Italian football writer, author of Juventus; A history in Black & White.
As the subway train makes its way to the outskirts of Milan, the passengers grow more and more impatient, their excitement barely contained by the carriages they have crammed into. When it reaches the final stop on the line they burst out onto the platform, hurrying up the stairs towards the only destination that could make such a journey worthwhile.
Emerging into the night sky, it stands there before them once again, somehow looking both futuristic and classical all at once as the lights illuminate the giant concrete pillars. One of world football’s most iconic venues, San Siro needs no introduction, the sight of it as unmistakable as it is, breathtaking.
Because it has always been more than merely a stadium where games are played, it is often referred to as “la Scala del Calcio,” a moniker that paints it as the sport’s version of the iconic Milanese opera house. San Siro deserves such praise because it has always provided a grand stage on which some of Italian football’s seminal moments have taken place, fans of all clubs viewing it with a mixture of reverence, awe and respect.
To go when the stadium is full to capacity for a derby clash between the two teams who call it “home” is to witness one of the greatest fixtures in the world, the contrast of AC Milan’s red-and-black stripes with Inter’s black-and-blue only enhancing San Siro’s already powerful imagery. When prestigious opponents such as Juventus, Barcelona or Real Madrid visit, the atmosphere is electric as flares explode and fans generate noise that can be heard from miles away across town.
Its actual name – Lo Stadio Giuseppe Meazza – is in honour of a player who won the World Cup in the 1930s and represented both Milanese clubs, another fact that makes it impossible to escape the feeling that almost a hundred years of footballing history is soaked into the very concrete that San Siro is built from.
There is a drastic need for some work to be done as parts of the old ground begin to look their age, but it remains unthinkable that Milan and Inter would ever choose to leave. This week saw both claim they intend to do just that, intent on building a new stadium in the same location rather than pay for the improvements San Siro needs.
Frankly, that is the same kind of nonsensical decision that has kept the duo in mid table mediocrity over the last few years. To turn your back on such a symbolic place would be unforgivable, like the Queen suddenly deciding Buckingham Palace no longer suits her needs or the Pope declaring that the Vatican isn’t suitable for a man of his standing in the 21st Century. Demolishing it in the name of progress is something even his Holiness – a huge football fan since childhood – might consider deeming borderline sacrilegious.
Other clubs around the peninsula might have newer, more modern homes, but one thing that is indisputable is that San Siro is still Italy’s best stadium. Long may that continue.
Title Illustration from ‘I am Milan’, Illustrated book by Carlo Stanga, Moleskine.