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Where's the soul?

Watching Inter-Chievo in empty stadium was surreal

Posted: Sunday February 11, 2007 2:57PM; Updated: Sunday February 11, 2007 2:57PM
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Inter Milan supporters made the two-hour drive for a game they couldn't watch.
Inter Milan supporters made the two-hour drive for a game they couldn't watch.
Paco Serinelli/AFP via Getty Images
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VERONA, Italy -- I've been to plenty of MLS games that had 9,000 fans rattling around inside an NFL stadium, but I can't say that I've ever witnessed a soccer match featuring some of the world's best players competing before a paid audience of zero.

Until Sunday.

Watching Inter Milan's 2-0 win over Chievo Verona from the press stand of the empty Stadio Domenica was as surreal as going to a U2 concert with only 10 other people in the crowd. But such is the state of Italy's Serie A in the wake of a police officer's death on Feb. 2 due to crowd violence at a game between Catania and Palermo.

The Italian government finally allowed games to resume on Sunday, but not without enacting strict measures that will force most of the league's games to be played behind closed doors until the stadiums are brought up to code.

For Chievo fans, the crackdown could mean they won't be able to see a home game in person for three months. And considering that the Chievo tifosi have won the award for Italy's best-behaved supporters group five years in a row, you can understand why they gathered to protest outside the locked stadium gates on Sunday.

"I'm disappointed because we are the most correct supporters in Italy, but they close the gates anyway," said Stefano Gila, a 19-year-old university student wearing a blue-and-yellow Chievo scarf around his waist. "They don't care. They say they have to punish the violent people, but you shouldn't punish the non-violent people too."

He was hardly the only upset fan among a group that included old ladies in goofy Chievo jester hats, middle-aged men wearing blue FORZA CHIEVO sweaters and college kids kicking around a soccer ball.

Standing in front of a giant banner that read IL CHIEVO E' UNA FEDE, IL TIFO UNO STILE (Chievo Is A Faith, The Fan A Style), more than a hundred hardcores began a chant dismissing anyone who thought they should have just watched the game on television.

At home on the sofa we won't stay, At home on the sofa we won't stay, We won't stay, we won't stay, we won't staaaayyyyy....

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Sports Illustrated senior writer Grant Wahl keeps you up to date with the world of U.S. soccer at SI.com.

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