Friday, 21 November 2014

Match 19 - Cagliari

After landing in Cagliari and getting dropped off at my replacement hotel (not so much a long story as a brief pain in the arse, but you'll have to read the book to find out why), I had to make it to the stadium, and to try and find a ticket for the match. Normally I just buy a ticket online in the days leading up to the game (long ago having learned that approaching clubs and asking for a complimentary ticket leads nowhere, slowly), but with Cagliari I wasn’t able to do this. The only places I could buy a ticket in advance were in Sardinia, and those of you paying attention will know that I wasn’t in Sardinia before the match day. Luckily, there was a wee ticket cabin open when I arrived at the stadium, so I took a ticket for the only part left, the Tribuna. We’ll come onto the stadium in a moment, but first, its surroundings: Apartment blocks from the 60’s that looked long-since forgotten about, amid huge expanses of graffiti-covered crumbling concrete set against a backdrop of hills and blue sky. If you’ve ever seen images of Beirut or any other war-torn city, you’ll get an idea of what the area surrounding the Sant’Elia looks like. Except there hasn’t been a war there. 

And then there’s the stadium. What can I tell you about the stadium?

It is a dump. Built in 1970, just after Cagliari had won their one and only Scudetto, it still looks to this day like it was built in the 1970’s and hasn’t been touched since. In it’s pomp, it could hold around 70,000 people if they all breathed in, and was where England played their three group matches in the 1990 World Cup, before their customary exit at German hands/feet.

For the match I went to see, and indeed for all of the season, there were more crowd-control barriers than crowd, as the capacity had been reduced down to five thousand people split between the away fans’ perspex box, the Tribuna, and the Curva Nord. This last stand was however not part of the original structure - it was made of scaffolding sitting on the running track behind the goal, and so perched in front of the original terracing. The rest of the stadium was closed and condemned by the council, and looked like a building site. It was, all told, quite a bizarre sight, but perfectly in keeping with the surrounding area. 

There had been a bit of a kerfuffle in the last few years between the council and the (soon to become former-) owner, Massimo Cellino, over the stadium. In 2012, after the Sant’Elia was closed for public safety reasons, the Sardinian team played in Trieste. For those of you who aren’t currently looking at an Italian map, Trieste is on the other side of the country near the border with Slovenia, which is over eight hundred and ten kilometres from Cagliari as the crow flies. So any away fans who went would almost certainly have an easier journey than the home fans. Cellino, having scored the first points in what seems to have basically been a giant pissing contest, moved the team back to Cagliari the next season to another pre-fab and scaffolding-made stadium, the IS Arena. While being easier for locals to get to see matches, it proved a little more difficult for the owner, the local Mayor and another official from the council, who were arrested for embezzlement and misrepresentation with regards to the work at the team’s new temporary home.


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