As the clocks ticked over to 2019, alongside all of the new resolutions to lose weight, exercise more, cut down on the drink and pizza, there must also be a sense of excitement about what the new year will bring in terms of football experiences.
The team here at thefootballblether already have some exciting expeditions planned. Alongside a sprinkling of domestic Scottish and Czech games pencilled in on the calendar, we also have a trip to Italy booked in March to take in some top Serie A fixtures.
Planning for Italy is underway, with the kick off times for our weekend on 8-11 March 2019 recently confirmed. Cheap flights and travel had previously been booked and organised from our various bases to a meeting point in the city of Milan on the Friday night. From our initial starting point in Milan we are currently planning to travel onwards to Parma, Bologna and Florence to take in the Parma v Genoa (Saturday afternoon), Bologna v Cagliari (Sunday morning) and Fiorentina v Lazio (Sunday evening) games.
There is an element of uncertainty in this organisation given that tickets for these games, or games involving these sides don’t go on sale until a few days or weeks before the fixture – however experience and research would dictate that tickets are usually fairly straight forward to come by even at these later stages.
Once the kick off times of the aforementioned fixtures were announced, we were able to plot our expedition through Italy, within the parameters of return flights from Milan (and Bergamo) and their timings. The starting point in the north of Italy does mean that we are restricted to an extent to around a 2 hour travel radius – albeit with the brilliant Italian high speed trains (up to 200mph) this allows us to travel as far as places like Florence (circa 230 miles) while still (hopefully) being able to make it back to Milan in time for return flights.
Having travelled on the high speed Italian trains before, they are really brilliant (especially compared to Scottish/British trains). Clean, fast and efficient – but most importantly representing great value with many routes between cities available for less than £20. Vouchers and discounts are also available when booking at certain times or for certain routes, meaning that subject to a bit of patient research, great value is available. We won’t be able to get these high speed trains between all cities given our travel times and routes, but we will be able to reach all destinations via economical transport methods.
Research and planning will also now turn to other factors such as where to stay, where to eat and then also where to get the best pre match atmosphere (and pre match coffees and beers) with the respective fans, to allow us to best experience the 3 matches and get a feel for the clubs themselves.
The “where to eat” and “where to drink” questions above are arguably the most tantalising here – with the cities of Parma and Bologna world renowned for their culinary excellence. Given the kick off times, we are likely to be able to get a nice lunch in Parma, with breakfast or brunch the following day in Bologna. Potentially worth the trip in itself, but these will surely set us up nicely for the matches and allow us to fully ingratiate ourselves in the local culture and soak up plenty of atmosphere as well.
There is a lot of work to do in terms of planning and organising the finer details of our trip. But this is all very exciting and is something to look forward to in the coming months.
Aside from the organising and the travel element of the trip which are great in themselves, there should some quality football on show in these games. Fiorentina v Lazio is the clear standout fixture of the weekend, the cherry on top of the football trip. Two good sides, admittedly with their struggles so far this season, but nonetheless with good players and top pedigree. Both are also teams with added romance for those of us who fell in love with the Italian game in the 1990’s. The iconic purple strip, worn with pride by great players including Batistuta and Rui Costa adds romance to Fiorentina while Lazio with their Championship winning side and questionable spending patterns also add an element of nostalgia and rose tinted history to this match.
The above is similar for Parma, who of course rose to prominence in the 1990’s with their iconic yellow and blue strip, European exploits and as written here before a real Hipsters choice for an Italian side to watch. Genoa, while not as Hipster and “90’s iconic” as Parma, Lazio or Fiorentina, are however one of the great old sides of Italy. One of the first clubs founded in the country and with a number of early titles, while things have been quite barren of late they do represent a former great and well worth a trip to see. Of course, all of the above have had the ever so Italian drama in terms of over spending, questionable owners, bankruptcy, relegation, glory – all mix in to create an aura for these sides which is appealling to fans like ourselves.
The final 2 sides, Calgiari and Bologna have similar historical attributes in terms of past glories and failures, however the aspect most appealling for this match is surely the chance to visit the iconic Stadio Renato Dall’Arra within the city of Bologna. A beautifully iconic stadium, complete with open bowl design and a fantastic brick tower giving this stadium a truly unique character.
So all in, with the chance to travel to Italy, through Italian cities with food, drink and most importantly football, fans and watching great teams there really is a lot to look forward to in the coming year.