Sunday, March 15, 2015

MC Sports Report: A Lesson in Loyalty

Saturday Afternoon watching FC Bari at home
After Naples, our next stop in Italy was Bari, directly east on the Adriatic Sea. I checked to see if their football team was going to be at home and the answer was yes! It's always exciting for me to find a match to attend. Bari would be playing against Vicenza Calcio SpA, a team from Northern Italy not far from Venice.

Like all European countries, football in Italy is divided into divisions. The best teams play in the top division, next best teams play in the second division and so on. The names of the divisions vary from country to country. In Italy, the top division is called Serie A. The second division is Serie B.

F.C. Bari currently plays in Serie B. Since I had never seen a Serie B match before I was really looking forward to it wondering about the quality of play. Bari plays in Stadio San Nicola built for the 1990 World Cup. It seats 58,200 which is probably about 40,000 more seats than a Serie B team needs.

But I've gotten ahead of myself...

When we arrived in Bari we saw an unfamiliar site - an beautiful historic building that looked like a museum that turned out to be an old theater. All around the exterior of the building were life-size cutouts of football players, something that one does not see every day. Turns out, they were hosting an exhibit called "Football Heroes". A few days later I went back for a visit, paid my $8 and went in, and found I was the only person there on a Wednesday morning. Not to surprising during this quiet season. Inside I met Gianfranco who gave me a one-hour personal guided tour featuring jerseys, photos and memorabilia of the greatest football stars not just of Italy, but Europe and beyond. A fun and fascinating warm-up for my Saturday afternoon match.

Museum in Bari with a special exhibition on "Football Heroes"
Gianfranco spoke limited English, but still gave me an informative tour
Often times, figuring out how to get a ticket to a match has been a challenge. This time it was easy. Our Airbnb host made a few calls and directed me to the betting shop around the corner and after showing my passport they printed out a $17 ticket in no time.

Figuring out how to get to the match can also be a challenge since I use public transportation but again, this time it was easy. It was a 10 minute walk from our apartment to the Bus Station and for $1.20 I rode a city bus to the stadium with a handful of other fans. The bus got me there much earlier than necessary.

Stadio San Nicola in better days. Built for the 1990 World Cup, now home to F.C. Bari
Entering the grounds involved the usual security checks then scanning my ticket and going through the head-to-toe turn styles. I made my way up to the concourse and that's when I realized that the wind was blowing through the stadium like I was inside a Boeing wind tunnel and it was freezing. It was a solid hour before the match started and the place was almost empty which made it seem even colder.

I found someone who looked like an usher. After examining my reserved seat ticket he seemed to say in his limited English that my section was closed for some reason so I could sit anywhere.

One hour before the match got underway
I was told I could sit anywhere I'd like - and that meant anywhere!
I found a place out further out of the wind on the main level, ate my packed lunch (Thank you Debbie) decided to move up to the 2nd level in the hopes that the wind wasn't blowing quite as hard. I followed a couple of Bari fans to the 200 Level and good news - warm sunshine and calm air.

Bari supporters
As it got closer to match time, the F.C. Bari supporters filled-in their end, while all 50 away supporters from Vicenza were huddled at the other end.

Compare and Contrast:
  • Bari - 15th in the table, home in a stadium that was less than 20% full but a supporters section that was jammed with loyal fans hoping for a win and the 3 points that could help them move up the table and someday soon...a return to Serie A.
  • Vicenza - 7th in table, 800 kms away from home with 50 super loyal fans was also hoping for a win, 3 points and a return to Serie A.
Away supporters separated by Plexiglas in their own section
View the video below to hear the Bari fans singing their support just before the match got underway. It gave me goose bumps then, and again just now when I played it for Debbie...

Now the match. If you have read any of my football blogs before, you'll know that I really like the game but I'm not that knowledgeable about how the game is actually played. So take this with a grain of salt, but I have to say that neither team looked that great to me. In fact, pretty poor! Vicenza played better in the first half but no one scored so it was 0-0 at the half. In the second half, it looked like more of the same until Vicenza went ahead in the 72nd minute with a nice looking goal by Andrea Petagna, their 19 year-old striker from Trieste. And that's how it ended. Lots of sunshine but cold. Some pretty mediocre football but still a great day out watching the world's most popular game.

The small band of loyal supporters who traveled all the way from Northern Italy went crazy. Their reward, came after the match when the Vicenza players came over to their corner of the stadium and acknowledged them by applauding their supporters with hands above their heads.

My take away  - Loyalty comes in all sizes from 50 super fans who traveled 500 miles to support their team to 3,000 home-town fans who went home disappointed in their teams' performance on the pitch that day, but I am sure they will be back for the next match cheering, chanting and even whistling when they don't like a call.

Win or lose - Loyalty was on display by both Bari and Vicenza fans
Until next time.



  1. So glad I found your blog! I'm really enjoying reading about your travels and traveling vicariously.

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