After attending a Juventus “football” game in Torino, I have a better understanding of just how BIG the sport is in Italy. I also have a better understanding of why alcoholic beverages are not permitted into the stadium and why they aren’t sold at concession stands… drunk fans would be even more of a liability than the sober ones already are.
Back in the U.S, soccer is not a big spectator sport. If a brawl were to break out in the stands of a sporting event, you’d be more inclined to believe that the said fight occurred at a tee-ball tournament than a professional soccer game. But here, it’s a different story. Once in Italy, everyone inevitably knows someone else whose experience in the chaos parallels that of a legendary tale. There are only two degrees of separation between you and some unfortunate person that once went to a game and woke up in the hospital to find he’d been hit in the head with a bottle before it even started.
Alright, so maybe I’m exaggerating a little. But there is a good reason why security officials at the game stand shoulder to shoulder around the perimeter of the stadium, and especially so around the area reserved for away-team fans. Quite simply, the people here are crazy about their football.
Although I am not a huge fan of televised sports, I have to admit that watching a game in person is an entirely different experience. Except for World Cup match-ups, soccer is not something I would schedule reminders for on my DVR. But, it was definitely a fun sport to watch in person! Juventus was ranked significantly higher than the opposing squad, and so the intensity of the game was lower than it would have been if they were hosting a rival of their caliber. Nevertheless, the energy in the arena was palpable. The fans chanted in unison, a single voice comprised of countless spectators. Their verses bellowed strongly onto the large green field from underneath the covered bleachers.
When the opposing team scored first, the crowds went wild. Juventus supporters ranted, swore and whistled. (Yes, whistling is the European alternative to booing.) Meanwhile, the small conglomerate of away-team fans charged to the railings at the first level of bleachers in their section. For them, the excitement was short-lived. Juventus tied it up and then took the lead with a successful penalty kick delivered by their star player.
For a first-time spectator like myself, the highlights of the game came with the final few minutes of play. It was then that a Juventus player scored the third and final goal for his team, and subsequently ran a victory lap around the stadium. It was a celebratory display that would have resulted in a considerable fine had he been an NFL player, and it was hilarious to watch. Not as hilarious, of course, as the spectacle of the players stripping down to their underwear and tossing, not only their shirts, but also their shorts to fans at the end of the game. There’s something comical about a man walking across an entire soccer field in nothing other than his tightie-whities and cleats.
All in all, by the end of the game, I understood why people enjoy attending the matches. Even though I will probably never be a passionate fan, I definitely have a new appreciation for the sport. It's another piece of the culture here that I can check of my list of experiences in Italy!