Adventures in Football #73: Stadio San Siro (Milan)
JANUARY 29, 2023
AC MILAN vs. U.S. SASSUOLO (Serie A)
For those who read AiF #72, you’ll know myself and Mike Kilby headed over to Italy to watch some Italian football. After Genoa’s clash with Pisa on Saturday, we headed back to Milan. I waxed lyrical about Genoa’s beauty as a city. While Milan is more modern and aggressively first world, it’s also a city of great beauty.
This is a teaser, more architecture to come later. We were staying near Milano Centrale and felt the need to go and explore the city a bit before the lunchtime kick-off at the San Siro. At four miles, most people would probably baulk at the idea, but it takes you through various stages of Milanese history. Including Chinatown and some ridiculous modern buildings, like one that leans towards you as you walk past (the PWC building) in the Piazza Tre Torri.
As you approach the San Siro, it looms up above it’s surroundings. Not quite in the spectacular fashion of New Wembley, but it’s there. On the walk up to the ground, we stayed on the stadium side of the road and there’s a tall concrete fence. You can’t see over it. So, that makes turning the corner in front of the stadium a breath-taking experience, as you’re suddenly under the eaves of the monster stadium.
I don’t think photos really do the San Siro justice. The size of this beast. The scope of it. There’s nothing to compare it to around it. It sits by itself. I’m on full zoom out here, just to get it in. You can see Mike attempting the same right in front of me. Those circular staircases on the outside are the best thing for perspective. Each one is 12 storeys high.
I was a smidge disappointed in the potential for murals on the mass of walls approaching the ground. This is the only evidence of Milan playing here. There’s an Inter player further down on the outside and that’s it. It feels like a missed opportunity to create something special. Italy is covered in graffiti. I’ve never seen so much graffiti in my life. I mean, it is an Italian word. I probably shouldn’t be surprised. Almost every building seemed to have some sort of scrawl on it. From the crude to the politically charged to the epic street art. All bases were covered. Only buildings of historical importance were free of it. Even the university was covered in graffiti.
Outside the ground was a huge marketplace. A vibrant collection of fast food, beer and merchandise. Think of any club you think has a lot of stalls outside of it and then quadruple that number. The whole park around the San Siro is littered with stalls. Match day is market day. The smell of food in this place was amazing. I’ve seen people on Twitter slagging off the food here. They just went to the wrong place.
I remember turning around and looking up and this is a better shot of the San Siro than before. It just looms above you like a spaceship. You can see the one merch place here and just how much stuff you can buy outside the ground from scarfs (they had half and half scarfs for the tourists) to hats and full kits. The Milan merchandise experience in a big one. I saw Milan merch, of some description, on 70% of the crowd. They must be raking it in. The food situation was a little overwhelming. Where do you go? Where it’s busiest? There are people absolutely everywhere. Mike managed to figure it out. You go and order your food, they give you a ticket and then you go to the end where the chef makes it.
This, my friends, is what you get at the San Siro. This is a Salamella. The bread is fresh and crispy and resembles no bread I’ve ever had at a football match. The meat is a sausage made from ground pork, lightly spiced with salt, fennel and peppers. It comes served with fried peppers and onion. I feel like it’s supposed to have mayonnaise on it, but we went with a more natural sandwich. Banging. Gratzie mille!
After noshing down on a salamella, I took another snap of the stadium and in this one, it doesn’t even look real. It looks like a painting. Mike called it “gargantuan”. I am in awe of this thing. We didn’t even take a picture together here because I was so taken aback by the size of this monster. It’s like a special effect. It doesn’t feel real. Looking back, it feels so surreal that I was even there.
To get into the San Siro, you’re going up these bad boys. Man City have done something similar, obviously inspired by this design, and this is way more impressive. We bumped into some tourists on the way up, confused as to where their seats were. “Keep going. We’ll be in heaven soon” says Mike. Fucking hell, that’s a bit artistic! We’re renaissance boys now. As we’re going up the stairs someone sets off a firework outside. Italians love fireworks. There are intense security checks outside the San Siro. I was padded down and they check your ID. So, if you’re going, don’t forget to take your passport to the game.
These are our seats. These were 36 Euros, which if you were paying attention is actually cheaper than Genoa. Admittedly, we’re much higher and further from the pitch. As with Genoa, the ultras are in early to wave flags around. That’s the Curva Sud. The rest of the ground feels less intense but we’re on the border of the loudest part of the ground and the atmosphere filters through. Quite often chants spread into our section like wildfire. We have an incredible view. Not only of the pitch but also out into the city over the top of the opposite stand.
You can see the tower I was talking about earlier to the right of the video screen. It’s designed to lean. It looks terrifying. The various speakers hanging from the rafters may look like little crude, but it helps to amplify the vibes around the stadium. The legroom is better than in Genoa, although the seats don’t move. I think the idea is that removing the possibility of seats moving removes the possibility of them being ripped out and thrown at someone. In the Curva Sud, there aren’t even backs to the chairs. The same crush barriers/rail to lean on, are present up here but again not in the more intensely populated Curva Sud.
There are a mass of flags in there and It’s still some time to kick-off. At the bottom of this picture you can see the plexiglass fences, designed to stop people from jumping down to the lower tier. It’s an unusual atmosphere in our section, with a clear mixture of hardcore Milan fans and tourists. There’s a geezer just above us who occasionally lobs a streamer down the stand for some reason. There’s a lot of Milan merchandise on show. Hats, scarfs, shirts, the works. As with Genoa there are people smoking all over the place. Smoking is a national pastime in Italy. Drinking is permitted in the ground and a bloke walks past us with a tray of six beers that he passes out amongst his mates. There’s also a beer seller walking around. In the stands! So, you don’t even have to get up! The football league’s beer ban remains a mystery to me. The fans just drink on the concourse. Let them drink in the seats. What difference does it make? Dio boia!
We have a mascot for this game. Some weird red devil thing (he’s called Milano). He waves his arms around while the stadium announcer (left) announces the teams. This is a great experience as the crowd start to loudly whistle as the Sassuolo team is announced and don’t stop until the announcement is over. Mike and I are tickled by an enraged fan behind us throwing a paper plane towards the pitch with such anger it barely makes it three rows. Then it’s the Milan team being announced, and the announcer only announces the first name. The fans loudly fill in the rest.
With all the admin out of the way, the players are out, and the game begins. We’re watching a game in the San Siro. It’s amazing. The fans aren’t as intense as in Genoa. There’s nothing for them to bounce off as there doesn’t appear to be a Sassuolo section. I spent a while scanning the crowd and couldn’t see anything. The flags continue into the first five minutes and then it settles down. The organisation in incredible. A row of guys at the front lead the chants and everyone is together in unison. An entire stand, singing as one. After 7’ Olivier Giroud opens the scoring with an acrobatic finish. Sadly, VAR chalk it off and the fans whistle throughout the VAR process. It’s as unpopular here as in England but at least they get the decision quicker.
Oh hey, look who I found? It’s the Sassuolo fans. In the upper tier at the far end of the ground. There are 50 of them. I counted. 70,000 vs 50. I don’t hear a peep out of them all afternoon.
Quite the contrast, no? It’s a shame more Sassuolo fans didn’t make the trip as they start brilliantly and could easily have scored before their opener on 19’. Gregoire Defrel slotting home into an empty net after Theo Hernandez gets caught down field and the flank is exposed. 0-1. It feels like the script is some dramatic Milan comeback. Only three minutes later the flank is exposed once again and this time Davide Frattesi drills a shot straight through the Milan keeper at the near post. It’s poor from the keeper but already Milan are guilty of pushing up to score and leaving themselves massively exposed in the process.
Something that’s always stopped me from considering going to Italy is the language barrier. It turned out to be no barrier at all. The vast majority of people speak English and a few words of Italian get you a long way. Even in the written word, almost everything is translated into English underneath. Note “we the many” being in English, not Italian. Milan are a constant threat going forward and Olivier Giroud finds the net with a powerful header for 1-2. It leaves Sassuolo’s centre back on the ground clutching his face but it was a fair challenge. Loud whistling for the player on the deck, which would continue throughout. Milan’s defending is shambolic however. “They’re defending like there’s no Tomori” says Mike, making fun of the absence of Fikayo Tomori to injury. On 30’ a near post corner is headed in by Domenico Berardi and Sassuolo lead 1-3. The defending is terrible but Sassuolo are causing havoc by exploiting Milan’s shortcomings.
It all gets a bit shirty and there are a few scraps. Sassuolo players often going down holding their heads to whistles from the crowd. Every Sassuolo challenge is met with whistles, angry shouting and demands for “giallo”, the yellow card. The defending has gotten to the guy sat to my right who stares to the heavens and utters “mamma mia”. We get no less than three “mamma mias” by half time. Milan makes changes at the half and on comes Rafael Leao. Milan go to sleep, Davide Calabria is beaten in a foot race and concedes a penalty. 1-4. This was not what the Rossoneri expected. Ante Rebic pulls one back but VAR chalk that off for offside. It’s not a popular decision and as the ball came off the defender, I’d say it’s also wrong. Sassuolo put the ball out of play so one of their time-wasting players can get treatment. The crowd are livid and Leao refuses to give it back, instead crossing for a near opportunity. Giorgos Kyriakopoulos is fuming and has to be restrained. In the aftermath Berardi goes down holding his face and the crowd loses its shit. The noise. The chanting. BASTARDI!
Mattheus Henrique sweeps home a fifth and the game is now over. People start pouring out of the San Siro, apart from in the Curva Sud, which remains full. They miss Divock Origi scoring an absolute screamer two minutes later but it’s just a consolation and all the yelling in the world won’t get Milan three more goals in nine minutes.
As a game of football, this was sensational. One of my top five best games attended, easily. Sassuolo played some liquid football on the counter and Milan were really strong going forwards. It was a free flowing game, which eventually degenerated into a series of scuffles as Sassuolo got the win over the line. A famous victory. Their 50 fans must have had a laugh on the way back to Sassuolo.
What happened after the game was amazing. The Milan players went over to the fans and applauded their support, as they’d been relentless all game. Much like the Genoa and Pisa fans had been the day before. Constantly supporting their team and driving them forward. Milan’s defeat could not be blamed on the tifosi. A few players launched their shirts into that end as a thank you for the show of support. It was a bad day at the office for Milan but that doesn’t mean the season is curtains. Any real fan knows there are ups and downs.
Vietato scavalcare, translated to “no trespassing” actually means “climbing over forbidden”. As we pour down the rampa and out of the San Siro, I reflect on this Italian trip. It’s been life affirming. Good food, good company, good football. Milan got battered. I had a great time. I was a little sad walking out of the San Siro as it meant this weekend’s Italian adventure was at an end.
Photo credit to Mike for this cracking shot of people pouring out of the ground. The fan areas were all still set up, so people were heading into that for food and drinks. The game isn’t just 90 minutes in between pubs in Italy. It’s an experience. After the match we walk for a bit and hit the Metro to go to Duomo.
This is a shopping centre. Imagine that? We came out of the stairs from the Metro and this is one side. So, I saw this coming up the steps. The other side?
This great big, fuck off huge cathedral. You can go up on the roof for 20 Euros. As I was stood looking at this beautiful building I realised it had something in common with the San Siro. The reason why Italians are so good at building churches and football stadiums, is their common thread. Religion. The two religions of Italy are Catholicism and Calcio. Each building the Italians erect is a monument to their religion. Mike’s comment about heaven was accurate. Going to the San Siro is like going to church. Only a church where you can yell “vaffanculo” at someone you don’t like. That’s my kind of religion. Before we take our leave, it’s time for the ratings. Let’s see how the San Siro compares to other grounds I’ve been to.
It wasn’t quite on a par with Genoa. Although the crowd sang for almost the entire game, and it was a sight to see, the intensity in Genoa was more pronounced and the away fans contributed to it. This was amazing and it might have been five stars had I not been to Genoa the day before. ****½.
It was cheaper to get into the San Siro than Genoa. There are a variety of seats available. Ranging from the 30 Euro mark up to 200 or so. We saw this game for 35 Euros, or £31. I paid £24 more than that when I went to West Ham. ***½.
It’s one of the finest games of football I’ve ever seen in person. For the shock nature of Sassuolo’s victory and the general attacking intent from both teams. I don’t think you can ask for more. *****
EASE OF ACCESS:
With any big club, there’s going to be crowding. The Metro on the way out looked horrendous. We walked in, and walked part of the way out before getting on a Metro and it was still heaving. Although, I’ve been to far worse in England. ***.
A temple to football, surrounded by a carnival of football related food, drinks and entertainments. The ground itself is a monument to Italian football and attacks the senses with shock and awe. The only complaint is a general lack of Milan iconography and stuff, and I get that because they share the ground with Inter. Otherwise it’s basically flawless as a ground. Even on leaving, there’s far less congestion than almost any ground due to the design of the building and the surrounding space. ****½.
This is the highest score I’ve ever given any ground, ever. Over the moon with the trip in general. Over the alps on the way home. Please enjoy the view I had from the Easyjet flight back to glamourous Luton.