Reminiscing in Rossonero: My journey to the Derby della Madonnina, by Matt Santangelo

​“Biglietto e passaporto,” asked a security official firmly.

Entry had been granted to the tune of an automated turnstile. With every passing step, escalating from ground level to my seat, thumping heartbeats increased their tempo. I will never forget my first sight of the beautifully tailored, lush green pitch of the historic and hallowed ground at Via Piccolomini 5. Everything I dreamt of prior to that night lived up to the hype – and so much more.

Everyone has his or her own San Siro story to tell. This is mine.

For as long as I can remember, attending an AC Milan match at San Siro topped my list of life-long dreams. In wanting to visit Italy and digest all its beauty, paycheck after paycheck was set aside in anticipation of one day boarding a plane from New Jersey to Malpensa Aeroporto.

Touching down in Milano at approximately 08:30am Saturday morning, my parents and I welcomed the sight of regular commuters. While I had mapped out all that we’d explore over the course of a week, all that consumed my thought was Sunday’s Derby.

Through the struggle, tension and turmoil clouding my beloved club, the love affair I harnessed with the Rossoneri never wavered. Jetlagged and still catching my bearings in lieu of the six-hour time difference, 31 January 2016 arrived. Match-day. Quickly guzzling a hot cappuccino and inhaling several indulgent pastries, we set out to start Derby Day in Milano. Before trekking to San Siro, plenty filled the agenda; breathtaking sights to gaze upon, tourist spots to see and endless supplies of memories serving as life’s blessings. As a devout Roman-Catholic, Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper, located in the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie, left me speechless, along with Castello Sforzesco in Piazza Castello, built in the 15th century.

Migrating back towards the city-centre, we frolicked around Piazza del Duomo, a commonplace for tourists, sightseers and calcio fanatics to congregate and bask in the city’s hub. Capturing all of the attention was Duomo di Milano, a cathedral rich in history, a religious tale and the occasional selfie stick. Crowding the piazza ground, Milan Ultras – scarves and banners held high – chanted loudly in support of the red and black. For every fan donning black and blue, ten others in rossonero outnumbered them. Unfortunately, there was no time for a panino as more important things lied ahead at Via Aldo Rossi.

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Duomo di Milano

Casa Milan, standing triumphant, is a must-see – literally over the Milan sky – venue. Inside, Museo Mondo Milan charts the course of AC Milan’s rich history, showcasing countless trophies, interactive video reels and allowing supporters to relive the club’s finest moments. The Ballon d’Or awards of Kaká, Andriy Shevchenko, George Weah, Gianni Rivera, Ruud Gullit and Marco van Basten all reside here, along with the seven Champions League trophies to the Rossoneri’s name. Trust me, you’ll want to leave some room open in your iPhone for this.

Time was of the essence. Battling a swarm of supporters inside Milan’s club store, I quickly snagged myself a supporter scarf and a Giacomo Bonaventura kit before fleeing towards the metro. Finally, the time had come.

Prossima fermata: Via Piccolomini 5, San Siro

Emerging from the metro station and climbing up the last set of stairs, the imposing presence of Stadio Giuseppe Meazza dominated the night. Darkness and fog did its best to cloud our view, but there was no hiding this architectural football wonderland. Supporters from opposing sides gathered in close proximity around the food vendors for a quick pre-match meal. After making light work of a caprese sandwich and Peroni, we approached Ingresso two.

​Tight security procedures temporarily halted my high. Eventually, access was granted and we made our way through the last set of checks. Stair after stair, step after step, the excitement of witnessing the pitch for the first time grew. At last, our seating area: Primo Anello Verde, Settore 142, Fila 1, Posto 3. We were immersed in black and blue territory. However, the view we’d have of Curva Sud’s choreography would be friendly on the eyes.

Waiting for kickoff, I sat in awe, basking in the sights, sounds and vibrations in the buildup to one of football’s biggest events. I scanned the beautifully manicured pitch, and the 80,000 sold out crowd, thinking “am I dreaming? I’m really about to be one of the lucky ones to attend a Milan Derby.” To this day, and with every stroke of the key in narrating this, it still all seems surreal. Moments prior to kickoff, the Milan’s curva unveiled their ‘choreo’. My oh my, was it a sight to behold.

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Read Milan vs. Inter: The Game that made Mark Hateley a Rossoneri Hero (Image: Matt Santangelo)

Revered amongst the Milan fanbase, Mark Hateley’s majestic header towering above Fulvio Collovati in the Derby of 1984’ was the subject of the Curva Sud’s ‘tifo’. It produced Instant chills. Cries of “Donnarumma!”- a Derby debutant at the time –  and “Bacca!” filled the lungs of the red and black faithful. Pre-match handshakes were administered as both sides took their rightful positions on the pitch. The opening whistle sounded and Italy’s 164th Derby della Madonnina was underway. Perched slightly uncomfortable in my plastic green seat, the reality was I could not imagine being anywhere else.

Milan began attacking our end of the pitch. For the majority of the first half, it was a seesaw affair, as the Rossoneri and their Nerazzuro counterparts exchanged counter attacks. Saves from keepers Gianluigi Donnarumma and Samir Handanovic induced its fair share of “ooh and ah’s.” Defensively, Alessio Romagnoli and Alex formed a no-nonsense partnership, standing their ground with solidity. Based on the tempo of the match, a breakthrough felt near. In the 35th minute, it arrived. Off a near perfect cross played in by Keisuke Honda, the unlikeliest of sources delivered for the Rossoneri in the form of Alex, who launched his body towards the looping cross. Fans, young and old in Section 142, leapt immediately from their seats. An elderly couple and I shared in the excitement, smiling and embracing with a hug.

After an eventful first half, the second 45 shaped up to be just as thrilling, evident in the theatrics that soon followed. Pouncing on Donnarumma’s scuffed clearance, Eder’s penalty appeal was denied by the official, much to coach Roberto Mancini’s dismay. Barking and jeering, Milanisti got quite the kick out of his dismissal. The pendulum swung back and forth. Inter lacked the creativity from their attacking players and it seemed as though Siniša Mihajlović’s Milan would transition into a possession-based shell to see this one out.

It wasn’t until the 69th minute where the Nerazzurri would finally get their break: rigore per l’Inter. As substitute Mauro Icardi stood over the ball 12-yards out, a women above me wept.  “Gigio. Gigio. Gigio mio,” almost as if she was watching her grandson play. Inter supporters rose to their feet, fingers crossed and looking on nervously at the spot, a stark contrast to Milan disciples who whistled to rattle the Argentine.

Up he stepped….woodwork! Vibrations shook our section and San Siro reached deafening levels. Once more, I leaned to my long-lost friends, sharing one of many hugs that winter night.

Minutes later, Carlos Bacca – on his daughter’s birthday – struck with a picturesque finish past Handanovic. Exuberantly, the Colombian was crowded by his teammates, celebrating in front of the Ultras, who scurried towards the front railing. A 2-0 result would’ve been quite the souvenir to take with me into the metro, but Milan’s hunger for a statement victory was evident in their reluctance to ease up and suffocate the match.

In the 75th minute, the Red and Black faithful bounced in unison, almost like a planned choreography, to the tune of “CHI NON SALTA NERAZZURRO È, È”. Caught up in the moment, M’Baye Niang just hammered the final nail in the coffin with a tidy finish into the net. At this point, I was in utter shock at the scenes I’d witnessed. Not only was this my first ever Milan rodeo, it was a Derby and one in which my beloved club were 3-0 ahead of our fierce city rivals. Pinch me.

Fans sprung to their feet as the clock wore down. Reverberations of the final whistle echoed inside the Meazza. If you’d asked me prior to kickoff “what would be your ideal Derby outcome?”, my response would’ve been simple: victory. I was spoiled. My club delivered, not only for me, but for the entire Milan fanbase, who have suffered plenty in recent times.

Minute after minute, I soaked it all in. I did not want to leave that night. Little did I care that the metro was to be flooded. Nor was I bothered by the idea of finding my hotel bed at 2am. None of it mattered because I had got my fix. The atmosphere was vibrant. It felt as though this club, who once ruled the footballing world, had finally returned to glory, at least for one night. And it is a night I will reminisce about for the rest of my life.

Words by Matthew Santangelo: @Matt_Santangelo

Matt is an Italian football writer who co-founded the blog, Milan Brothers. He is TGU’s Social Media Direttore, as well as an Editor and Columnist at Italian Football Daily.