22 October 2010

Milan – A Game of Two Halves

The Iconic San Siro Stadium
Tan was at the airport to pick me up bang on 1pm as he said he would. At 4.30pm we were checking into our hotel just outside Milan after a pleasant and uneventful drive up through the Alps. The hotel, as usual, was nothing like it looked on the internet but for one night, it was ok.

A couple of drinks and some helpful advice from the receptionist and we set off to have dinner in the centre of Milan before getting the metro to the San Siro – that was the plan, but by this time I was totally fed up with Joanna Lumley on the Tom Tom (Sat Nav) telling us to ‘take the next right daaahhhling’, in that awfully posh voice of hers so I contradicted her and within 100 metres of leaving the hotel we had to reprogramme Joanna – we’d missed the autoroute! I’m sure I heard her say, ‘you’re a plonker daaahling.’

Still, it meant we were able to sample the Milan traffic which, with a combination of rush hour and football traffic, was a bit of a nightmare but within an hour of leaving the hotel, the lights of the San Siro appeared right in front of us. A colossal edifice lighting up the night sky.  

The San Siro at Night
At this point it became all too easy. We parked within 200 metres of the stadium and went for a drink and some pizza, and despite the supposed threat of the Milan Ultras (fanatical and often violent fans), the atmosphere was very pleasant. I spoke to quite a few Milan fans and very friendly they were.

We got into the stadium without too much trouble and settled down to watch the Spurs players warm up before the game and at precisely 8.45pm it was kick-off - and then it all went wrong. 

I don’t think Tan had settled into his seat properly when Milan surged down the left and Zanetti scored. One-nil up and the game was only 1 minute and 49 seconds old! Nine minutes later and it was 2-0. As Milan surged forward, the Spurs defence parted like the Red Sea when Moses waved his arms, and in an act of desperation the visiting left back pulled the forward down. The referee darted over, pointed to the penalty spot and then reached into his pocket and pulled out an orange card. It was supposed to be red but whether it was the lights or the ref’s sense of coordination, the card was most definitely orange and matched his top beautifully.

This was a disaster. It was likely to be 2-0 after the penalty and Spurs were down to 10 men – but wait. The Spurs players crowded round the ref and he reached into his pocket and flashed his orange card once more, this time at the goalkeeper. Spurs were down to nine men, but no – the ref had shown his card to the wrong player first time round. Spurs were back to ten players.

Zanetti Scores the First Goal
The penalty was coolly dispatched by Eto’o for Milan. 2-0.

Tan had his head in his hands scarcely able to believe what was happening. He raised his head to watch the game once more and three minutes later it was 3-0 to Milan. It was all I could do to stop him throwing himself off the upper tier of the San Siro. He had desperately hoped that Spurs would give the reigning champions a game and wouldn’t embarrass themselves but 3-0 down after fourteen minutes – it could end up a cricket score. And sure enough, in the 37th minute Eto’o wandered down the left once more and scored again. 4-0!

Half-time came as a blessed relief. I’m sure Tan thought about calling it a day and leaving but having driven 350km to get there, he convinced himself to stay. My team Rangers were 1-0 up in Glasgow and the drinks vendors actually had spirits for sale so given that my self-imposed alcohol ban had ended earlier that evening, I had a Sambuca and Coke to celebrate – Sambuca - not something you’d find being dispensed in a UK ground. You don’t find any alcohol being dispensed in UK grounds, well at least outside the corporate boxes! 
The second half started with the 5,000 or so Spurs fans, seated up in the Gods, singing that they “don’t win **** all’, which is probably true but they certainly won the singing contest in the stadium, drowning out the 45,000 Milan fans easily.

And then Spurs scored. Gareth Bale, the Spurs defender ran a full 50m with his ears flapping in the wind, cut inside and dispatched a left foot shot into the Milan net. 4-1 and the Spurs fans clapped and cheered. It might not be the humiliation they had feared.

Towards the end of the game, Bale did an action replay of his first goal. You would have thought the Milan defenders would have worked out what he was going to do this time but no – Bale cut inside again, struck the ball with his left foot and it was 4-2. The Spurs fans went wild. Tan went ballistic. Surrounded by the opposition or not, cries of ‘easy, easy’ poured from his mouth and he held up ten fingers to the blue and black clad Milan fans reminding them that his team only had 10 men.  

There were only a couple of minutes of added-on time to go when Bale wandered down the Milan right once more. Was he going to the corner flag to waste time and keep the score at 4-2? Nope – he cut inside again and lashed the ball into the Milan net for the third time.

The Spurs fans went crazy. Tan was high-fiving anybody who had a hand in the air, Milanese or not.  The Inter  fans were worried now – how long to go and Spurs couldn’t score a fourth and tie the tie so to speak – could they?

Gareth Bale with the Match Ball
Nope. The ref's whistle went and the Spurs fans stood to a man cheering their team and Bale in particular. Bale grabbed the ball and went down the tunnel, his transfer value no doubt having soared by ten million or so in a single 90 minute display.

What a game. A game of two halves.

No comments: