Milan Derby Flares Up

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AC Milan 2 v 2 Inter Milan (07.01.2001)

My second venture into Italian football came 10 months after my first, but this time i was heading out for the Milan derby. I had seen many derby games on Gazetta Football Italia and had been blown away not only by the intensity of the atmosphere that this fixture had created in my own living room, but also by the impressive displays or ‘tifo’s that were always carefully choreographed by the ultras.

The game was Serie A’s Sunday night TV offering, which meant the game would be played under lights at the San Siro. For some reason I have always preferred watching football under lights – i don’t really know why – but there is something about a flooflit match that i’m allured too!

Tickets were once again purchased in advance using the clubs official web site and these had been posted to us in advance of the game – hats off to the AC Milan ticket office! The San Siro is easily reached from the city centre via the metro. Alighting at ‘Lotto’ station (ironically Milan’s kit sponsor for many years in the 90’s) the stadium is about a 15 minute walk away – where you pass many merchandise and food stalls en route.

It was a freezing cold January night at the San Siro – but the building pre-match atmosphere took your mind off all that. We were sat behind the goal – AC Milan end – on the lower tier of the three. I remember being taken aback by the depth of noise that was ringing around the stadium before kickoff – bangers and firecrackers being let off intermittently – catching you off guard and making you ‘jump’ especially when they go off a few yards from your feet! Even the chanting from the crowd was louder than anything I’d heard before. Prior to kickoff a misty smoke loomed over the stands creating a ‘moody’ pre-game atmosphere to the derby.

As both teams walked out onto the pitch the ultras tifo’s were unravelled and flares let off. The combination of the displays and the noise from the ultras made your hair stand on end. I often wonder what it must be like for a player to walk out to that kind of reception, does it give them a buzz like it did me watching it!? Would it make them more focused for the game? Surely you couldn’t allow yourself to have a bad game when you have a collective mass willing you on to that extent!

AC Inter Tifo 2002

Milan’s team included the legendary left back Maldini; Croatian midfield maestro Boban; and a host of other top names such as Redondo, Costacurta, Leonardo and Shevchenko. Inter had a legendary left back of their own in Javier Zanetti – who as i write this some 12 years on is still playing for Inter and has amassed over 600 appearances for the Nerrazuri. Inter also had a young Andrea Pirlo in their side – what a player he would go onto become – epitomised by his sublime midfield displays in Euro 2012 where he helped Italy to the final. Inter also had Di Biagio, Seedorf, Ronaldo and Hakan Sukur in their side. Even a teenage Robbie Keane was in the squad – but he didn’t make the bench for the big one!

The match itself didn’t disappoint – a really entertaining game – made all the more entertaining by the ultras around me. To be honest I had one eye on the fans as much as i did the game! I had that mixed feeling of adrenalin and anxiety, where it didn’t really matter if the game was shit – because the experience of being in with the ultras would more than make up for that. Being my first ‘derby’ i was never sure what might happen next – when would the next flare be thrown off the middle tier, when would the next firecracker get let off, when would the next round of objects get thrown at an inter player taking a corner.

At one point in the first half Clarence Seedorf came over to take a corner in front of the ‘rossineri’ and got absolutely pelted with oranges and other fruit to the point he had to walk away as it was impossible to set himself to take the kick. He could have had his 5-a-day for the next month in that short moment. Each time he returned he got pelted again – it was as if this was the norm and part and parcel of the Italian game. Eventually Paolo Maldini had to come over to the ultras behind the goal and gestured for them to refrain from throwing anymore citrus based items!!

Inter took a 1 nil lead into the break – with a goal I remember clearly – a well taken ‘lob’ by Hakan Sukur over the advancing Abbiati in the 11th minute.

Ac Inter Flares 2002As the teams emerged at the start of the second half the Milan fans around me let off what seemed like hundreds of flares. Within seconds there was bright orange light all around and smoke billowed up and out into the stadium. There was a surreal silence during this process, and all that could be heard was a mass ‘hissing’ sound as the flares burnt. It took ages for the smoke to clear and the game had kicked off regardless of being able to see the other end of the pitch!

Milan equalised midway through the 2nd half through Boban on 65”, only for Di Biagio to quickly restore the lead for Inter in the 72nd. My dramatic derby debut was completed as Bierhoff managed to salvage a late draw for Milan with an equaliser on 84”, creating scenes of wild celebrations amongst the Milan fans.

The Milan derby is without doubt a match day experience that will live with me forever, and one that I would highly recommend you ‘taking in’ if you ever get the opportunity.

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