don’t like leaving such games early, but you just hope nothing happens in those few minutes I missed. No sooner had I got through the gate than I heard a series of cheers. It didn’t seem quite loud enough for a goal, but something clearly was happening. As I made my way away from the glow of the floodlights, I just had no idea what.

And I’ll never know either. I know it wasn’t for a goal, as the game definitely ended 1-0. It did strike me that after my third low-scoring game in a row, a worrying trend was starting to appear, but this was a good game, and if the remaining games were as good as this, but all ended 1-0 I wouldn’t mind. Well, not too much anyway.

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