“You’re here from Australia to watch Brescia?” It wasn’t the first time I was asked that question that day, but I didn’t have the heart to tell them I was actually in Italy to watch other teams as well.
My presence was met with bemusement by the hotel concierge as I explained I’d arrived from Australia the day before and was seeking directions to the Stadio Mario Rigamonti to watch Brescia versus Inter Milan.
It’s November 2019 and I’m in Italy for two weeks. Six Serie A games in six different cities are planned. I’m here for one thing and one thing only: to watch and observe as much calcio as possible.
Landing in Italy on an evening flight from Sydney, I made my way into Milan and the beautiful Stazione Centrale greeted me once again. Having previously visited in 2016, the station was exactly how I remembered it.
The next morning, I was back at the station to catch a train to Brescia, which took in a leisurely stroll around the city, a beautiful mix of Roman buildings, monuments and rolling hills. My day was filled with coffee, pane di granoturco (an Italian cornbread) and taking in the Old Cathedral, Capitolium and the Castle of Brescia.
Making my way to the stadium on a Metro, or light rail subway system, I found myself excited, nervous and in awe of the fact I was achieving a lifelong ambition to watch football live in Italy.
Walking up the Metro station stairs the Stadio Mario Rigamonti emerges between houses and apartment buildings and is immediately visible.
The stadium lights shining on the stadium so brightly on a bitterly cold and foggy November night there’s no need to ask for directions to the stadium, simply follow the lights.
Arriving an hour before kick-off I walked the streets surrounding the stadium, and saw local food vendors prepare and cook their sausages and peppers. The smells became overwhelming as you passed by, irresistible to the stomach. I also noticed ultras setting up their temporary shop and preparing banners and the local police mingling outside the main entrance. Brescia were one of the few Italian clubs I’ve visited that had their club shop at the stadium.
I made my way inside the ground. “Biglietto e passaporto,” would be a phrase I’d be hearing more of over the next two weeks. Following this, I was met by a complex maze of steel scaffolding supporting the additional seating placed directly behind the old stand.
Located directly under my stand was the stadium bar where I was given two options of beverage coffee or beer, nothing complicated about this place.
Walking up the temporary stairs into the stadium I was greeted with an almost full Curva Nord as the Ultras were already making their presence and voice felt.
The loud and raucous atmosphere continued as both sides entered the pitch and every Inter touch was met with boos and derision.
“Inter, sono pezzi di merda!”
“Bastoni, Bergamasca sono pezzi di merda!”
Needless to say Brescia’s rivalry with Atalanta was a part of why the Brescia ultras were so welcoming to Inter’s central defender Alessando Bastoni, who began his football career with Atalanta.
Once the whistle blew Romelu Lukakau and Lauturo Martinez were instantly on the attack for Inter as the home side sat back looking to hit Inter on the counter. The locals getting restless even after the opening ten minutes.
The father and son sitting next to me had their priorities straight, pulling out pre-prepared containers of what looked like pasta with salami that I immediately I knew I wanted to taste.
Mario Balotelli, up front for Brescia, was making his presence felt going close with a long-distance effort and nearly scoring with Inter struggling to defend at corners. Much to the delight and enthusiasm of the home crowd ‘Super Mario’ was looking enthused and interested in finding the back of the net.
Sandro Tonali, starting to make a name for himself around Europe, was pulling the strings for Brescia and his lively start to the game gave hope to not only Brescia fans but also interested the Inter fans.
If it was to be a test against the likes of Roberto Gagliardini, Marcelo Brozovic and Nicolo Barella, Tonali was more than holding his own.
Lauturo managed to take some air out of the home crowd with a deflected strike giving Inter the advantage, which they took into half-time.
Brescia had their chances in the first half, however Alfredo Donnarumma and Balotelli much to the frustration of the home support were unable to finish their chances.
Returning for the second half Inter were pushed on by their small pocket of away fans. It wasn’t long before they went 2-0 up, as Lukaku sweetly struck a beautiful curling goal from outside the box.
It all happened so quickly.
One minute Lukaku was taking on his midfielder Massimilliano Mangraviti near the sideline and before I knew it, and in a matter of seconds, the ball was in the back of Enrico Alfonso’s goal.
A well taken goal and not the first long range strike I’d see over the next two weeks.
Brescia, needing to score quickly to get back into the game, were relying on the pace and guile of Balotelli, the passing ability of Tonali and the never ending lung capacity of fullback Stefano Sabelli, their attacking fullback who was playing so far up the field he could’ve been classed as a right winger and it was through the fullbacks build up play that Brescia found their first goal.
Playing a neat one-two with striker Donnarumma, after a long run down the right hand side channel, Sabelli’s shot was deflected by Inter’s central defender Milan Škriniar into his own goal.
Looking back at this match, Škriniar was already showing some signs of looking uncomfortable and not entirely happy playing in a back three and the home crowd knew it, as did Brescia coach Eugenio Corini. Nearly all of Brescia’s attack was sent down the Slovenian’s side of the field, as his left wing-back Cristiano Biraghi failed to provide adequate defensive cover.
‘Attaco, attaco, attaco!’ chanted the home crowd looking to quickly capitalise on Inter’s shaky defence, but it wasn’t to be as the final whistle blew.
For the home fans, desperate to climb out of the relegation zone, it was a night of frustration and missed opportunities and a story that would continue long into their 2019-2020 season.
With one final lap of the stadium to take it all in I was back on the Metro and returned to my hotel before making my way to Bologna the next day, where I would base myself for the majority of my two weeks.
Upon returning back to my hotel I had to go back and see the concierge, who was not only waiting for my post-match summary but still impressed that I was in Brescia to watch his local side and just as importantly secure a ticket from Australia.
The concierge made me a coffee and went on to explain what it’s like to support Brescia.
“Did you know we’re a club that once had Roberto Baggio?” he said.
“We’ve even had Guardiola but all we do is go up to Serie A, then we go down to Serie B, we go up, then we go down!”
I laughed and told him I was in calcio heaven, and he replied so quickly I couldn’t understand “No, sei a Brescia, é il purgatorio del calcio!”
He spoke so quickly before downing his coffee so I didn’t quite understand the last few words but after wishing him goodnight I returned to my room and to look up the word in English and it made perfect sense, ‘purgatory’.
‘Purgatorio del calcio’. Welcome to Brescia!
Words by Frank Risorto.