Fiorentina 1 Atalanta 1 (24th September 2017)
In truth I was getting a little sick of trains. I’d been on far too many in the last week and a half. Not just from Venice to Genoa, to Pisa and then to Florence, for moving about the cities, but also the return trips to Verona, to Perugia, to La Spezia, and up and down the Cinque Terre coastal towns. I’d read the TrenItalia magazine several times, and reading in it about the thrill of Benevento getting to Serie A for the first time ever – just a year after getting to Serie B for the first time ever, was losing its appeal (as might be the case for Benevento’s Serie A season, where they’ve lost every game to date).
I had one more train journey to make though, but luckily this one only lasted five minutes, going from the main station to a few hundred yards from Fiorentina’s stadium.
I’d been staying not far from the station too, and one of the first things I’d done when arriving is visit a pub nearby, overlooking a square where there were several tv cameras set up. It turned out that Theresa May was giving a Brexit speech in the cathedral over the road, and the tv crews were there to film that, as well as a rather feeble pro-EU counter protest also taking place in the square.
It was a good pub though. Having female barstaff helped, as I’d learned that the male staff in Italian pubs have all the observation skills of Nazi sentries in war films, and I’d begun to feel that a siren and self-immolation would be about the only way to attract their attention.
Having had a beer or two, and the umpteenth cheese & ham focaccia toastie of my trip in there before going to the game meant arrival about an hour before kick-off was fine. I went through the usual tediously slow ticket-buying process before having a look round part of the outside of the ground. The ground, and notably the main stand, were designed by renowned architect Pier Luigi Nervi, whose vision was to make concrete graceful and beautiful, rather than making it look like a multi-storey carpark, which became the norm in later year.
The facade of the main stand looked more like the entrance to a museum than a football ground, managing to maintain a historic elegance, even with it being blighted by two overgrown portakabin style extensions in front. Even the terracing, completely open to the elements front and back, had a certain style to it, not only in being white rather than the usual concrete grey, but also in the lightness of the design. It’s just a shame that those end terraces are the ground’s worst feature.
Anyone who has ever seen an aerial shot of the ground will have wondered what on earth the architect was doing making the ground such a weird shape, as if he’d never seen football before, and thought the pitch is about 200m long. It turns out that the stadium was designed to accommodate not just an athletics track, but also a 220m long sprint straight in front of the main stand. This meant both ends were pushed back way beyond where they’d normally be, almost absurdly so.
With prices at the sides being pretty ridiculous, I opted for the end anyway, and actually ended up sat right at the back. The near goal – with “near” being a relative term in this context – didn’t actually seem too far away. The far goal, however, did almost feel like you were watching a game on a neighbouring pitch.
I’d actually got into the ground a bit too early, although this did allow me a bit of a wander round my end. There was enough of it to allow a wander, after all. At the side, in the corner of the “D” shape of the ground, was just a flat area, extended quite far forward, bordered with plexiglass walls. Stood watching through this plexiglass were a few souls looking like they were also wondering why they came in so early.
Across from there you looked across the curved section of seating behind the goal. This always looks on tv like a section of temporary seats, but is fully concreted in, set quite a distance from both the goal and the seats behind. It feels as if when the place got renovated for Italia ’90, they could couldn’t decide whether to put these seats nearer the pitch or the seats behind, so settled on being near neither instead. Clearly there was no will to make the ends less crap for the world cup, but surely one day they’ll be rebuilt so the fans at either end are at least watching from the same postal district as the pitch.
They might even cover the ground too. Other than the main stand, the place is completely open, which presented a problem I hadn’t anticipated when I’d bought a ticket in the open end. While four of the five days I was in Florence had been fine and sunny, there’d been intermittent rain all morning and afternoon on this Sunday. The forecast was adamant though, that the rain would cease in the afternoon, as it had, and it would be dry after that.
It was a bit annoying then, with about 20 minutes to kick off, the first spots of rain started falling. All around me the home fans, clearly prepared for such an occasion, began putting up umbrellas and taking plastic macs out of bags. Everyone was prepared for the odd shower. Everyone, that is, except me. I didn’t even have so much as a jacket.
Luckily the rain only threatened to pour, without really do so. I even managed to keep my programme dry by putting it inside a Fiorentina-themed issue of The Metro freesheet newspaper that I’d been handed outside. With the crowd taking its time to come in, and this end being, by some way, the less popular of the two ends, it didn’t make it the most vibrant build up possible. The only noise at this stage was being made by the few hundred Atalanta fans to my right, who’d made the trip down from Bergamo. They were in their own almost quarantined section, where even having non-opaque fences between them and the home fans was considered a threat to life and limb. Maybe with them setting off flares and the odd thunderflash, the police might have had a point.
By now I was settled into the rhythm of my Italian games being low scoring games (both games on a previous trip to Italy had also ended 1-0), so it was quite a relief for the deadlock to be broken early in this one. Fiorentina’s striker Federico Chiesa took down a flicked on ball from a long pass forward and fired in one of those wild back of the net/back of the stands shots from the edge of the area. On this occasion he caught it perfectly, and the keeper had no chance as it blasted into the back of the net.
Having seen Atalanta at Chievo, I knew they were dangerous up front, but a little wasteful. It wasn’t long before they were showing both traits, coming close to getting a quick equaliser. Working the ball into a scoring position, they firing a shot from close range right at the goalkeeper’s chest, as if they thought it possible to score by hitting a shot through the middle of his ribcage.
While it would be wrong to suggest Fiorentina stopped playing once they scored, they certainly didn’t create too many more clear chances in the game. Whether this was absurd overconfidence in their slender lead, or just Atalanta playing better, I’m not sure, but most of the better action was taking place in the Fiorentina box.
In the 2nd half, at least this meant it was happening in the goal nearest to me. It looked like Atalanta had got a well-deserved way back into the game about halfway through the half, from the penalty spot. The kick was certainly hit low and hard enough, but about a metre from the post. It still took a good save to keep it out, but well-saved it was, and the home fans again were able to find their voice.
Atalanta kept attacking, and the travelling fans kept singing, but there was definitely now a sense of desperation in their play. Shots were being snatched at, and despite a few nervy moments, it did look like Fiorentina’s cautious approach might get them the victory.
With the home fans in the far distance raising scarves and flags to see in the win, Fiorentina should have made it 2-0. A one on one break through a high Atalanta back line looked like it was going to be the clincher, but a heavy touch saw the ball claimed by a grateful keeper.
Already deep into stoppage time, surely that should be enough though, as the home fans began to edge towards the exits. In the fourth minute of four added minutes, Atalanta, in desperation “went English” hitting a long ball forward from their own half. A headed knock down from the edge of the box found Atalanta’s Swiss international Remo Freuler, completely unmarked. From the edge of the “D” he smacked in a shot low and hard. This one was right in the corner, and the odd gasp of horror escaped the lips of fans seeing the keeper hadn’t got there, and Fiorentina had blown it right at the death.
More flares and fireworks from the Atalanta enclosure, as the jubilant players ran towards them. In contrast the home sections were a sea of wearing, pointing fingers and gestures, and people angrily kicking cups and other litter on the floor in frustration. Atalanta might have fully deserved a draw on their play, but this was still two points thrown away.
The referee’s final whistle went very shortly after, but as the smoke from the Atalanta flares drifted across the stadium, whistles of another kind, those of fans voicing their displeasure, filled the air. I may have been disappointed that my six game tour had yielded a mere eight goals, but the home fans, who were rather more unhappy, would have liked there to have been one less.