As an AC Milan fan born and bred, the sight of the San Siro is one that fills a Milanista with inexplicable joy. Emerging from the metro station as part of a sea of red and black and seeing the near 90,000-seater stadium feels like a pilgrimage to a spiritual home. But, on the day of Inter versus Verona, the usual warmth of togetherness and belonging was replaced by isolation colder than the early-spring chill.
It was a favour to friends not familiar with seeing Italian football in the flesh, taking them to see a one-off experience, the spectacle of the San Siro on a match day. Unfortunately, the only match scheduled during our stay involved the blue half of Milan. As a writer though, an open mind is needed when it comes to these things and so, hesitantly, I agreed to go along. The fact we already travelled 950-miles from Glasgow may have also been a factor too.
A Scottish Idiot Abroad
I half-considered wearing my AC Milan top under a hoodie, then realised I would quite like to make it out of the stadium alive. The lesson I learned on the underground journey is that whatever career path I take in future, an international spy is not one of them. Sweat began to appear the nearer we got to the stadium. At every stop, more Inter fans joined us and more eyes I could almost feel burrowing into the back of my head.
The more likely reason for that is how painfully Scottish we looked, proudly standing in our shorts and sunglasses in the 15-degree sauna that is Milan in March.
Eventually the metro reached our Mecca, and out we stepped behind enemy lines. Poker faces all-round as we walk by pictures of AC Milan’s 2007 Champions League winning-side, as well as Inter’s 2010 equivalent plastered on the station walls.
The sheer scale of the San Siro isn’t possible to comprehend until you have seen it first-hand. The great spiral stairways which are pillars of the stadium in every sense, are just as impressive up close. Music and the voice of the ultras boom from inside the stadium even an hour before kick-off. The atmosphere exists not just within the San Siro cauldron, but stretches out as far as the metro line dedicated to the stadium.
After the organised chaos that was the ticket office, we made our way up the symbolic spirals. The novelty wore off fifth time round, and after realising we were only a quarter of the way up, took the old-fashioned stairs instead.
Singing San Siro
Last-minute tickets meant we were in the third tier, looming over the pitch as opposed to being in amongst the locals. But what our seats lacked in numbers more than made up for in view. It isn’t hard to find yourself caught up in the party atmosphere when it’s literally reverberating inside you. The admittedly impressive Inter ultras dominated the Curve Nord, whilst a pocket of Verona fans tried their hardest to make themselves heard, tucked away high in the third tier.
In the middle, sat three Scots, including one who is convinced nothing will ever beat the atmosphere in the 8,000-seater Caledonian Stadium as Inverness won the Challenge Cup.
If the noise was loud before kick-off, Mauro Icardi’s first-minute opener made it almost deafening. As an AC Milan faithful I was committed to 90 minutes of silence, but as a football fan you can’t help marvel at real, top-level footballers in their prime.
Icardi’s often-praised movement is incredible to witness in the flesh. Even after deciding to solely watch the striker for five minutes, I lost track of him as he ghosted in and out of Verona’s defence. If I couldn’t keep track of him, you can start to understand the size of the task opposition defenders have.
The gulf in class between the two sides was obvious. Verona were chasing shadows in midfield, and on the rare occasion they had the ball it was quickly lost. Most of the time it would go to Newcastle loanee Rolando Aarons, and most of the time he would be tackled within a few seconds.
Ivan Perisic’s clinical finish in the 13th minute killed the game before it had a chance to get going. It was David vs Goliath, except Goliath simply steamrolled David who offered little to no opposition and refused to attack back.
At half-time, the 60,230 attendance was announced, a more significant figure than we realised at the time. Since the start of the season, Inter have dropped from title challengers to fighting for top-four, and with an almost certain victory against Verona, to achieve more than 60,000 is an impressive turn-out. Perhaps it’s a sign of the times, as fortunes slowly begin to turn round for both Milan clubs, with fans at least given something to cheer about this season.
Inter’s third goal, and Icardi’s second, came at the start of the second half and thereafter the game ticked on without much incident. As the clock counted down to stoppage time, the ball was played through to substitute Eder, who was blatantly blocked off by ‘keeper Nicolas. A red card for the Verona player, leaving no choice but for midfielder Romulo to take over in goals.
It turned out to be the most entertaining part of the match, with Romulo making an incredible double save, coincidentally more than Nicolas managed the whole match. In the end, 3-0 was a fair result for what was complete, tactical domination by Luciano Spalletti’s side.
More importantly, I had made it the full match with only one slip up, shouting something which I won’t repeat here at Verona, after the missed an easy counter-attack opportunity. Other than that, I had managed to pull off my undercover operation and breathed for what felt like the first time in nearly two hours after leaving the stadium.
An experience I recommend to anyone visiting Milan, but one that I won’t be doing again. Ever.