“Hi Frank, I just take a look at your ticket, you got really a horrible seat, I send you a new one!’ came the reply from the Bologna ticket office.”
Two months prior to leaving Australia I’d been in touch with the clubs that I would be visiting on my three-week Calcio tour, visiting Brescia, Bologna, SPAL, Fiorentina, Sassuolo and Inter Milan.
Bologna were the first to respond, and not only got in touch with me, but kindly offered to provide me with a new seat on matchday, given I was coming along by myself.
The stadium, located within the Quartiere Saragozza district of the city, where the oldest university in the western world was established in 1088, was about a half an hour walk away from my accommodation.
My host Sonia reminded of the importance of the fixture. Before I set off to the Stadio Renato Dall’Ara, named after former club president Renato Dall’Ara, despite not knowing who Bologna was playing or repeatedly that she had no interest in calcio.
“They need to beat Inter, that’s a big match,” said Sonia. “They’re still upset over ’64.”
Her reference to ‘64’ left me puzzled, before later realising she was talking about Bologna denying Inter the 1963-64 Scudetto after a playoff to decide the champions.
So much for not following calcio.
My commute to the stadium was relatively straight forward with the bus that circles the outskirts of the city dropping me off at Via Andrea Costa for the long straight walk to the ground.
Also, if anyone is curious, the street isn’t named after former Bologna and current Reggiana defender Andrea Costa, rather the Italian Master Mason and social activist of the same name.
The walk down Via Andrea Costa takes you directly to the roundabout ‘rotonda Fulvio Bernardini’, named after the former Bologna manager when they last conquered Serie A, winning the above mentioned Scudetto in 1963-64.
For Bernardini, nicknamed “Fuffo” (‘professor’ or ‘doctor’), this was his second Scudetto triumph as he’d won the title with Fiorentina (1955-56) and to this day is the only manager to win the Scudetto with two different clubs not called Milan, Inter or Juventus.
After a short walk past the rotonda Fulvio Bernardini the iconic and beautiful Renato Dall’Ara stadium greets you and I quickly found myself consumed with what was going on around the stadium more so than the game that lay ahead.
Local vendors lining up and down the Via della Certosa with the smell of sausages and peppers being cooked and overwhelming you, regardless if you’re hungry or not, the aroma of coffee, the beer and wines being poured, the replica shirts, flags and scarves being sold.
The aptly-named takeaway stand ‘Paninoteca’ offering up all the local treats synonymous with Bologna. You name the cut of meat, name the cheese and name the roasted vegetable and they’ve got it ready and willing to dish it out on a panino.
As I often do, I walked a lap of the stadium, and was successful to a certain point along Via dello Sport when a riot police officer in full gear approached me to ask me for my biglietto (ticket) and then realising I was Australian for my passaporto.
Trying to explain to him that I was merely walking a lap of the stadium to take it all in I was quickly sent back to where I came from as he told me I was walking towards the away fans and not allowed pass through the oncoming gates and roadblocks.
Quickly backtracking, as my local law enforcement friend was joined by another officer in full gear, I walked back to my gate and found at the Piazza della Pace where it seemed locals were intent on breaking the world records for most Vespas in one car park.
The odd Ducati here and there standing out like a sore thumb.
Right behind the car park the local ‘Bar Maratona’ was packed inside and out, all watching the evenings early match between Roma and Napoli, with once again the coffee and beers flowing.
Two espressos later, with Roma leading Napoli 1-0 at half time and me consumed by my environment I realised there was less than an hour to kick-off and I had a ticket to collect.
Given that nothing in Italy happens quickly I best got moving.
Sadly, my contact wasn’t in the office but much to my delight without charge my seat had been upgraded from the second last row in the southern corner of Renato Dall’Ara Stadium to sitting directly in front of the iconic Torre di Maratona.
Sitting in awe of the noise, the atmosphere and the stadium I had to remind myself there was a football match still to be played out.
It was only November and for the two sides about to battle it out already the season was playing itself out as predicted by many.
The home side were comfortably sitting in 13th position, not quite pushing for the Scudetto, or European honours, nor in any real danger of being relegated.
Inter were in 2nd position, pushing the expected league leaders and rivals for the Scudetto Juventus, who were taking on their local rivals Torino later that evening.
As the match played out the home crowd grew frustrated as Bologna failed to exploit their chances and despite going into halftime 0-0 remained loud, vocal and positive of a result.
For the second consecutive match I was seated next to a father and son, reminding me once again the role my father played in passing on his love and passion for calcio.
Despite going down 1-0 thanks to man of the match Roberto Soriano Inter came back to win 2-1 thanks to a brace by Romelu Lukaku.
When I finally got home later that evening Sonia greeted me at the door to ask who’d won, despite, I suspect, her already knowing the result, ‘Inter 2-1,” I replied, “we’ll never top Bernardini and 64!” said Sonia as she walked off wishing me goodnight.
The stadium, the surroundings and the atmosphere trumped any football witnessed that evening and much like the city Bologna the football club has a way of consuming you and overtaking your senses.
Watching Bologna at home that November night was perhaps one of the most fun footballing experiences of my life and for any calcio fan travelling to Italy make sure a fixture at the Renato Dall’Ara Stadium is on the itinerary as you won’t be disappointed.
If it’s a night game and they’re playing Inter, even better.
Just remember it’ll never top ‘64’!
Words by: Frank Risorto. @SerieA_Aus