Where's the soul? (cont.)
Posted: Sunday February 11, 2007 2:57PM; Updated: Sunday February 11, 2007 2:57PM
Italians who consider calcio to be a second religion didn't know quite how to react to the stadium crackdown on Sunday. Food stands selling paninis outside the stadium opened as if it were business as usual, but aside from the protesters there weren't any customers. Dozens of carabinieri milled around with nothing better to do. Meanwhile, Adriano Canova sat by himself at his souvenir stand, but nobody was buying any of his Inter and Chievo scarves, flags or jerseys.
"It's open, but there are no people," he said, shrugging his shoulders. "But this is my work, so I am here."
Inside, you could hear all sorts of things that you don't normally pick up at a game: the slap of players shaking hands before kickoff; the clank of Inter goalkeeper Julio Cesar knocking his studs against the goal-frame before a Chievo free kick; the thump of Adriano's left boot striking a ball on goal; and the unmistakable doink of his shot hitting the right post before ricocheting into the net.
It was like being granted a private audience with some of the world's top soccer players -- Patrick Vieira, Luis Figo, Hernán Crespo, Adriano, Esteban Cambiasso, Marco Materazzi -- and yet the soul of the game was missing.
Well, not entirely. When I ventured out to the stadium stairs at halftime, a rollicking group of a couple hundred Inter supporters was marching and chanting behind a CURVA NORD banner. (They had made the two-hour drive just to a game they couldn't watch!) And beyond the walls at the stadium's South End you could hear the Chievo tifosi singing from the kickoff to the final whistle.
Has any nation ever had a more bizarre 12-month stretch of soccer? On the one hand, the Azzurri won their fourth World Cup in style last July, and Inter may be the world's top club team with its 15-game winning streak. On the other, Serie A has been laid low by the tragedy on Sicily and a corruption scandal that, among other punishments, sent storied Juventus to the second division.
The way things are going, some people are starting to wonder if Serie A can ever recover to compete with the world's top leagues in Spain, England and Germany.
It's about time that Italy started fixing its problems. But how long can you have a league without fans in the stadiums?
"This is changing my life," Stefano Gila explained. "Every Sunday I go to the stadium. Next Sunday I'll go to Palermo when we play there. I'm not sure if they'll let us in, but I'll go anyway."
Sports Illustrated senior writer Grant Wahl keeps you up to date with the world of U.S. soccer at SI.com.