The Spice Boys

Lega Serie B – Spezia Calcio v Unione Sportiva Grosseto FC
Saturday, 6th April 2013, 3pm
Stadio Alberto Picco
Distance 916 miles, Attendance 5141 (including 8 away fans with three flags)
There are times in every child’s life, when rites of passage are duly learnt and achieved. Having been sapped of all our previous conversation pieces (bars, concerts, restaurants, theatre, sleeping, LIE-INS) for young parents these rites – our offspring’s days in the sun – become our new reference points; our brave new world.
We’ve all been there; stuck in a lift with love’s-young-dream cooing at the blank face in your pram. Little number one son looks sooo cute whilst, we just look haggard. One wonders why they never look deep into the knackered parents (us) eyes before daydreaming of having one too but then we, the zombies, have nothing remarkable to contribute. Staring enviously at the new Teenage Fanclub t-shirt she’s wearing, you feel lost at the inability to discuss the latest album as it is/was just TOO NOISY TO PLAY IN THE HOUSE whilst the junior’s sleeping. Glancing back up to their freshly coiffured faces, you grasp the simple reality that, those beaming creatures are totally alien to the universe you now inhabit.
No longer can I discuss the beautiful overlaid guitars of Blake, McGinley and Love; instead my specialist subject has become “the engineering wonders of disposable nappies” and “look-at-me moments”; smiling, solids, talking, walking, reading, kicking a ball, play gyms and, – somewhere before riding a bike, girlfriend’s and porn mags – the worst of the lot; the shrill, piercing first steps on the road to tuneful champion.
On a positive note both our children are breaking out of the dependency period (think Regency but with naughty steps). We still have our frustrations but the talking points are moving on and the experiences are at least becoming more shared.
Thankfully our determined son learnt to whistle some time back; we’ve passed the uncontrollable toots and have progressed to melody, of sorts. Without truly mastering the beauty of Otis Redding’s Dock Of The Bay yet (I’m working on it) whilst still somewhat irking my lovely wife, until yesterday he was fairly content with this (as secretly was I).
Sitting cheap pitch-side in Stadio Alberto Picco, with the sun beating down (given the six months freeze we’ve had back home, it’s all relative), number one son finally experienced the full force of the whistle. Gone was a need for musical training. Piano and forte reduced to passé; any melody was totally unnecessary, this was sheer deafening banshee wail. Far better than any boo,  it pierces deep into your every pore; the whistle really is the perfect display of dissatisfaction.
Leaving the apartment mid-morning we’d headed up the coast to pick out a boat we couldn’t possibly afford in the marina, before heading into La Spezia centro for a wander about and a pre-match meal.

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Located on the Ligurian sea, equidistance between Genoa and Pisa, La Spezia is one of the main Italian ports; home to the Italian Navy arsenal, it has huge harbours for both military and commercial vessels. The “Spice” city has been settled in since prehistoric times. The Romans made the most of it as did the Genoese and – away from the heavy industry – it’s got some lovely architecture and is the perfect starting point for exploring the wonderful Cinque Terre. I am also reliably informed there are some museums worth visiting although, I had my sights fixated on calcio.
Whether Genoa or Turin (through merchant worker Edoardo Bosio) is the origin of Italian football I’ll leave to others but, we do know I Rossoblu took the first ever Federazione Italiana Giuoco Calcio title in 1898.
In the decade it took football to travel from the Ligurian capital, the short distance down the coast to La Spezia, some weird and wonderful stuff had gone on. First to arrive in Genoa was cricket in 1893 and then, three years on James Richardson Spensley introduced football to the club. By then there were two leagues; one for Italians only and, another the foreign residents could also take part in. AC Milan made up “the big three” along with Genoa and Torino although, heavily on the scene were also Juventus who – judging by the current local interest in La Vecchia Signora – Liguria may well be the Italian equivalent of United’s Surrey.
On 10th October 1906, Swiss businessman Hermann Hurny and some friends formed a football section for Sport Club Spezia to play against passing servicemen. Five years later Spezia Football Club was officially born. The first friendly game was held within weeks against Virtus Juventusque Livorno and, Alberto Picco appeared as captain.
Following WWI, Spezia won the 1920 regional league, changed their kit to white in honour of the great Pro Vercelli team of the era (currently three places below them), and gained promotion to the top division where they finish behind Andrea Doria (a forerunner of Sampdoria) and Genoa. The rest of their history involves a lot of toing and froing between the second and third tiers of the Italian pyramid, with rare dips into what is now Serie A and D. In the process I Aquilotti (The Eagles) have bagged a few trophies however, following relegation to Serie C1 in 20008 the club folded with massive financial problems.
???????????????????????????????Setting out a five year plan to reach the top division, a new club – A.S.D. Spezia Calcio 2008 – was formed, starting life in Serie D with new owners. This was announcement was swiftly followed by a bit of rebranding to Spezia Calcio 1906. Aquilotti won promotion at the first attempt and, followed this with a 2010 Lega Pro Seconda Divisione (C2) Play-Off victory. Back in Lega Pro Prima Divisione, group B, (C1 or the third division to you and me) Spezia took a couple of years before superbly running away with La Stagione del Triplete; (I’m beginning to lose track of where to use italics but…) the league and cup triple includes the Lega Pro Prima Divisione (C1) title, Supercoppa di Lega di Prima Divisione and, Coppa Italia Lega Pro.
In true Meat Loaf style – giving them their first ever appearance in Serie B – Unione Sportiva Grosseto FC of Tuscany also won two out of those three in 2007; the Lega Pro Prima Divisione (C1) title and, Supercoppa di Lega di Prima Divisione. Away from football, Grosseto has also achieved fame from 1243 and 1246, as the winter residence of the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick II, and more recently, I Grifoni were implicated in the Scommessopoli scandal but later absolved by the Court Of Justice.
???????????????????????????????Back to our afternoon in La Spezia, there was no such scandal; some gender stereotyping maybe but nothing scandalous. After a meandering through town and shopping at the large market selling all manner of food and fashion trends, we headed off for lunch, in hell. Situated in a basement just south of the market, the underground restaurant All ‘Inferno served all the expected fare for an Italian seaport and did so with aplomb; inside there was also the comforting sight of home supporters taking in the pre-match feast.
130406 SerieB Spezia v Grossetto (33)With no reflection on the food but more to do with being with non-sports fans, nervously anticipating kick-off one of us was mighty relieved when the meal was over and we were once again walking back to the cars, where our journeys would temporarily separate; the ladies heading for the shopping mall, the boys to football (before anyone asks this was the freedom of democracy in action).
Around the stadium parking was easy for cars, buses and thousands of scooters; getting into the stadium was not so easy. Situated to the east of town, the Stadio Alberto Picco holds just over 10,000 in 130406 SerieB Spezia v Grossetto (54)delightfully traditional four stand formation. To the north, the Tribuna runs along the side of the pitch and houses the covered posh seats. Opposite are the dugouts, a big glass wall, and behind the Distini (the cheap seats, on the main road side of the ground). This is also covered. On the town side to the west, and home to the away fans, the Curva Piscina (the “Pool End”) is totally open to the elements, whilst to the east “Iron Street” end; the Curva Ferrovia is home to the noisy and well-orchestrated home support. A pristine 3G pitch sits in the centre and the whole lot is surrounded by a high steel fence which is not as easy as one would like to enter.
There’s no pay-on-the-gate, so all fans without tickets must walk round to the ticket office situated between the Ferrovia and Tribuna. Here one must validate one’s existence with photo IDs for every purchase (yes, this does apply to children too) before finding the correct entrance, which for us was on the opposite corner near where we’d parked, and thus near where we’d just trudged round from. Whilst the police presence seem more concerned with texting friends, at the gate, tickets and IDs were rechecked before the amicable bottle top police rummaged in bags. By now the free programmes handed out to those getting past the security had run dry, the club shop had shut and locals were queuing for last minute beer and espresso to take to their seats.

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Finding our three beautifully-moulded-rigid-orange-plastic-bolted-to-the-steps seats was relatively painless (they were also far more comfy than those in Bordeaux), the glass wall between us and the pitch proved only a slight irritant however behind, the girls using their unread programmes to ensure their immaculately pressed trousers stayed clean… AGH! (to much relief, I did later find a programme going spare and not from under their well-dressed natiche)
130406 SerieB Spezia v Grossetto (97)As the warm up drew to a close – under the welcoming sunshine – three sides of the ground were buzzing. The fourth however was occupied by a mere two lonely Grifoni and their two homemade flags. By the final whistle these two had multiplied to eight fans with three flags (does anyone know any of them?), one of whom even looked wonderfully engaging but, being bottom of the table away support can seem less appealing than wine appreciation in Tuscan bars.
After the home fans applauded what looked like one of the cast from The Sopranos as he crossed the pitch to the away dugout (any ideas?) and a minute’s silence (which my father-in-law told my son was for the lack of gelato in the stadium), Spezia kicked-off with fewer worries than their guests. New Serie B boys, Spezia weren’t riding high in the league – just four places and 16 points higher than Grosseto – but were a little more comfortable however, as relegation rules mean every team up to 18th is pretty much in trouble at the end of the season, both teams were still desperate for a win.
130406 SerieB Spezia v Grossetto (70)From the first pass it was clear Spezia could lose the game but, Grosseto were unlikely to win it. The home side had far better possession without getting lucky in front of goal; the away side – sadly for the super eight – appeared totally incapable of scoring.
A few minutes in, the first opportunity – a Marco Crimi free-kick headed goalwards by Emanuele Padella – forced Spezia’s Alessandro Iacobucci into a comfortable save. The first serious Aquilotti opening came from a fantastic curling pass down the left from Duarte Mario Rui. Marco Sansovini controlled well but was callously hacked down as he turned. The subsequent low free-kick was put away but immediately ruled offside. Next up Paolo Sammarco hit the bar with a long range effort, and Dorin Goian’s overhead kick was tipped over for a second corner, by Ivan Lanni who looked like he was in for a busy afternoon.
Whereas in English the verbal “encouragement” can seem a little abrasive at times, about us the constant talking in the Distini – intermingled with complaints at the whistle-happy chap in the middle – was almost melodic.
Whilst it was a relief to have a break from the ref’s whistle as halftime sounded, the 0-0 score line was very fortunate. After a great run and cross down the right from Cristiano Piccini, Mirko Antenucci missed an open goal to the dismay of the home support. Up the other end Arturo Lupoli was brought down in the box but the ref (as with most of the afternoon) disagreed with me and waved play on. Duarte Gaston volleyed well from the edge of the box but Iacobucci’s save was better, Sansovini failed to beat the Lanni from a yard out, and another good chance went into the side netting. About us frustrated yells were ringing out from the Spezzini. Sounding somewhat like “bastardo”, it’s likely my Italian is more questionable than the ref’s parentage; however my Neapolitan father-in-law could clearly be seen chuckling at the chorus of complaints.
The second period start with the fine performing Piccini curiously making way for Nicola Madonna (there’s a Catholic joke in there somewhere), and was quickly followed by a couple of wasted chances. The home defence had seemed more measured since the break though a tame back pass almost let Lupoli in as he chased down Iacobucci, who was casually attempting to control the ball. Fortunately for him the away difensori had calamitous ideas of their own. Giving away two clumsy corners, the second was headed back into the area by Gianluca Masacci to Goian who, deftly chested the ball down, turned and smashed it high into the net.

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At this point the substitutions started in earnest; some met with rapturous applause, others with groans of dismay. Somehow still on the pitch – yet struggling to find either the fienile porta or his bangio – Antenucci missed another superb chance, which was quickly matched by David Di Gennaro who shot wide. On the Curva Ferrovia the synchronised singing and banner display was in full swing whilst, the inhabitants of the Distini either sat coolly behind the shades or yelled animatedly at the referee (who having spent the first 45 blowing up for anything and everything, now seemed content to allow crunching tackles through whilst waving some cards about). With the action drawing to a close like in Die Hard it was a Gennaro who fittingly helped save the day.
Breaking down the right towards what seemed like an impenetrable wall of defenders David put his thinking head on, cut inside and unleashed a brilliant strike straight into the top let corner. For once in unison, the crowd leapt from their seats stunned in celebration at such an extraordinary goal; having been right behind the strike, for us this was doubly so. After the furore died down, moments later they were out of their seats again, again in unison.

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The deafening shrill arrived like the flick of a switch, swallowing up every other sound in the vicinity. Looking down, my son – unable to follow the action – was staring wide-eyed at the crowd behind us, shocked by the pitch of the noise. In an instant the penetrating sound gave way to deafening silence. Stuck out in the open behind the goal to our right, I have no idea if the super eight visiting fans were cheering; obligatory tumble weed would’ve have been more audible.
The Grosseto penalty if anything was only a consolation. Such was the shock of the crowd reaction I cannot remember what the offence was for. The Spezzini (not to be confused with Spazzini) were out of their seats, banging on the glass screen, baying for the game to end and, before the relief arrived and hordes of scooters sped into the distance, the ref continued in his qualified ineptitude, the Grifoni eight stood proud in the sun, and my son touched the match ball as it bounced over his head back towards the pitch.
There were no dogs in club colours but as red letter days go, there had been something for everyone. It 130406 SerieB Spezia v Grossetto (72)was the first time I’d been “permitted” a football fix on an in-law family holiday, and my father-in-law had pleasingly joined us. I was just overjoyed to sit in the Italian sun and watch some football and for once – unlike the white suited scouser era – I was actually happy to cheer on The Spice Boys; my son was thrilled to have touched the ball and even more thrilled he couldn’t understand the swearing which troubles him so much back home; my son had also experienced at first-hand, the beautiful ability a whistle has to demonstrate total and utter contempt.
* * * * * * * * *
As a footnote, number one son has just sat down next to me in the kitchen, made some bodily noises and declared he’s going to make some origami. With another rite passed I find myself very proud of him once more.
This entry was posted in 2012-2013, Serie B and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Spice Boys

  1. I really enjoyed your story about us. Please come on blog : http://www.bandapart.it/ilmuro/ .
    Site of Spezia fans.

  2. Benedetto Marchese says:

    L’ha ribloggato su Io Riflettoe ha commentato:
    Bel post su Spezia-Grosseto

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