EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIP 2019
Welcome back for a special edition of 'Damage in the Box' after a 6 month silence. This is probably a one-off for the time being unless I can rediscover my blogging mojo. Better to go out with a bang rather than a whimper, as they say!
I recently spent a week out in Italy sampling the delights of the European U-21 tournament which involved travelling around Northern Italy and San Marino. After enjoying myself so much in Poland in 2017 I decided this particular tournament was worth another trip. Like last time, there were six venues to take in but I only needed five, having previously visited one of the host stadiums. There is lots to get through, I hope you enjoy reading...
Sunday 16th June 2019
Italy 3-1 Spain @ Stadio Renato Dall'Ara, Bologna
Myself and two friends caught the 1140 Ryanair flight from Manchester, landing in Bologna around 1500. After checking into our hotel we made our way into the city centre for a well deserved beer, even though time was getting a little tight. We headed to Baladin Beer where another mate was already in situ, making his way through the 6 beers on sale.
En-route to said bar we passed an amusing piece of graffiti (pictured right). A totally random outburst indeed. We did wonder to ourselves what on earth the lovely Debbie McGee had done to upset the people of Bolonga!
From where we were drinking, the stadium was about 2 miles away so we headed to a nearby bus stop to catch a bus, but it was chaos. The queues were long and the buses the rammed full. We had a decision to make and that decision was to walk up to the ground. In truth it was straightforward enough as it was a case of following the road and the ground appeared before us.
The Stadio Renato Dall'Ara has been home to Bologna since 1927 and is named after a former club President. It was originally known as Littoriale and was a symbol of fascism. The ground is famous for the Maratona Tower, which once had a statue of Mussolini on top. After the fall of fascism, the statue was removed and the ground renamed.
This ground had been on my bucket list since seeing it used as one of the host stadiums of Italia 1990. This is the ground where David Platt scored a last minute winner for England against Belgium in the round of 16.
The ground is due to undergo renovation in the near future which will involve removing the athletics track and moving the new stands closer to the pitch. The stands will be covered however the stand behind the goal will have a see through cover so the iconic Santuario di Madonna di San Luca can still be seen from the stadium.
Tonight hosts Italy were taking on Spain which meant the ground was full to the available capacity of just over 26,000. As you can imagine it was a partisan crowd and they roared Italy on to a 3-1 victory, even though I thought overall Spain were the better team. Dani Ceballos (9) gave Spain the lead before Italy came back with goals from Federico Chiesa (36 & 64) and a penalty, awarded thanks to VAR, converted by Lorenzo Pellegrini (82).
There were plenty of buses around after the game, meaning we were back in the vicinity of the train station for a nightcap and a pizza before an early start for a trip north.
Germany 3-1 Denmark @ Stadio Friuli, Udine
It was early start to catch the 0653 train from Bolonga to Udine, where we arrived around lunchtime. There was plenty of time to stroll around the city.
The city hall and the surrounding buildings were decked in the flags of the teams taking part in the tournament. This was actually the first time it felt like a tournament was taking place.
After checking into our hotel, we headed back into the city and found ourselves at the fan zone that had been set up. There was good food on the go and there were stalls from three local breweries serving up their beers. It was superb. Sadly it seemed we were the only people taking advantage of this set up. I hope that it did well later on the tournament, especially with the final taking place at this venue.
The ground is around 3 miles out of town, which involved another bus journey from the city centre. Fortunately there were no problems getting on board this evening and we were ensconced in an Udinese supporters bar, not far from our turnstile entrance, in very good time.
Opened in 1976, the home of Udinese Calcio has been redeveloped in recent times. Three sides of the ground have been rebuilt and moved closer to the pitch, with an athletics track removed. You can see where the athletics track once was from the outside of the stadium. The original main stand with arc is the only side that remained. The stands have those multi-coloured seats to give the impression that the ground is full when it is empty. That was certainly the case this evening as the ground was less than half full.
It was a comfortable victory for Germany as goals from Marco Richter (28 & 52) and Luca Waldschmidt (65) put the holders in command before a penalty from Robert Skov (73) gave Denmark a consolation goal.
After the game there were buses to runs both sets of supporters back to town. As we had bumped into a few Danish lads on the train from Bologna they helped us onto the Danish supporters bus. This was especially good as other non-Danish fans had been refused entrance. We were back in the fan zone where we met a few more groundhoppers, and shared a few more beers, until the clocked ticked around to 1am. Not good considering it was another early start on Tuesday!
Tuesday 18th June 2019
Romania 4-1 Croatia @ Stadio Olimpico di Serravalle
The day began with a funny incident. Well two of us thought it was funny, my other mate maybe not so! Today it was back south to San Marino, via Rimini, which meant we were catching the very early (for us) 0655 train back south to Bologna. As it had been a late one in the Udine fan zone it meant very little sleep. The train station was a 20 minute walk from the hotel or there was a bus at 0628 which had you there in half the time.
After waking up around 0615, my mate insisted, despite the very tight timings, on having his shower. Don't worry I'll catch you up he said. Taking him at his word, myself and my other mate then headed for the bus and the station. We were waiting for "X" to arrive and with minutes to spare he walked onto the train, but was in absolute agony. It turned out whilst walking to the station he decided to commandeer a bicycle and then starting bombing it down the road. It was only then that he realised the bike had probably been dumped because there were no brakes on it! Luckily the road was traffic free but in order to bring the bike to a halt he crashed it into a skip thus bruising his ribs. We did our very best not to laugh, but...
Anyhow, we made it to Rimini and after a spot of lunch caught the 1425 bus to San Marino. The journey from Rimini takes around 40 minutes and the bus stops right outside the ground but we decided to carry on the further 3 miles up Mount Titano to have a look at the stunning views from the walls that surround San Marino city. Well I went and had a look, my mate sat in a cafe with a beer nursing his bruised ribs.
San Marino is the third smallest country in Europe and is the world's oldest republic, having been founded by a Christian stonemason named Marinus in 301 AD. There are a series of towns dotted on the mountain side and one of them is Serraville, where the Stadio Olimpico is located. San Marino gained UEFA and FIFA recognition in 1988 and their first official game was a 1992 European Qualifier against Switzerland, where they lost 4-0.
The current golden boy of the Romania U21 squad is the son of a Romanian Legend. Ianis Hagi, son of Gheorge Hagi is making a name for himself and the supporters we spoke to on the bus to the game were pinning their hopes on him leading the team to glory.
Hagi did find the net, scoring the second goal after 11 minutes after George Puşcaş (9) had opened the scoring from the penalty spot, after a VAR review. Nikola Vlašić, in his final act as an Everton player, got a goal back on 18 minutes. Further goals in the second half from Tudor Băluţă (66) and Adrian Petre (90) ensured the win for Romania. On another night it could have been a lot more than four goals as their pace in attack was fantastic.
It was a walk back up the hill from the ground to the bus stop. This was the part that was worrying us the most. The last regular bus to Rimini was 2053 so, if officials were relying on this service there were going to be a lot of people trying to get on board. Fortunately extra buses were laid on and they were effectively football specials with no stops meaning we were back in the centre of Rimini, and in Pub 1843 (well worth a visit), by 2130. Result!
Shock! Horror! No football...
...today as the two games scheduled were at grounds I had been to previously. Bologna, obviously, the other day and Reggio Emilia in 2017 when Everton were humbled 3-0 by Atalanta at the Stadio Citta del Tricolore.
After a well deserved sleep in, I bid farewell to my two mates as they were heading home and I decided to have a day in Venice doing the usual tourist stuff. I did however have a trip to the ground of Venezia FC to have a peek. I couldn't gain access but I am definitely putting a visit to Stadio Pierluigi Penzo on my bucket list.
Thursday 20th June 2019
Germany 6-1 Serbia @ Stadio Nereo Rocco, Trieste
After enjoying the delights of Venice, it was back north to the port city of Trieste. The city is located on the narrow strip between the Adriatic Sea and Slovenia, of which the border is around 10 miles away. Indeed in a pub later a beer from Nova Gorica was considered a local brew! Irish author James Joyce made Trieste home for a part of life and there is a statue in the city to celebrate this (pictured left).
I arrived in the city before midday so was able to spend the day looking around the city, taking in the Piazza Unità d'Italia and the Grande Canal before having a few pre-match beers and a fantastic meal in a local restaurant, which I stumbled upon by accident. The homemade pasta was amazing!
Opened in 1992, the Stadio Nereo Rocco is home to Triestina Calcio. The club had financial problems and went bankrupt in the mid-nineties, and again more recently in 2012, so the ground now hosts Serie C football. The ground is named after legendary player, and later coach, Nerro Rocco who was the first Trieste player to be capped by the Azzurri. He also coached AC Milan to the European Cup in 1963 and 1969.
This is another stadium that has been redeveloped for this tournament with the terracing behind each goal replaced by seats. The capacity has been reduced from 34,000 to 26,000. I have to say they have done a great job. I really, really liked this ground. The metal roof structures certainly had an Archibald Leitch vibe about them and the views from the stand were great.
The game was another routine victory for Germany, hitting Serbia for six, with Augsburg striker Luca Waldschmidt taking centre stage by scoring a hat-trick (30, 37 & 80). Die Mannschaft other goals were scored by Marco Richter (16) Mahmoud Dahoud (69) and Arne Maier (92). Andrija Živković responded for Serbia with an 85th minute penalty kick. This result ensured Germany's passage to the semi-final whilst effectively eliminating Serbia from the competition.
Whilst in the stadium I bumped into a few other groundhoppers I knew so, after managing to scramble onto a bus at the end of the game, it was back into town for yet more beers and a chance to chew the fat on another evenings entertainment.
Friday 21st June 2019
England 2-4 Romania @ Stadio Dino Manuzzi, Cesena
The final day of my Italian adventure saw me head back south to Cesena. The city is between Bologna and Rimini, so is easily accessible by train from either city.
Rather than head back to either of these two cities I decided to make Cesena my base for the night. It is a very compact city and after visiting the Piazza del Popolo, I walked up the hill to the Rocca Malatestiana, a fortress which looks down on the main square. The other main attraction is the Abbey of St Maria del Monte, which I never had time to visit, but it is visible from the football ground (see photo below).
The Stadio Dino Manuzzi is the home of Romagna Centro Cesena, who are a phoenix club of AC Cesena who went bankrupt in 2018. The ground is therefore another stadium that plays host to Serie C football. The stadium was inaugurated in 1957 but was completely rebuilt in 1988.
Pre-match it was chaos trying to enter the stadium as a large number of Romanian fans were once again following their team. The queues at the turnstile were massive and there wasn't much organisation as people were pushing in. I eventually I had to do the same, the old adage if you cant beat them...
I eventually found a vacant seat in the corner, which fortunately had a little shade as it was ridiculously hot. What the temperature at pitch level was like I dread to think. Maybe that played a part in a pedestrian first 45 minutes.
This game was a must win for England so their coach Aidy Boothroyd took the unusual decision to rest the likes of Phil Foden and Aaron Wan-Bissaka. There was plenty of Evertonian interest in the starting XI though with Jonjoe Kenny, Kieran Dowell and Dominic Calvert-Lewin all coming into the team.
For the first three quarters of the game it was dire but then all hell broke loose with six goals in the remaining 20 minutes. The aforementioned Kenny conceded a penalty, duly converted by George Puşcaş (76). Demari Gray (79) levelled for England before Ianis Hagi (85) restored Romania's lead. Back came the Three Lions through Tammy Abraham (87) before Florinel Coman made it 3-2 to Romania. It was Coman who sealed England's fate in the 93rd minutes when he scored his second meaning Romania progressed to the semi-final whilst England were on their way home.
After the match I strolled back into town hoping to find somewhere for a last drink and a bite to eat. I wasn't holding my breath based on what I saw in the afternoon. How wrong could I have been! The city centre was heaving with people. There were stalls selling all kinds of food and drink, live music and the bar were doing a roaring trade. Suffice to say I had no trouble amusing myself well into the wee small hours!
So, that concluded my week in Italy and it was yet another enjoyable trip. Italy is a country I don't often travel to but I absolutely loved the place. The U21 tournament is one that seems to slip under the radar of most groundhoppers but it is a fantastic way of seeing various cities, it is a competition where the football is usually very good and the match tickets are reasonably cheap, for example they were €8 and €5 this time around. The 2021 tournament is being jointly hosted by Slovenia and Hungary. That is already whetting ones appetite. Until next time, arrivederci!
Footnote: The final of this tournament was contested between Germany and Spain in Udine, with Spain winning 2-1.