Some time in 2014 the idea of an Under The Cosh football mini-tour of Europe was conceived. 18 months of planning and one Canadian passport for Mohaned later (you try several countries in ten days with Egyptian documents), we were on our way to London, Manchester, Barcelona, Rome and Berlin. The following is Rishay’s account of our travels, with additions from the other Cosh boys here and there.
We arrived in Rome and immediately there was a sense that the city had no rules. As soon as the plane stopped a number of passengers at the back charged as far forward as possible, and by the time we descended onto a shuttle bus, one passenger was already in a heated debate with a hapless baggage handler.
We had been forced by Ryanair to check our bags as they claimed the flight was full (it wasn’t), so we waited aggressively for our luggage upon arrival before looking for a cab. After rejecting a price of 75 euros we were led by a professionally dodgy bloke to a shuttle service offering to get us there for 50, the price we’d been told to expect. He assured us that we would be dropped off before the other passengers, but we knew that it would not be the case.
Eventually, after the other passengers were let out (we met some lovey Icelandic travelers) we arrived at our AirBnb in Pigneto and our hostess Silvia was there to greet us. Our driver made no secret of taking an immediate liking to her. Silvia was an exceptional lady and made us feel at home right away. We immediately knew that we would get a good night’s rest at our Roman accommodation. It was well past 11pm and after the usual scramble for the wifi password, we passed out.
After an exceptional sleep, we bought some food at a fantastic, tiny grocery store around the corner that Silvia had recommended and cooked ourselves breakfast, which felt luxurious after so many restaurant meals. I cooked the eggs and Bernie the sausages while Alex made tea and coffee and Mohaned set the table and readied the croissants. It was all remarkably civilized.
That day, we had some sightseeing planned before going to the Roma – Torino game in the evening. We made our way into town on the bus, which was a bit of a culture shift after the efficiency and modernity of the public transport in London and Barcelona.
The bus was stiflingly hot, no stations were called out or displayed and we resorted to Mohaned craning his neck to read the name of every stop as we passed by in order to keep track of where we were. We also saw absolutely no evidence of anyone paying to get on or validating their tickets. Perhaps we were missing something, but it really seemed like well-mannered chaos for the most part.
We started with the Piazza Venezia before heading north on Via del Corso to the Fontana di Trevi (almost impossible to enjoy due to the colony of tourists…bastards), the Spanish Steps and ending up at the Piazza del Popolo. At the centre of the beautifully symmetrical piazza is an Egyptian obelisk of Sety I. Mohaned took strangely little pride in it despite his Egyptian roots, but this could be attributed to the fact that the creation is called the Flaminio Obelisk, which sounds far too much like something built in honour of Mathieu Flamini for anyone’s comfort.
It was breathtaking – save for the massive advert for a cell phone plastered on the wall of a centuries-old church – and we enjoyed walking the streets of Rome, well guided by Silvia’s map and her general directions. We were completely battered by the time we sat down at a restaurant near the piazza, but the food, espresso and impending visit to the Stadio Olimpico for our first game all together got us into the football zone. Our thoughts turned to the European Championships in the summer, and we had an interesting (subjective, I know) debate about how the England team should line up, with Bernie convinced that Rooney should start ahead of Dele Alli. Here’s the audio.
We hopped on a tram, encouraged to see a few people decked out in Roma scarves that we could follow once we stepped off. On the walk up to the stadium we could tell it was going to be a good game. There was something in the air. Perhaps it was the raw energy of the crowd. The Romans had a raw passion that was unrivaled in the other cities we visited. Football is seen as trivial by some, and as life or death by others. It was in Rome that we really felt the latter, and we knew that it would be an entertaining evening.
We cleared two security checkpoints. I am Indian Canadian and by this point of the trip had grown a beard, and so the second round of security presented some challenges.
“What passport you have?”
With my reply of “Canada”, a second official appeared and asked (in as an Italian accent as your brain can muster):
“but your face…..is from…?” with a gesture of pointing at his own face as if to say, “you don’t look like what I think Canadians look like”…and I responded with “Indian”.
A rapid conversation in Italian then transpired between both officials, and a third one also joined the fray. I had to wait for this to finish, but was finally given the all clear after they checked whether I was Arabic. Meanwhile Mohaned, the Egyptian, sailed right through and the impassioned debate amongst the three officials continued at length, much to our amusement. The boys and I had a good laugh about the whole affair.
Finally, we sat in our seats which were, to be frank, f***ing filthy, and waited for the stadium to fill up, which it didn’t. Thankfully we had been handed a Corriere delo Sport outside the ground and carefully spread the pages across our seats. When you’re travelling as light as we did, you can’t risk ruining your one pair of jeans.
Our section and side of the stadium was more or less occupied, and soon the players were out in the middle doing their warm-ups. A lady seated in front of us in a Totti shirt arrived and asked if he was playing. Alex mentioned that he was not in the starting eleven but would likely be on the bench, and she looked crestfallen. It transpired that she had traveled, alone, just to see her hero play.
The home fans’ clamour for Totti to be brought on got more desperate by the minute.
The game itself was a poor one from Roma’s perspective. Spaletti’s false-9 system was not troubling Torino’s 3-5-2 and having nobody to mark, Torino’s imposing Polish centreback Kamil Glik was having a walk in the park, sweeping up loose balls and stepping forward to distribute effortlessly from the back. Bruno Peres, meanwhile, Torino’s right wing-back, was cutting through Roma time and again with his pace and skillful dribbling.
The Giallorossi could get nothing going, and seemed out of ideas from the start save for Maicon who marauded forward from right back and was the only Roma player who looked likely to make anything happen. Of course, when he or Florenzi got themselves into a position to cross, false 9 Perotti had always dropped so deep during the build-up that Glik and company cleared the danger with ease.
Torino were excellent and took a deserved first-half lead courtesy of Belotti. A good Kostas Manolas header levelled things up midway into the second but Roma were slack defensively in the aftermath of the equalizer and Torino soon took the lead again through Martinez.
The arrival of Dzeko on to the scene gave Roma a much-needed focal point and they started to play better, but the away side took their slim lead into the dying minutes and the home fans’ clamour for Totti to be brought on got more desperate by the minute. On 86 minutes, it all changed.
When Roma won a free kick to the left of the penalty area, Totti was subbed on for Seydou Keita in an attempt to provide some additional attacking menace to compliment the arrivals of Pjanic and Dzeko from the bench. The cross was flicked on at the near post and Totti, anticipating the situation before his marker, scored with his first touch immediately after jogging onto the field. The crowd lifted the roof off the stadium. The lady in front of us burst into tears and had not stopped crying with joy when we left at the end of the game. A father two rows down held his young son aloft as if he were the Champions League trophy.
Totti immediately ran to celebrate with the fans, but was bizarrely isolated as it was still 2-2 and the rest of the team had already gone back into their positions for the kick off. Totti however, did his ‘thumb suck’ celebration and took his sweet time.
Less than a minute later, Roma were awarded a penalty for a handball by Glik, and although it was under dubious circumstances, we just couldn’t believe what was happening in front of your eyes. It was bedlam. The fans were going wild, Totti had just come on and scored with his first touch, and a minute later was taking a penalty with his second touch to put Roma 3-2 up with two minutes to go. If ever there was an excuse to say #scenes, this was it.
Totti stepped up and scored – of course he did – and nobody would deny the Roma fans their victory. “C’è solo un capitano!” reverberated around the stadium after the announcer had chanted “FRANCESCO…” and the fans replied with “TOTTI!” several times over. It was impossible not to get swept up in it, and we celebrated wildly.
It was an absolutely electric end to an otherwise sub-par Roma performance, and Totti, the living legend, had given the Cosh boys an absolute treat to watch. One of a couple of club anthems, Grazie Roma played over the loudspeaker as we left the stadium, and it was a sentiment we shared. It was the best game of the trip, and a night we’ll never forget.
The following day we did some sightseeing, including the Colosseum as well as St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican (to add another “country” to the list visited on the European excursion). We were exhausted from all the walking under the hot Roman sun, coupled with the time spent commuting on public transit in traffic and we decided that we would take it easy that evening after having pizza in a restaurant along the Tiber River.
For the second time in two days I was the cause of much bewilderment to the locals. When my pizza arrived I asked for red pepper flakes, which I distributed generously. As we were eating early we were the restaurant’s only customers, and the chef who had presumably just finished making our meals came out for a smoke. Bernie and I sat in the opposite direction to him, but Mohaned and Alex narrated for us a scene in which he, followed by the waiter and then the owner all came out of the restaurant to marvel, befuddled and amused, at the amount of red pepper flakes on my pizza. Like the security team at the Stadio Olimpico, they apparently discussed this amongst themselves at some length.
We would depart early the next morning on the first of four trains making our way through Milan, Brigg, Basel, and on to Berlin over a 24 hour period. Resting early on our last night in Rome would prove to be a wise decision.