Perugia 1 Frosinone 0 (23rd September 2017)
One of the difficulties of arranging this trip was the extraordinary amount of time it takes for the football authorities in Italy to release the fixtures. In England, not far after the middle of June, the fixtures all come out, for pretty much all leagues, nearly two months ahead of the season.
Not so in Italy, where Serie A fixtures only get released four weeks before the games start. For Serie B, it’s just three weeks. Serie A & B were most critical for me, allowing me to schedule a trip bookended with weekends around Venezia and Fiorentina home games, but had I wanted to see a Serie C game, I’d have had to have waited another week before booking up.
Nor do the fixtures get released instantly online at about 10 am, like in England. Oh no. what they do is have a whole evening TV show dedicated to it, releasing the fixtures round by round, with interviews with players, managers, chairmen etc, of the clubs. Quite what they find to discuss, bearing in mind it’s 100% certain everyone will play everyone else at some stage, I don’t know. I imagine it being…
“So, Robeto Donadoni, your Bologna team will take on Inter in Round 5. Your thoughts?”
“I’m shocked. I was expecting them maybe in Round 12 or after that. Who’d have thought we’d play them in Round 5?”
“Indeed. The stats say Bologna have only played Inter as early as Round 5 nine times since 1937, so a real turn up for the books there.”
It sounds a cracking night’s entertainment.
With me booked for four days in Florence, and the Fiorentina game being late on Sunday evening, the prospect of an additional game was very high. I actually wanted to see Pisa, but they were away, so I turned my attention to Siena. A bit of a crappy ground, but a lovely city, and they were at home. Sadly, the Serie C fixure list had all the games being played that day late on Sunday the afternoon. Seeing a game there and getting back in time for the Fiorentina match wasn’t possible, so that was out too.
That left two viable options. Empoli, only half an hour away by train, but another pretty crappy ground, but without much of a city to make up for it. The other was Perugia, much further away, and about two hours by train, but the ground and city looked decent, so that was my option.
And I was definitely glad I did. I really underestimated just what a gorgeous city Perugia is. The historic old town of the city is perched 500m up at the top of a hill, with views for miles around from the top. All the little side alleys feel genuinely old too, like stepping into a Dickensian world, even if they are older than that. While I was hardly the only tourist there, it did surprise that I’d never heard Perugia mentioned as a tourist destination before. OK, it’s not easy to get to. The train from Florence takes over two hours, and the city’s airport can have as few as two flights per day. That’s not two per airline, just two in total, although one of those will be with Ryanair, but god knows what city it claims the airport in near.
Another thing Perugia handily has is a transport system it calls the “Mini Metro”. This is not the flimsy British Leyland car of the 1980s, but a small rail network of driverless trams, a bit like an upscaled version of the Heathrow Terminal 5 “pods”. Every minute or two a pod would turn up, and you’d hop in and trundle up or down the hill depending on you direction – and my word, you are glad, because you really wouldn’t want to have to walk up the hill to the old city.
Even more handy was that the other end of the line had two stops, both about 300m from Perugia’s Stadio Renato Curi, and I emerged from the final of these at just gone 2pm, about an hour before kick-off. I’d expected the pod/tram to be full, but only a few fans were on, and a similar experience was to be had in the small bar/shop complex at the tram exit. I’d have expected any bar this close to the ground to be heaving, especially with few obvious options nearby, but it was like a quiet Tuesday afternoon.
One drinking option would no doubt have been the club building on one side of the ground which looked more like a tourist restaurant, with terracotta roof tiles, and small castle-like turret poking above the roof, but it would hardly cope alone with the crowds for this top of the table (3rd v 1st) clash.
I’d actually bought my ticket earlier, nipping here on the “mini metro”, before going into the city. It looked a good judgement going by the ticket queues at the window now, knowing how long it takes to buy a ticket for Italian games. The ticket windows were oddly positioned meaning the only view I got of the woman selling me tickets was from the neck down. She was wearing a t-shirt bearing the slogan “long nights, short clothes”, which doesn’t really make any sense, unless perhaps she’s from Newcastle and likes to prove how hardy she is in the winter. The ticket window meant that as well as being denied any glimpse of her head, I couldn’t see even as far down as her waist either, so the conundrum of the length of her clothes a day after the autumnal equinox went unanswered.
Due to the time, I decided to go straight in. One steward asked for my passport, and took great delight at reading my name. His ability to read English names didn’t match his enthusiasm though, but if he wanted to believe my surname rhymed with “langerie” I felt no need to correct him.
From the outside Perugia’s stadium could definitely be bracketed as “functional”. Not bad as such, but definitely “no frills”. One place that could have done with a frill or two were the toilets. Not recognising the words for male and female on the toilet doors, I waited, with a slight sense of urgency, for someone to go into one. A bloke went in the saloon doors, like a leftover prop from a Spaghetti Western, and proceeded to take a long piss in one toilet bowl, not bothering to close the door. Well at least I know which one the gents is now, I thought.
Now, this little section isn’t the most pleasant, so skip it if you wish, but I needed that toilet. Unfortunately Italian toilet bowls have a weird design, with the water being towards the front rather than directly below, so anything “falling” will have to slide down an angled ledge to hit the water. Or it won’t slide down, as sometimes happens, and you have to hope the flush will carry it away.
One “frill” that would certainly have been useful on this occasion would have been a flush that actually worked, rather than letting loose a pathetic trickle. The only hope was that I’d be able to escape without anyone noticing. Sadly, when I opened the door, hoping for an unobserved getaway, there was some outside. And it was a woman.
Thankfully I seemed more shocked by seeing her than she did by seeing a man coming out of the cubicle, so it seemed to be another one of the kind of toilets in Italy where they don’t seem too fussed if men or woman use the facilities. That sense of relief was short-lived, when I remembered the toilet bowl was hardly pristine in there now.
I managed to mime “no flush” to get the message across, to try to tell her not to go in, somehow also forming my body language to portray the idea of “you don’t want to see the state some other filthy bastard has left the toilet in”. Thankfully she bought it, as even though she did poke her head in for a check, the look she gave me afterwards was definitely a sympathetic “poor you having to put up with that”, rather than “you disgusting dirty git” that I’d certainly have got if she thought it was my fault.
I’d opted for a ticket in the Curva Nord, nominally with an allocated seat position, but it was clear that people were just sitting/standing wherever they wanted, which included the gangways and staircases. It was clear this end was by far the most popular part of the ground, probably having as many fans in it as the rest of the ground put together, making a sea of red.
The end was completely open, and the same design, a large slab of backless seats, as two of the other sides. Beyond the open side to my left, the old city of Perugia could be seen in the distance. The main stand was also a single tier stand of the same size, but with a very heavy-looking red roof. Two thick pillars would invariably create some very unpopular seats, although on this day at least, finding an alternative to move to wouldn’t be much of an issue.
One thing that was starting to become as issue was the sun. It was a gloriously sunny day, and while that was great for sightseeing around town, and good for photos of the ground, it was starting to get a tad warm. It did occur to me that if I didn’t seek a bit of shade at some stage, my face could be as red as the Perugia shirts, scarves and flags all around me.
Those scarves and flags were waved about as the teams took the field – plenty of healthy booing of the Frosinone team and the match officials – and some kind of club anthem played over the speakers. It could have been worse. The “Hala Madrid” song at the Bernabeu is dreadful, and a small piece of my soul shrivels every time I hear “Sweet Caroline”, but the best thing I can say about this one is that it was mercifully short.
Despite yet another very low scoreline, this was actually a decent game. Perugia had the better of the first half, playing with width and a bit of pace, and looked threatening. It was no surprise when Perugia went a goal up midway through the half, when a through ball was cut back to the penalty spot, where it was tucked away with ease across the exposed keeper.
Frosinone, despite not having as much of the play, were still creating chances of their own though. Their best was probably after a shot ricocheted through a crowd of players, before falling to another Frosinone player 15 yards out, centre of the box, with just the keeper to beat. It looked like he wasn’t a natural left footer though, as his left-footed attempt to sweep the ball past the keeper was far too tame, and easily saved.
Half time came. I dashed off for some refreshment, then sought out a place on the other side of the curva, when the main stand rood was offering some shade. The seats looked taken, but quite a few were just sitting in the gangway at the edge. When in Rome…or in Perugia in this case, do as the Perugians do, and I took my shaded “seat” just early enough to mean my face wouldn’t turn into crackling for the next week.
Into the 2nd half, and yet again I saw the Italian tactic of a winning team deciding, despite being at home, that playing on the break would be fine. With 2nd place Empoli losing at home, if Perugia did hold out, they’d go top of Serie B, but playing the top side, it was a bit of a risk.
The gamble paid off, just. Frosinone, from 150 miles south between Rome and Naples, were getting decent backing from the few hundred who’d made the trip up, and had a few chances to spoil the party. Each time though, their shooting just wasn’t quite accurate enough, pulling shots wide. The puffed out cheeks of fans as they exhaled after each shot went wide told the story of the fine margins being played out.
Perugia’s best chance of the half was to force a fine save from the Frosinone keeper, who tipped a close range header over the bar. The home side though, were just content to hold out, and hold out they did. The final minutes were played out to an excitable set of home fans, appearing to get ready to celebrate as if going top of the league in September was as good as getting promoted to Serie A itself. Maybe if they can keep the start going, they can have an actual promotion party for real.