Io sono una truffa
Io non sono un tifoso
Io non sono uno scrittore
But, still, just maybe…
I write this, having struggled to write anything for ages; anything at all – anything worth submitting here.
I also writing this, with hindsight – knowing that I was always going to end up writing a piece like this. For this is a piece that not only questions my commitment and desire to write, but also the subject I took, possibly, too close to heart.
Some of you will know how it started; with a desire to follow a club in the lower reaches of Italian football in an attempt to learn the language, and offer up an excuse to take the family on holiday. They had to be hard to follow – as in website, papers, TV coverage – but well known enough to have a hook; to spark that initial level of interest. That club was their club - Pro Vercelli.
I started to write; tiptoeing my way through Google Translate and a line or two in Gazzetta dello Sport. I joined forums; I scoured the net for tifosi sites – hoping to find the odd post in English – or at least a group of Italians who would converse in English. I went to a game. I planned a trip around another – which was moved just after the flights had been paid for. What had started out as a means by which to get a few readers and learn a few sentences in a foreign language had turned in to a minor obsession – uncomfortably so.
For Pro started to win. They out performed anything they had done in the previous 64 years. The game I saw was the first leg of their Lega Pro playoff match. It rained so hard I threw away the shoes I wore to the game (including a toe nail); modern day, stadia related “trench foot”. They won that game with an injury time goal. I went mad. Screaming and shouting as football fans do, but even then I had to stop myself – for fear I was going too far.
I watched the playoff final on a laptop at home. I danced around the kitchen, I drank Italian beer – I hugged my daughter; before stopping myself, once more. This wasn’t right. I had gone too far. No one was reading the blog – 20 people at most per post if lucky; but I didn’t care about that. The cost of hosting, of the name – the time I was putting in to it – they were just minor details. I was writing it because I wanted people to feel the same way I did. The minor details were quickly engulfed by the bigger issues. When would I next get out there? How could I talk to the fans on the forums? How could I convince them that this interest was now, not about languages or holidays – it was genuine?
Stop. Stop it now.
I still haven’t learnt the language. I couldn’t find an evening class that would take me at the level I wanted. I also didn’t get back out there. The aborted trip to Cittadella became “just” a family holiday to Venice (which was great, by the way). The planned trip to see Crotone was put off due to finances. I stopped going on the forums. I stopped writing. I finally stopped. The point I stopped was when I realised that Pro were taking over. Taking me to the toilet in restaurants to check scores when out at the pub with friends; taking over Facebook so that I now have more Italian posts and adverts in my timeline than English ones. They even took over my interest in my own club, my real love – Spurs.
Where I could tell you who Pro would be playing for the next month and the implications of each result, I sometimes only found out who Spurs were playing through the vitriolic moutbreathing on twitter ahead of each game. My brain is clearly not big enough to manage the various permutations of more than one football club.
But, still, just maybe…
I keep checking the highlights. Keep responding to the various additions to my @ column on twitter from Juve fans wanting updates on their players. I keep starting to write posts that I know I won’t finish due to the frustrations nagging away inside. I keep looking at the Tifosi pages on Facebook, where proper journalists post their articles and get more and more frustrated – that I am not there, that I can’t really, and I mean really, offer up an opinion when I am limited to three minute highlight reels.
Or can I? I can see the obvious mistakes the players are making. I can see where Mister Braghin lost the ability to shape the side. I can still scream “cazzo” or “merda” at the screen as Pro concede yet another penalty, another soft goal – play with only the keeper, Alex Valentini proving his worth in Serie B. I can sit here, at work, planning in my head how I can convince my wife, daughter and soon to be, new born child, why I should go to the derby match against Novara next season. I get hooked back in, time and again as Italian friends introduce me as the “Pro Vercelli Tifoso”. They are three simple words that appear to mark me out as someone strange and interesting to the newly acquainted.
If you’re thinking about supporting a lower league club, in a foreign country, maybe through a share offer or a shirt bought on holiday. Well, stop. Stop it now. You don’t just start supporting a club. It’s not that simple. Before you know it you are checking scores, reading articles, making new friends and ignoring old ones; weighing up family arguments against money spent and good times had. You are sat in a hotel room, on your own, with a missing toenail as you grin from rain soaked cheek to cheek at the day you’ve just had. You write, rewrite and delete updates on twitter, Facebook or blogs – as you try so painfully hard to convince the locals that you are worth following; worth their time.
Sometimes you’re not. Sometimes you’re just a bloke, sat in a room in a far off country, staring at a key ring that dares you to dream; dares you to believe that a small club, with a fantastic history, can survive the hardest battle they’ve faced in years. Someone who can try to switch off; hide from the results coming in from Italy – put all their hope in the club they really love; really care about.
Problem is – I’m no longer sure which club that is?
Image: Of the Curva Ovest from the ever brilliant Andrea Cherchi