Tuesday, 17 February 2009

4-3-2-1 triumphs on a night in the 4-4-2

Our man in Italy Kris Voakes reports on derby day in Milan.

The Four Four Two bar becomes something of a second home to the Brit in Milan. Located in via Procaccini in the Sempione district, its walls are adorned with 257 scarves from football clubs all of the world – including Ukraine's Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk, which can provide some interesting pub games late at night...

Every day the pub shows just about any football match you can think of on its four big screens. Already your correspondent has racked up many a weekend filled with eight or nine matches in the company of owner-come-Stoke fan Alessandro and his staff.

But this was no ordinary weekend... because ordinary weekends do not involve Milan derbies.

From the moment I arrived on Sunday, five minutes into the Glasgow derby and a good seven hours before kick-off in the big match, there was a very different atmosphere about the pub. General manager Maurizio explained that all of the tables had long since been booked, adding that, as a Milan fan, he wanted Paolo Maldini to retire that very night as a derby winner. It’s a popular opinion in these parts.

The buzz increased at around 5:30, still three hours from kick-off, with the big screens switching from Italy’s disappointing defeat to Ireland in the Six Nations rugby to a choice of Sporting Gijon-Real Madrid or Derby v Manchester United. Whilst both games were being watched by the majority of people in the increasingly packed bar, it was clear that they weren’t really being paid all that much attention. The talk was all derby-orientated.

Come 8:30 it was almost impossible to move. Those fortunate enough to have secured tickets for the San Siro were long gone and had been replaced by the unlucky ones… the ones whose eyes were now transfixed on the 30 or so inches of TV screen which would deliver either the good or bad news over the next two hours.

I managed to get a seat with a table of English people I’d met in the pub previously. This was a group very much in the Milan camp, wanting the Serie A race to stay wide open after Juventus’ draw with Sampdoria earlier in the day. The general feeling at the table was that they were very much in the minority, surrounded by Inter fans.

8:59pm… Maicon swings a dangerous cross over and Adriano manages to bundle the ball past Christian Abbiati… first blood Inter, and first blood to the Nerazzurri contingent in Four Four Two. I turn my head to see Maurizio’s reaction. Naturally, he looks gutted. I turn back in time to see the replay… it was hand, rather than gut (my original reaction) which had propelled the ball home. There is much finger-wagging, but what can those in red in a pub 3km from the ground do to change it? The goal stands.

And it gets worse for the Milanisti. Just before half-time Dejan Stankovic slams home Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s knock-down and Inter appear out of reach. Rich, one of the red and blacks at my table, momentarily finds some comfort, “I’m glad I didn’t get a bloody ticket now.” Within seconds he’d agreed with my sentiment that you’d always rather be there for any game, especially this one. I realise it’s probably not what he wanted to hear right then.

As with the match itself, the pub suffers a slight lull during the early part of the second half. The Inter fans just want to start their celebrations while the Milan contingent wants the sorry experience to be over. Suddenly, Ronaldinho plays in Marek Jankulovski with an incisive pass and the Czech cuts back for Alexandre Pato to fire home. A roar goes up, more than matching the earlier exultations of the Interisti. We have a game after all.

And we have an atmosphere too. With each Milan attack, the noise level grows. Filippo Inzaghi volleys home, sending three-quarters of the pub into such delirium that very few of them spot the pictures of the linesman’s flag which now fill the screens. The Inter fans, with an air of relief, draw their rivals’ attention to the screen. It’s the last laugh.

When the 49th minute of the second half is up, those in blue celebrate being kings of the city once more, knowing it should now only be a matter of time before their crowning as No. 1 in Italy for the fourth year running.

I leave with the stream of Milanisti, including my English friends, and it’s a few minutes before I notice that I’ve not settled my bar bill with Maurizio. I’ll square it up on Saturday… he’ll be fine with it. He knows I’ll be back. But every Milan fan knows that in terms of the title race, their team will not.


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