Beautiful game? The day I had to watch a sport I hate
Dany Mitzman's Italian partner, Andrea, is passionate about football. She, by contrast, has never been to a match, and has no desire to. But now he wants to take their five-year-old daughter, Arianna, to see his beloved Bologna play. And Arianna wants to go too - on one condition…
"Forty euros?! You seriously want to waste 40 euros on a ticket for me?!"
"Arianna says she'll only go if you do. Right Arianna?"
"Yes mummy, if I have to try, you do too."
Argh. I'm trapped.
"I bet we'll need ear muffs," she adds.
He laughs. I groan.
Andrea's been begging me for years to "just try" going to the stadium and I've steadfastly refused. He thinks I'd be pleasantly surprised; I'm convinced I wouldn't.
I hate football.
It's not so much the game itself, I hate the histrionics of the players, the aggressive behaviour of fans. But most of all, I hate the noise. That constant, incessant background roar, aggravated on TV by frenzied commentators. I am to football what Scrooge was to Christmas.
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At home, we've found the perfect compromise. Andrea's "allowed" to watch it on our outsize screen at any time... but with headphones on. So the only soccer sound you'll hear in our house is Andrea himself, shouting comically into the silence.
My dislike of the sport is such that for the first two-and-a-half years of her life, my daughter actually thought the English translation of the Italian word, calcio, was "bloody football".
"He's watching bloody football."
"What's Daddy doing this evening?"
"He's playing bloody football."
One day, while waiting in a particularly silent queue at Barclays bank in Paddington, she spotted a large picture above the tellers' window and announced loudly, "Look mummy, bloody football!" It was only then that I decided I should set her straight.
"I've got the tickets," Andrea told me, in a tone mixing excitement and apology. Bologna v Parma - a decisive match because winning it would ensure Bologna stayed in Serie A, the top league.
Bologna's Dall'Ara stadium sits directly below the city's landmark, the hilltop sanctuary of San Luca. It's got no roof, so you can admire the picturesque church from the stands.
You can also get frostbite or sunstroke. They've been talking about putting a roof on it since I've lived here, and work will apparently start next year although I think they say that every year. Andrea invariably returns from matches having either frozen or roasted, but I'd grudgingly agreed that a 7pm match in mid-May would at least guarantee clement weather conditions.
Oh how wrong I was. As we checked the forecast on Sunday evening he was visibly anxious. Heavy rain all day.
On Monday he called me at lunchtime. "There's been flooding across the region," he said. "Some train lines have even been closed." He seemed to be regretting the whole idea - possibly even more than I was. Who'd have thought it would be mid-winter in mid-May?
But as the three of us walked hand-in-hand under the porticoes towards the game, our spirits were lifted by the fact that the rain had mercifully stopped.
It began again, with poetic punctuality, once we went through the turnstiles.
Andrea had organised for his friends to swap seats so we could all sit together.
Hat on and hood up, Arianna was quite excited. "Who should we vote for?" she'd asked me the previous day. "I think we should support daddy's team," I'd advised. She'd agreed and today was delighted her red and blue mittens matched Bologna's colours. I was delighted I'd put on a second pair of socks.
The stadium smelt a bit like going clubbing in the 90s. "People smoke in the stadium?" I asked in disbelief. "A lot," the guy behind me replied, "and not just cigarettes."
Thirty minutes in, nobody had scored. We'd heard the vulgar Italian word for penis shouted countless times at referee and players alike, and only the colourful sunset was keeping us from boredom. Arianna informed her father that she never wanted to come again.
"In the last few games, Bologna's never scored in the first half," he reassured her.
True to recent form, they did score after half time. Then again. And again! Arianna jumped up and down with glee each time.
Andrea beamed at me and I smiled back indulgently. Ten minutes before the final whistle, his friends were tapping me on the shoulder, offering to get us season tickets - as we'd clearly brought them luck.
At the final whistle it was 4-1 to Bologna and the rain had finally stopped. Andrea was happy I'd seen Bologna play so well and grateful I'd agreed to go. I was happy for him they'd played so well and grateful I never had to go again.
To some it's the beautiful game. To me, it will always be bloody football.
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