A Love affair With Verona.
Many people visit Verona ‘The City of Love’, as we were told by the owner of the Bed and Breakfast we stayed in, because of the story of Romeo and Juliet’ but for me this 70th birthday trip was inspired by Tim Park’s book ‘A Season with Verona’.
I read the book 15 years ago and it is not just a football book about Tim following a season with Hellas Verona F.C. in Serie A but also a travel guide, a description of Italian Culture, and warm personal expression of the personalities and experiences of it’s fans, players and officials. Hellas Verona were fighting relegation which is not unusual for this under achieving club which did once win the Serie A title back in the 1984/85 season.
Tim Parks was was born in Manchester in 1954 , grew up in London, studied at Cambridge and Harvard and moved to Italy in 1981. He worked as a Professor at the University in Verona and has written many books and literary pieces. Tim has become fully embedded in the Italian way of life and with his Italian born wife brought up a family of three children.
I have read some of Tim’s other books and they are all so well written, absorbing and easy to read.
The Stadio Marc’Antonio Bentegodi is set in a residential area a short walk from the ancient historic quarter of Verona, the concrete arena similar to the Roman Arena only 30 minutes walk away. It was built in 1963 and updated in 1990 for the FIFA World Cup and is the eighth largest stadium in Italy used for multi teams, sports and concerts.
To get in you must first show Photo ID to match the names on the tickets and then move on to the second gate where you scan your ticket and to pass through a turnstile. At 30 minutes before the start there is singing and chanting that is drawing you up the concrete steps to find your seat. The bars and food kiosks are busy but no chips here. I could have satisfied my Chip League score outside the ground where there are many stalls but that would not have been in keeping with my rules.
The seats were high up and just on the edge of the Curve Sud the home of the ‘Hellas Ultras’ who have draped many banners everywhere, some are holding up monstrous flags on poles and others waving the yellow and blue flags handed out free to everyone entering the ground.
The grey drizzly weather has given way to to blue skies with wispy high clouds and the biting cold wind has subsided to nothing. The pitch is perfectly flat as you would expect at this level but the middle of the pitch at the southern end is well sanded due to the wearing grass.
You are further away from the pitch as normal due to the running track but this does not spoil the atmosphere that is building as the teams come out. A passionate song about the giallo e blu lead into one song/chant after another, many nare favourites you can hear all over Europe. The passion throughout the game is exactly as Tim Parks had described although the ferocity of the supporters may have mellowed.
Hellas are back in Serie A this season and their hometown rivals who also play at this stadium, Chievo, were relegated to Serie B last season so bragging rites are all with Hellas. The game starts with some chanting from the small contingent of Lecce fans who are way off in the upper reaches of the ground and it reminds me of the small band of Accrington Stanley fans at the Stadium of Light on a Friday night last season.
Lecce started the game the more confident team and Lapadula had a shot cleared off the line after rounding the goalkeeper after which Verona started to dominate the game. It was no surprise that they took the lead on 19 minutes when a curled in corner from the left was met by the head of Pawel Dawidowicz for the lead.
Lecce had to substitute their goalkeeper Gabriel for Vigorito about 5 minutes later after what appeared to be a leg injury.
Most of the Verona attacks were down the left which may have been because the right side of the pitch seemed very soft and was cutting up easily. It was again a ball in from the left that saw Verona get their second goal, another header, this time by Matteo Pessina.
Lecce did come close when with 3 minutes of added time just ending Zan Majer clipped the crossbar from range.
The second half was dominated by Hellas and made worse for Lecce with the sending off of Cristian Dell’Orca for a second bookable offence. The game was petering out and two fans to the left decided to take off their tops and display tans that must have been forged in the summer and whip up the support around them and then to the whole stadium. May be not coincidental but a few minutes later on 87 minutes the goalkeeper rushed out and upended the acrobatic Sofyan Ambrabat to give Giampaolo Pazzini the chance to smash the penalty straight down the middle and give Hellas Verona a very comfortable three nil win.
The atmosphere throughout the game and outside was very relaxed and parked near one entrance was a sea of motorbikes, reminiscent of Matlock Bath on a weekend.
The daily paper ‘La gazzetta dello Sport’ covered the game the next day and this publication must be a reason for learning Italian.
Finally thank you Tim Parks for inspiring me to make the trip, it was thoroughly, fascinating, enthralling and enjoyable. Your writing is up there with the great football writers of Brian Glanville and Hugh McIlvanney in making you feel totally involved in what is written.