di Matt Halsdorff
Travel on any highway in Italy and you will find one… a tiny shop that dishes out a variety of gas-station sandwiches and sweets. Every Autogrill holds at least a few things in common. Coffee is always ready to be served. Cold beers beckon from behind refrigerator doors.
And should you find yourself on the route between Piemonte and Tuscany the same day Torino is playing in Livorno, you are going to find Toro fans.
Thus I found myself this morning, having left a sleepy Torino and the frosty cold fields of Piemonte behind. To my right stands Ruben, sipping on a cafè under dark sunglasses, his “granata” scarf hanging loosely around his neck. To my left stands Alessandro downing a morning beer in an attempt to chase away a late-night hangover. They are discussing the starting formation, commenting on each player as the names are given. Alessandro comes from Castelamonte, a little city north of Torino and speaks with such a strong “Piemontese” accent that I have to ask him to repeat a few points… his vowels stretching out in the accent that one often hears in the Curva Maratona. The Autogrill is overflowing with Toro supporters as a fan club bus is parked outside. Everyone seems in good spirits under the granata hats and jackets, sharing nods and smiles as they rub at tired yet excited eyes.
It’s about a three-hour drive from Torino down to Livorno, and we stop at three different Autogrills – cafè, restroom, chicken sandwich, cafè, and three beers for Alessandro. Crossing the bridge in Genoa and gliding down the coast of Liguria the sun brings a taste of springtime and we shed our winter jackets. Outside the wind blows furiously. We shoot out of a tunnel to find the “Toro Ultras” Buses parked along the side of the road with what appear to be two police escorts flashing their blue lights. Or at least we hope they are escorts! Or did they get pulled over?
After a quick tourist stop in Pisa we enter enemy territory and find ourselves in Livorno, a port town stretched out along the seafront. In Italy your license plate often is marked with your home city of residence, thus a car from Torino is easily identifiable with a large TO. Ruben explains that taking a car to an away game can often be dangerous. There are some cities where one would not even imagine to bring a car marked from TO on the day of a match, such as Sampdoria, Atalanta, and Roma. Insurance would be a good idea if you decided to park outside one of those stadiums. While there is no burning rivalry between Toro and Livorno, the adrenalin begins to swirl inside me as our car is surrounded by Livornese darting about on scooters with their red scarves snapping back and forth in the wind.
ENTERING THE STADIUM
Livorno’s stadium is not the easiest to find as there are no signs pointing out directions, but we managed the way by following another car from Torino. At first look the stadium looks rather small and hidden by surrounding apartment buildings. Ruben spotted a free parking space and out of pure Italian habit swooped in to take it. A little discussion was had before we exited the car. The colors of the two teams are similar enough that we should not stick out in the streets, and therefore not encounter any trouble. We hide any traces of the granata colors from inside the car and head for the stadium. Unfortunately Ruben has parked far from the Visitors entrance, and we are forced to walk through a crowd of Livorno fans…. My Toro sweater under a black jacket with hat and scarf placed just so that our loved Toro is not blatantly obvious.
We all agree that Alessandro can’t speak until we find our fellow Toro fans…. his accent will give us away immediately.
We eventually find the Visitors entrance and pass the rows of armed police that watch over the area, quickly finding ourselves in a sea of maroon and burgundy. The Ultras buses are parked safely, with fans milling about with drinks and cigarettes in hand, the Toro flags whipping gold, white, and granata. We are with friends…
Entering any curva with Toro fans brings a rush of excitement. At an away game one notices differences however…. The fans that have come with the team are more typically the Ultras, the hard-core fans that the stadium could not be complete without. The sun is sinking and a freezing wind swirls in the stadium. Our curva is a sea of maroon and black as a buzz runs through the air. Banners and flags thrash about in the strong wind giving an extra jolt of energy to the charged atmosphere. Our chants echo strongly in the round stadium, clearly being heard by the Livorno fans trickling in.
The Ultras take positions in the front of our curva, leading the cheers and pumping blood into our systems. An older man stands out as he passionately cheers without a shirt on. Everyone points him out to friends, wondering how he can stand what feels like icy wind. A group below us proudly holds up a banner reading “Toscana Granata”… a few Fiortina scarves hanging next to ours.
As the players warm up we sing the normal chants such as “Forza Toro Alè” while spicing things up with a special “BABBO NATALE…. GOBBI MAIALE” insult to Juve. A special banner has been made just for this song. Even while singing Alessandro’s cadence seems to bounce piemontese-like.
Note: Throughout most of the game a battle of insults occurred between our curva and some Livorno fans through the fenced barriers dividing the two…. A small group of Livorno fans decided it would be fun to get as close as possible to hurl insults after Toro took the lead. After a time people began to respond. The shirtless man decided to take down his pants and smack his ass at these guys… with the typical insults of “Vaffanculo!!!” and so on being thrown to this Livorno group.
As the insults grew hotter Ruben began worrying about his car windows… and that Torino tag on his license plate.
As seen from inside the stadium some basic observations…
Cioffi’s goal: A great header. At this point in the match Toro was playing with an energy that shined. Livorno seemed a bit stunned as the granata kept coming after them. Explosion in the curva as the goal went in!! For the first time heard “Cioffi Cioffi Cioffi Cioffi Goaaaaaaaaaal” being chanted in the rhythm of the more common “Muzzi Muzzi Muzzi Muzzi Goaaaaaaaaal”.
“Phantom Goal”: This happened right in front of our curva. Abbiati made a great save though it was hard to tell clearly if the ball was in or not. We cheered his name after the few split seconds of confusion. Was it a goal? Did the ball cross the line? Seconds later Ruben received a phone call – the replay on TV seemed to call for a goal…. At first sight for most of us it seemed to be a goal, but then again, you’re eyes don’t always tell the truth!
Rosina: Seems to have that extra step and that inner fire that sets him apart. More than once the curva broke into chanting Rosina’s name after he gave his all…
Second Half: The atmosphere of the curva during the second half was one of frustration. With all the cards given out and what seemed to us “missed calls” as well as at the lack of offence. Fiori was not the favorite player of the curva this week….
A final score that seems correct from the last game of the year. As we flowed out of the stadium in the direction of warm cars and dinners the general impression seemed more or less positive from the stadium. As much as the team, the fans who fought the winds down in Livorno headed back in the direction of Piemonte ready for a well deserved rest and Christmas break….
That is, after a few stops at the Autogrill on the way home….