Friday, August 26

Take me out to the Ballgame

At long last…I have been waiting some 30 years to go to the stadium to see a proper soccer game (or football game, as the case may be).  I have been in Italy during three World Cups and still never stepped inside (although one can make the case that the excitement, smoke bombs and general chaos out on the streets make for a much more thrilling spectator sport).  And so it was, heart racing and eyes filled with wonder that I filed into Rome’s Foro Italico Stadium along with 50000 others.  Surrounded by stunning oversized fascist scupltures of athletes and a series of monuments to Mussolini, and I knew this was the real deal.

Although the Italians complained about the lines for security (only because they were forced into them), filing into the few open doors was extraordinarily efficient.  You are not allowed to bring in bottles or even fruit juice packs, and upon purchasing your water, they even remove the bottle tops so you can’t launch it onto the field.  Too bad they forgot to give that last note to the wandering food&beverage guys - coming round with buckets of popcorn even – who would handily serve you a bottle, cap and all. 
picture from
The crowd was overjoyed when the new American owner of the Roma team, Thomas DiBenedetto showed up and said a few words.  Owner of the Boston Red Sox, he is seen as a saviour of the bankrupt Roma team, much in the same way as Marcus Aurelius who in days of yore had thrown himself into a wide crevass in order to save the city from certain demise (it seemed to have worked).  It is the first club in Italy’s history to have a foreign owner.  Everyone applauded his few words, but personally, you’d think someone would have written out the words Grazie, Roma! on a 3x5” notecard for him to read.  I was dismayed to discover that he actually addressed the throngs in English – and with his strong Boston accent, I couldn’t make out what he was going on about, not to mention the 49.999 others in attendance.

The crowd was amazing.  After being regaled these 30+ years with stories of hooliganism and destruction, it felt more like a night at the opera -- except for all the tiny children in attendance.  The crowd routinely applauded nice plays, and even applauded to keep up the team morale when something went amiss.  Time and again they broke into incredibly melodic “fight songs”.  Coming from a country whose national anthem lauds the beauty of warfare, I enjoyed seeing tattooed bruisers break into mini-arias saluting Roma, il Capitano, and the players themselves.
Who needs bimbette cheerleaders bouncing around when the crowd can break into gorgeous overtures and applause – in unison and on key, no less?  In fact, it is somewhat surprising what with their penchant for underclothed women surrounded by overclothed men that cheerleading hasn’t become a part of the national culture.  Regardless, I enjoyed the reprieve.  I loved it particularly when they didn’t like a call, and everyone screamed in unison, “Buffone, buffone!” (Baffoon!) to the team trainers or the refs.

And although we lost the game, Mr. DiBenedetto is still looking forward to turning around his latest venture.  He will be applying some capitalist practices to his team, starting with limiting the hundreds of prime free VIP spots, playing young and nimble players, and adding in merchandising outlets indoors.  As for me, I just hope someone has told DiBenedetto about the cat calls and whistles in Italian sporting and cultural events:  they signify a resounding “Boooooooooo!!!”, just the opposite from the USA.  Moving forward in this exciting enterprse, I only hope he and Bella Roma still garner the applause.

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