By Gary Walker
February 15, 2011. The Stadio Giuseppe Meazza. With 80 minutes on the clock, Aaron Lennon launched an incisive Spurs counter attack, burnt away from Mario Yepes, making the AC Milan veteran look like a lumbering Sunday League centre-half, and crossed for Peter Crouch to tap the only goal of the game, indeed the Champions League last-16 tie, into Christian Abbiati‘s net.
Up in the gods, 5,000 Spurs fans who would have known better than to dare to dream of this result, went mental. At the other end, in their seats high above the Rossoneri’s bristling Ultras, Milan season-ticket holders Dina Manini and Alberto Peccardino let their heads drop into their hands dejectedly, and swore into their palms.
Or at least they would have done, had Steve and I not been occupying their usual places, digging our nails into our thighs, grinning maniacally at the floor, uttering a range of happy expletives through gritted teeth and trying not to draw unwanted attention to ourselves; generally trying not to stand up on our seats, and let loose a guttural, long-opressed roar. “YESYESYES.OHMYFUCKINGGODCROUCHY’SBLOODYSCORED.WE’REWINNING
ATTHEBASTARDSANSIRO”, or words to that effect.
Dina and Alberto had put their seats up for sale via one of the slightly dubious online middleman sites that can be found in the internet’s murky nether regions; and having failed to obtain a ticket in the Spurs end, this now seemingly increasingly dangerous course of action had felt like a good idea at the time.
Having flown in on the early morning red eye from Bristol, we’d been on our feet all day, promenading through Milan’s grand arcades, marveling at the sheer scale of the grand Gothic Duomo, gorging ourselves on pasta, and putting away enough Italian lager to dull the effects of the relentless February drizzle.
And now here we were, soaking wet and sobering up among the mightily pissed off home fans at one of the most imposing football stadiums in the world, trying very hard to look as if we were having a thoroughly shit time.
We had to join in the uproar, too, as that nasty little tazmanian devil Gennaro Gatuso attempted to headbutt Joe Jordan, much to the granite Scottish Spurs coach’s apparent indifference.
We followed the lead of the Milanese around us by chain-smoking our way through a second-half rich in drama. We had to internalise our outrage as former Arsenal rodent Matthieu Flamini made a thoroughly committed attempt at breaking Vedran Corluka‘s leg, and was incredibly allowed to remain on the field.
As the final whistle, and an unlikely Spurs victory drew nearer, Milan’s onslaught on Heurelho Gomes‘ goal gained in intensity, and so the pressure on Steve and I grew. It felt as if every massed roar of encouragement, every howled curse of frustration and every huge, ground-shaking boom from the fire crackers exploding from amid the Ultras below, was aimed at us.
For a few minutes we thought the man a few seats down from us, wearing a bluetooth earpiece and headset, was plain-clothes security and had noticed us when Crouch scored. Perhaps we were about to be ejected and carted off to some rat-ridden cell, where a hefty Italian guard would eye us menacingly and say in broken but pointed English, “So, did you enjoy the game, boys?”
He turned out to be listening to football on his radio and, probably bored by Milan’s fairly dismal performance, making a hands-free call on his mobile. But sat behind enemy lines, unable to interpret the furious shouts and animated gestures from the thousands of Italians surrounding us cranked up the nervous energy to almost intolerable levels.
And when it came, the equaliser, an overhead kick hooked in by Zlatan Ibrahimovic, felt almost like a relief. As the San Siro rose as one, the giant flags unfurled, and this vast old concrete cathedral of Italian football became the latest scene of a Spurs heartbreak, of a shot at glory that had fallen cruelly short, we were too sapped of spirit to stand up and pretend to be Alberto and Dina.
But wonderfully, unexpectedly, the referee signalled for a push on Michael Dawson, and the goal was disallowed. Soon after, the final whistle went and by this stage the jig was up, and I couldn’t pretend any more. Looking around, there were quite a few other Spurs fans who’d been walking the same emotional tightrope for the past hour and a half. By now, the Milan fans were too fed up to care, and left us to it.
We waited for the San Siro to empty, as the Tottenham fans, what seemed like half a mile away and being kept behind, filled the old stadium with the slow, mournful first stirrings of ‘Oh When The Spurs Go Marching In’; a song that recalls glory days past and yearns for the time when it will be our day again.
For a fleeting moment you get to forget all the day-to-day shit – the unpaid water bill, the unjust parking ticket, the job that you hate, and the latest embarrassing, half-hearted collapse by 11 non-caring millionaires in white and navy.
And sometimes, just sometimes, it is your day. For a fleeting moment you get to forget all the day-to-day shit – the unpaid water bill, the unjust parking ticket, the job that you hate, and the latest embarrassing, half-hearted collapse by 11 non-caring millionaires in white and navy at the Emirates, or the Reebok, or fucking Middlesbrough.
Sometimes you get to be there, in the top tier at the San Siro as 70,000 fans of one of the most decorated football clubs in European football history slope away towards the exits, having watched their team outplayed, outfought and well beaten by Spurs. Wilson Palacios et al.
Later that night, still in shock at what we’d witnessed, we found a little backstreet bar near our hostel, surprisingly full of Spurs fans. The barman had put a re-run of the game on, and we watched it all again, as if for the first time.
Halfway through the second half, the poor proprietor, overwhelmed by this sudden surge in noisy custom, tried to turn off the TV and close for the night, and was loudly but politely persuaded otherwise. We were allowed to carry on watching as long as he turned down the lights and we agreed to watch in silence.
Minutes later, Lennon was accelerating away from Yepes, Crouch was sweeping home again and all good-natured hell was breaking loose in the bar. We were promptly thrown out, the doors locked and one unfortunate fan had a bucket of water emptied over him from a third-floor window by a Mrs Manini or Pecarrdino, not too happy at having her Tuesday night’s sleep interrupted. Perfect slapstick.
The next morning, our clandestine raid on the San Siro completed, we made our getaway from Milan, not by air but by rail. It had worked out cheaper to get the train to Geneva, spend a night there and fly back to England, than to fly directly from Milan.
So, as Steve slept in the seat opposite, I contentedly read through the coverage of the match in Gazetta Dello Sport and gazed out of the window as the train line carved its way through the snow-topped Alps, and beautiful little Italian, then Swiss villages flashed by.
Sometimes it just is your day. I’m glad you couldn’t make it, Alberto and Dina.