In the pandemonium that followed Juventus’s home win over Palermo earlier this month, supporters twice invaded the pitch. The Bianconeri had just been crowned champions of Italy for the second year running, prompting over-eager fans to rush the field in the hopes of joining their heroes’ celebrations. But by the time they reached their destination, most of Juventus’s players had already fled, sprinting down the tunnel and taking refuge in the changing rooms.
One player, though, did not run. Gigi Buffon stayed on the field as long as the stewards would allow, accepting a T-shirt from one fan—a member of the Viking Juve group of Ultras—and hugs from many more before finally being dragged away by a posse of men in fluorescent orange jackets. It was a telling scene. Few players identify as closely with the fans as Buffon, a man who still considers himself to be one of them.
The only difference is, Buffon does not support Juve. He likes his employers very much, as you might expect for a player who has spent 12 such happy and successful years with a single club, even choosing to stick by them after they were dropped to Serie B as a result of the Calciopoli scandal in 2006. But Buffon’s true love remains Carrarese, the team he supported as a boy.
Growing up in Carrara, a coastal town in northern Tuscany, Buffon quickly became obsessed with his local team. As a child he would watch games from the Curva Nord of the Stadio dei Marmi, a small concrete bowl with space for 5,000 or so people. As he grew older, he began to stand among the Ultras, bare-chested in his preferred game-day attire of blue jeans and an open leather jacket with no shirt underneath.
At times he even fought for his side. Asked during a 1998 interview with La Repubblica if he had ever traded blows with an opposition supporter, Buffon confirmed that he had. “Every now and then, yes,” he said. “After a game between Carrarese and Bologna five years ago, which Bologna won through absolute robbery, we caused a bit of a scene outside with the opposition fans.
“I’m not saying it’s right, but if you limit yourself to fighting with fists then it doesn’t seem that tragic to me either. The tragedy is when someone brings a knife with them from home.”
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