Friday 16th May 2014, as the spring sun shone through the office window, I was sat at my desk watching the clock, counting the hours away as the sun reflected off its old tired looking face.
I was anything but tired. I well and truly had that Friday feeling, but for a very different reason than most in my workplace. I was on the last flight from Glasgow International Airport to London Stansted later that night. That afternoon wouldn’t be the only time I’d be clock watching that day, as I prepared to spend the long, lonely night at Stansted Airport before the 6:00am flight to Parma. It is a trip I have made many times, but this felt different. The long night sleeping on airport chairs and floors finally passed and although I’m usually a very nervous flyer, that day the excitement took over and miraculously cured my nerves. Here is why.
The season of 2013-2014 was a year historic year for Parma fans. It was our centenary year, and accompanying the various celebrations across the city, we were also enjoying Antonio Cassano, the ‘present’ gifted to us by then president Tommaso Ghirardi. Throughout the season, we had gone from strength to strength. Roberto Donadoni had guided us to a club record 17 game unbeaten run, and the club seemed to be in good health. Things were rosy in the Parma garden. It was a good time to be a Gialloblu fan, and there was a feel good factor about the whole operation.
The record breaking run of results – that lasted from November 10, 2013, to March 23, 2014 – left Parma in with a great shout of European qualification going into the last day of Serie A fixtures. Parma would host rock bottom and already relegated Livorno knowing all they had to do was better Torino’s result as the Granata faced off against Fiorentina in Tuscany.
As I rose on the morning of Sunday, May 18, my Ibis TV automatically switched on to Sky Calcio 24. All the talk was of the five teams still aiming for European qualification that night (Parma, Torino, AC Milan, Lazio and Verona). The excitement of what this day potentially had in store was instant. Never had I experienced this buzz on previous trips to the city. Usually it was all doom and gloom, with the Crociati in the midst of some sort of relegation battle. I would depress myself over breakfast, reading the latest Gazzetta di Parma calling for the coach to be sacked or reporting about the latest fans protest. However this time it was different.
Optimism swept the city. With kick off not till 20:45 I took the chance to explore the surroundings I have become so familiar with. Gialloblu flags were hanging from balconies. Kids were running around Piazza Garibaldi, Parma scarfs flapping behind them as they kicked a ball about aimlessly while getting told off by Nonna (who also stood with her Parma flag in hand). There was something in the air, the city was on a high, believing tonight was their night.
Making my way to the Stadio Ennio Tardini, I took the route I always take by foot. Usually during the 20 minute walk you see the odd fan here and there, but not tonight. As I stepped out the front door of my city centre hotel, the place was instantly bouncing, a sea of yellow & blue and cries of “FORZA PARMA” ringing from the streets. On entering the stadium, I was again taken a back. Used to seeing this old stadium half empty, the place was packed. To my left was the Curva Nord, where The Boys 1977 got the place rocking, unfurling countless banners promoting ‘The Boys 1977’. This must’ve been what it was like during the glory days of the 1990s I thought to myself. I stood full of pride with a lump in my throat, watching my beloved Parma emerge from below me to the sound of Verdi’s Aida.
The whole experience felt like one massive birthday party and one big party for Parma is what we got. I ducali battono 2-0 il già retrocesso Livorno grazie a una doppietta di Amauri e torna in Europa, grazie al pareggio 2-2 tra Fiorentina e Torino.The Ducali managed to overcome the already relegated Livorno 2-0 thanks to two goals by Amauri. Parma were back in Europe. As I stood amongst thousands of strangers, it felt as if I knew every single one of them. People embraced each other, hugging and kissing, as grown men were reduced to tears.
As I was soaking up this atmosphere, one elderly gentleman, cigarette hanging out his mouth, wrapped his old, tatty Gialloblu scarf round my neck and embraced me, screaming in my face “GRANDE PARMA, GRANDE PARMA.” We hugged as if we were Father and Son. In all my years as a football fan, I’ve never experienced joy like this. Reaching to my pocket to video the celebrations, I saw a text from my brother back home saying “Torino missed a penalty in the last minute.” I had to sit down, emotionally exhausted, crying and laughing at what I was experiencing. I’m pretty sure at that moment I was one of the only people in the ground who knew of the last minute drama that had unfolded at Fiorentina’s Stadio Artemio Franchi.
As I gazed over to the Curva Nord, pyrotechnics and Gialloblu flares erupted engulfing the whole stand behind the goal, making it hard to even view the celebrations on the field. I once again thought I had travelled through time, back to the glory days of the 1990s. Entering the Tardini that night, I walked in surrounded by thousands of strangers. Leaving, I left with thousands of new friends as we danced and partied long into the night. May 18th 2014, a night I will never forget with a football club I will always love, no matter what the future holds.