Arrigo Brovedani walked alone so that his team Udinese didn’t have to when they played Sampdoria in Genova on Monday night. ‘Walked’ is used in a figurative sense here. Because Brovedani actually drove.
“I just got in the car and went,” he said, as if a 500km, five-hour trip from his home in Spilimbergo in the northeast corner of Italy near the Slovenian border, all the way across to Genoa in the northwest was like venturing out to the corner shop to get a carton of milk.
In truth, Brovedani had to be there on business. He works for a wine company and had meetings to attend to in the area. That they just happened to coincide with an Udinese game couldn’t have turned out any better.
As an away fan, obtaining a ticket without the much-maligned and controversial tessera del tifoso identity card wasn’t easy. Many would rather not go and watch football than get one and forego their civil liberties and be treated with suspicion. Yet Brovedani was undaunted.
He got in touch with his local Udinese fan club for advice, tried to clear a few bureaucratic hurdles, tripped over a few of them, but still got back up again and contacted Sampdoria to see if they might help him watch his team. They were only too happy to oblige. Why? Because Brovedani was the only Udinese supporter coming.
“Usually away from home there are about 80 of us. A lot of us,” he told Rai Sport. “I honestly thought I’d find myself among at least five or six.”
Alas, he was on his lonesome. “Once I got to the ground I discovered that I was the only [Udinese] fan there. At that point the stewards asked if I wanted to sit in the main stand, but I insisted on going in the away end, seeing as I had paid for that ticket.”
And so, Samp’s stewards reached for their keys and opened up the ‘gabbietta’ or little cage that usually holds the visiting ultras.
“When I entered my end and it dawned on me that I was the only one there I shouted: ‘Forza Ragazzi’. Antonio Di Natale heard me and said: ‘Come down and warm up with us’.”
Brovedani, however, knew that he couldn’t. He lent on the red railings and draped a flag over them, it’s blue background and yellow eagle, the symbol of the Friuli region. “It was cold,” Brovedani recalled, “but I consoled myself with a great cabernet that I’d brought with me from Friuli.”
Udinese helped warm him up too. Danilo headed in a corner to put Udinese in front after 17 minutes and Di Natale capitalised on a defensive mishap before the half-hour mark to make it 2-0.
Brovedani celebrated wildly, just as he would after the interval when Brkic saved Nicola Pozzi’s penalty to ensure his side held on for the win. Curiously rather than shower him with insults, the Samp supporters applauded Brovedani out of respect.
“They were all really very kind,” he said. “The stewards offered me a coffee, then directors from Samp’s marketing department came over to ‘my’ end to give me a little present [a match-worn shirt belonging either to Eder or captain Daniele Gastaldello].
“In the end, when I left I met some Samp fans and they offered to take me out for a drink, complimenting me on my passion… I’m just sorry I couldn’t have stopped for longer but I had to dash because I had a lot of work commitments over the next few days.”
Once identified—and correctly too after La Gazzetta dello Sport initially claimed he was someone else, namely Rino Alzetta a hotel doorman from Monte Carlo—Brovedani has become a cult hero, an icon of tifo, the best representation of support in Italy.
His willingness to stand by his club and on his own if necessary was interpreted by some as an anti-Schettino moment, a reference to the captain of the Costa Corcordia cruise ship who infamously abandoned the vessel which sank off the Italian coastline killing 32 people earlier this year.
Perhaps that’s an exaggeration. “Probably if there had been two of us, no one would have made a fuss about it,” Brovedani acknowledged. It also helped that the game was broadcast live on TV.
When one Livorno fan, the 66-year-old former Serie A pro Corrado Nastasio made the 1,000km trip from Tuscany to Calabria in order to watch his hometown club play Reggina in Serie B in October, it made the headlines but not to the same extent.
On the one hand, instances like this are heart-warming and romantic. Brovedani and Nastasio are the real Irreducibili, more so than many ultras in their preparedness to go above and beyond for their team with the purest and most honest of intentions. All they wanted was to watch and support their boys.
On the other, it reflects the reality of attendances in Italy. Indeed on the same same day as Brovedani followed Udinese in Genoa, La Repubblica published a study showing how the average crowd in Serie A is just 20,732 with only 48.1% of stadium capacity used. It pales in comparison with the Bundesliga [with 42,257 on average and 86.1% capacity used] and the Premier League [with 35,753 and 94.6% capacity used].
Attendances have fallen in Serie A by 7.8% this year. That figure, however, must be taken with a pinch of salt. Much of it is presumably down to the lowest season ticket sales at Milan during the Berlusconi era, a vast collapse in number, following the departures of Thiago Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the summer.
The reasons for low turnouts in Italy are well-documented. The perceived threat of violence regardless of the fact incidents as a whole have declined in recent years have contributed to families staying away.
Others feel that it’s more bother than it’s worth, and that the ID cards introduced to regulate fans following the tragic death of policeman Filippo Raciti in 2007 infringe on civil liberties, criminalize the innocent and bring unfair suspicion.
Brovedani experienced this on Monday night. “There were also some officers from the Questura who asked me a couple of questions to make sure that I didn’t have any bad intentions, but they soon understood that I was a quiet type.”
In addition, of course, there’s the issue of Satellite TV and by the same token changes in kick-off times but above all the sense that it’s safer and more comfortable to stay at home and tune in then watch your team at a crumbling, dilapidated and council-owned ground where the facilities are poor and your view obstructed.
It’s not all doom and gloom, though. Juventus have shown the way. Their new state-of-the-art home has, since it’s opening last year, been a triumph, proof that if you build it—and it’s genuinely a nice place to be—they will come.
Tonight’s match with Cagliari in the Coppa Italia, a competition not usually associated with sell-out crowds, certainly at this stage, will be played in front of a full-house, though how much that has to do with it being Antonio Conte’s first home game since the end of his ban is up for discussion.
Not every club can afford to go out on its own and build a new ground. Inter have sought Chinese investment. Cagliari fell out with the council and left Sant’Elia for Trieste, causing outrage, and then pitched up at the unready Meccano-like Is Arenas, a farce that amid disillusion and despair at the owner brought the issue into sharper focus.
There’s frustration that a law brought in supposedly to facilitate the construction of new grounds is being repeatedly amended; the legislation is now a ready-made excuse for why so little progress has been made on that front rather than an enabling force.
Hosting a major championship might once have provided the necessary spark. That, however, no longer appears to be a likely scenario, at least not in the near future.
Italy bid for Euro 2008, but considering how the decision process regarding its allocation came so soon after the Calciopoli scandal, UEFA couldn’t be seen to award it to them. As for Euro 2012, the Italians have a number of suspicions as to why they were snubbed again.
Another bid should perhaps be discounted given the country’s current financial predicament and how Italy’s bid to host the 2020 Olympics was dropped because prime minister Mario Monti deigned it “irresponsible”.
In the meantime, fans will have to endure. In doing so, they could do worse than draw on the spirit of Brovedani, who stood there all on his own, 500km away from home in a rusting gabbietta with only his flag and cabernet for company. Because that’s what it means to be a supporter, through thick and thin, good times and bad, wherever, whenever.