One of the highlights of my every morning, sad bugger that I am, is the ‘memories’ feature that Facebook has now. If you’re not familiar with it – every day Facebook shows you a selection of things you posted on the social network a year ago today, two years ago today, three, four and so on right back to the year you joined.
Call me a narcissist, but I love flicking through and seeing all the things I was doing and saying on this day all those years back. I only share something from it once a week at the most, but I look at it every single day regardless.
A lot of the time looking at a memory invokes a wider story and feelings behind it that I may not have shared or expressed adequately at the time. For example, today a photo popped up that I took seven years ago and it brought back vivid football memories. So I decided that rather than just sharing it with my friends on Facebook, I would write about it here instead.
27 May 2009 was the day of the UEFA Champions League final – staged at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome – Between Manchester United and Barcelona.
I was in town. I wanted to go to the game, but I lucked out of the ballot and the tickets weren’t worth the money that scalpers were asking for them. If Roma had been in it I would have done whatever it took to get in there, but we had been knocked out by Arsenal in a quarter-final penalty shootout, so my plan was to watch the game in a pub. But before that I wanted to get out and around and sample what a big European city felt like on the day of a big football final that it was hosting.
I only made one mistake – I wore my Roma shirt.
With Barcelona fans, it wasn’t a problem at all. When I was in their vicinity, every single time, they yelled “FORZA ROMA!” at me – they knew whose city they were in and they respected it. But every time I was within range of a Manchester United fan or, worse, a group of them, it meant abuse.
The worst case of this was at the San Giovanni Metro Station. As I descended the stairs, a big group of half cut Man U fans who were already on the platform spotted me. They opened with what seemed to be the song of the day – “Where are your famous f**king ultras?” When that didn’t get a reaction out of me, they tried “PAOLO DI CANIO”. I knew what they were after and I was determined not to give it to them. So when that didn’t work, obviously frustrated, they started chanting “YOU FAT F**KING BASTARD” over and over and over. I was staring at the ground, actually quite scared, wondering where this was going next…
Thankfully the train arrived. I made sure to get on as far away from them as possible but I could still see and hear them through the other passengers that separated us. As luck would have it though, the part of the train I was in was full of Barcelona fans. It didn’t take them long to see what was going on. Before I knew it they had surrounded me like a protective shield and they were singing a song of their own – “F**K YOU MANCHESTER! F**K YOU MANCHESTER! F**K YOU MANCHESTER!”
At that moment, I thought I was safe. My stop was coming up – Piazza di Spagna/The Spanish Steps – as the train ground to a halt I made for the doors. But as I approached the turnstiles to exit the platform I heard the sound of loud crashing coming from the train. It became clear that a fight had broken out. Some Barca fans who had already gone through the turnstiles on their way out of the station turned on their heels, jumped back over the top of the barriers and raced towards the battle. Part of me thought “this is all my fault – I should go back and try to do something”. But what could I have done? Knowing that I would almost certainly have been either hurt or arrested, I scurried out towards the light of the day…
When I emerged into that most famous square, I took the photograph above – the photograph that Facebook chose to put amongst my memories for me this morning.
Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words. Other times it doesn’t even come close to doing justice to the story behind it!
Categories: Other Football Topics
A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.