July, 2010! We were attending the Micro Finance classes on “Housing for the Poor” project at the International Training Centre of the International Labour Organisation, in Turin, Italy.
It all started after the class for the day was over in the evening of the 28th July, 2008, when Franck Daphnis announced that there is a Football game in Torino (Turin) the next day and anybody interested to watch it “LIVE” may enlist. Needless to emphasise, yours faithfully was the first to raise the hand for the head count.
So, next day the 29th July, a bus was arranged to ferry 30 such football buffs, lovers, peripheral lovers and plain adventure lovers like me to the stadium. Time was ticking and there was a cocktail party going on in the cafeteria lounge of the hostel from 6-30 pm. At 7-25 pm there were only me and Franck to go, but the bus has to carry 30 for scale of economy.
Both of us went into the cocktail lounge and dragged in a couple of more “enthusiasts” and then the entourage began. It looked like as if a mini tornado hit the party and half of them left the place and followed Franck and myself as if influenced by the Pied Piper. The bus was filled and after a short journey we reached the “Stadio Olimpico” to watch the finals of “Trofeo TIM” to be settled between the legendary AC Milan, Juventus Football Club and Inter. Everywhere there were milling crowds of people and lots of shops on wheels selling sports paraphernalia-mostly the team T shirts or food items.
Only after reaching the Stadium did Franck reveal that Tickets have to be bought. By the time we reached the Stadium all the tickets were sold out. So a couple of us started hunting for “tickets” and found them. Only that a ticket of Euros 10 was offered for Euros 25 each. Well, that we were in frenzy, we lapped them up. I gave Euros 30 and for lack of proper change got only Euros 4 in return. Suddenly I found myself being tugged by somebody, who to me was speaking gibberish (He was speaking Italian though) and after quite a bit of scanning my scant knowledge of Latin and Spanish in my mind and a lot of gesticulations from the guy who owned the hand that tugged at me, I could make out that he wanted me to contribute to the cause of Drugs. Whether it was for buying Drugs or for making the youth shun the drugs I am not wiser. All I can say is that the Euros 4 changed hands.
Meanwhile there were more revelations. As we could not choose to buy tickets, we could not get the tickets all in one place excepting four or five. Now all for one and one for all does not work and we had to be on our own. Franck told us to go on our own but at any cost to return to the bus by 11-00 pm.
And when I checked my “billet” (ticket) I found that it was in the name of ”Samantha” the name that I use normally to tell foreigners to rhyme my name (Hemantha) with. Then I found something like Nord (North) and stile and Porto mentioned on the ticket. I could make out that Porto means entrance and that my entrance would be in the North. Another interesting fact I found (to my horror) was that only I had drawn the ticket with the northern entrance. Now in that maddening crowd finding a gate became difficult and finding out the northern gate was becoming more difficult.
In the European countries, I observed, that normally the Sun sets around 9-30 pm or so and at least in summer it seems to be so. Since we were at the stadium by about 8-15 pm there was enough SUN for us to find our directions. But exactly masking the Sun was this mischievous cloud. So I thought I am the best boy scout and calculated and walked towards an entrance with a great sense of triumphing. Only when I neared could I make out that the entrance was not north but east. So keeping that in mind I almost circumambulated the stadium, when I found a cop relaxing near his van. I approached him and asked him directions. He showed me directions that I may have to walk another furlong or so. Meanwhile apparently the game started on the dot and there was a roar to be heard from within the stadium.
Walking a few steps away from the cop I found that I was actually standing in front of the Northern entrance and very near to the Porto and stile I had to get into. But the entrance was allowing only one person and there were no lesser than at least a hundred people all absolutely enthusiastic and raring to go. And then I found that I needed to produce an identity along with the ticket. I thought that tonight I am in trouble for the ticket was in a woman’s name and I left my Passport and other travel documents in my hostel room as I was advised that taking out any heavy money or wallet or passports can be pick-pocketed. Now I had only the photocopy of my Indian driving licence in my pocket.
I was wondering whether I should turn tail and walk back. But I found that that itself could be difficult, as behind me there were another two hundred or so people. So I thought let me see. I found that at the entrance there was a young man with a bored look and he simply waved me inside. Then after enquiring with a couple of guys I found a man who could speak some broken English and asked him where my Porto and stile would be. He said that I may not make it to the match searching for my row and seat and said that if I am wise I shall park myself in the first available seat wherever it is. True to his words, I found the stadium jam packed, uproarious and many fans were standing, yelling and jumping.
After searching a bit by moving my head in all directions I found myself a seat and sat in. By the time this happened, Juventus scored two goals and AC Milan one. From then onwards both the teams simply chased the ground. Somewhere around the 36th minute or so AC Milan matched Juventus by scoring another goal. By the time, the play time was nearing the end, there was a tie and penalties were awarded. Then the comedy of the day started. Both the teams started scoring goals and at one stage everybody got restless.
Finally that game ended with AC Milan scoring 6 and Juventus 4 goals.
Next to me sat a boy and his middle aged mother. While the boy was engrossed in the game the mother started being friendlier with me than being motherly to her son. A couple of old Dodos (older than me-so Dodos) kept on smoking their cigarettes and were letting out the smoke like pressure cookers. The boy apparently was allergic to cigarettes and starting spitting and sneezing making the whole pathway wet and slippery with his spittle.
Somehow the first game was over and the second started. One should physically and in person be present at the football games in Europe or in Brazil to really savour in the frenzy. Each team will have an anthem and just before a game starts, the fans of the particular team start singing the anthem or the hymn in such unison that one wonders whether even the national anthem is sung with such devotion. Well, coming back, this game was between Juventus and Inter. The din and the roar in the stadium was a challenge to the strongest ears. The spectators were berserk and every time an opportunity to score a goal was lost, there were roars, shouts (I am sure that most of them would have been the choicest epithets that Italy is famous for). Children and elders were jumping alike. There was a rhythm in the cheering too.
The second game was livelier and a lot of action with some slick dribbling of the ball, the headers and other action could be seen. The advantage of watching this type of games from the comfort of one’s home is that you do not need to support any team and enjoy whichever team scores. But in the stadium I realised that I had lost that luxury. I did not know which team my neighbours were cheering for. If I cheer when one team is scoring I might be virtually trodding on a claymore. So though I thoroughly enjoyed this second game, I could not openly cheer for the fear of my dear life. The second game ended with Juventus scoring one goal and Inter scoring none.
By the time the crucial and the decisive third game started, it was nearing 10-45 and the prospect of the bus leaving without me, leaving me to the mercy of the so called pickpocket predators in the middle of the night and the prospect of having to walk a long distance in an unfamiliar city and direction prodded me and I started leaving the stadium much to the disappointment of the mother of the boy.
Once out of the stadium there was an old man who had a glint of happiness in his eyes on seeing me and who rushed to me asking me whether I can spare him the billet so that he can see the unfinished third match. Maybe he did not know that the ticket had already been validated by the computer at the entrance or maybe he could have managed jut by showing the ticket. However, I wished to retain the ticket as a souvenir and so I pretended as if I did not understand him and kept on walking. There were many restaurants on wheels but I could not get a caffe’ (Coffee) or a latte (Milk) or even a cappuccino. Finally I could see an empty vehicle where by showing the items in the display could get a Vegetable sandwich which was my dinner for the night.
As I neared the bus I saw that there were many other afraid souls as most of the fans had already boarded the bus except for Franck and a couple of others. We got a message that Franck would make his own arrangements to arrive at the hostel and that we could proceed in the bus. At last we reached the hostel, albeit safely at about 11-45 pm.
Next day morning when Franck came in to take our class, we found that he and his other companions could not even enter the stadium till almost the first game ended, as their names did not match those on the tickets. So at the end of the first game the gate authorities apparently relented and allowed them inside. So Franck made it a point to sit through the whole game.
Despite all the anxiety and adrenalin, and quite a bill at Rs.2010 (Euros 30 x Rs.67), is a life time experience.
Isn't it? You tell me! :-)
Krutagjnatalu, Nanri, Dhanyavaadagalu, Nanni, Dhanyavaad, Thanks, Dhonyabaad, Gracias, Grazie, Danke Schon, Merci, Obrigado, Shukraan, Shukriya, Aw-koon, Kawp Jai Lhai Lhai.
Hemantha Kumar Pamarthy