My concentration on spaghetti bolognese breaks as I hear this thunderous explosion from inside the cafe, while sitting outside and having dinner. As the roaring lingers, some of the other diners around me start whistling and clapping. Looking at my bewildered face, a waiter passing by tells “AC Milan has scored the first goal”. I then realise, I am in Milan where alongside Catholicism, football is revered as another religion and figure out that live telecast of a match is being hosted inside.
Italians love football, it being their national sport. So passion for the game is nothing unusual, particularly in Milan, believed to the epicentre of the sport. This perhaps emanates from the city being the home of AC Milan and Inter Milan, the two famous clubs in the history of the game. Their presence acts as a vital lure for football fans from round the globe to visit Milan and get absorbed by its craziness for the game.
The first port of call for football enthusiasts is the San Siro stadium which was a gift from the early 20th century Milan President, Piero Pirelli to “His Milan”. This 80,000 capacity arena has been a silent witness of many memorable matches and for many standing on its stands even when there is no match played in the ground is like visiting Mecca for Haj.
A museum housed inside the stadium portrays an interesting story of the venue and the two Milan clubs through an ensemble of heirlooms, cups, trophies, footballs, boots ,artistic objects ,shirts of legends from Rivera and Pele to Maradona and Zidane and natural height statues of several renowned players of the clubs. The collection is big enough to touch the hearts of those who have a passion for the game. In the museum’s cinema hall you can watch a film on the history of the clubs alongside flash of moments about the great players who have roughed the grass of this prestigious ground. When leaving, many buy a souvenir, like an official club jersey, from the stadium store to remember their football pilgrimage.
In fact jerseys of the two clubs and posters of the famous Milan players grace stands of almost every shop that sell goods to keep alive memories of Milan, the second largest city of Italy that offers many other attractions to divert some touristy attention beyond football as well.
Milan is the resting place of Leonardo’s breathtaking fresco “Last Supper” located in a museum inside the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie (you are required to pre-book tickets and the museum is closed on Mondays) and of Michelangelo’s “Rondanini Pieta” a marble sculpture housed in the Museum of Ancient Art of Sforza Castle. Art aficionados don’t leave Milan without seeing them. Same applies for the Duomo, the world’s largest Gothic cathedral, which with its 3400 statues, 135 spires and 155 gargoyles mesmerize onlookers.
However it’s hard to escape football even when browsing these iconic sites. You will notice locals and sometime visitors talking about the AC Milan versus Barcelona match when standing in the queue for entry to the museums or when taking a break from appreciating the magnificence of Duomo. Trams are legendary in Milan and when journeying in one of them with an eye on the city life outside I hear two men heatedly arguing. With my limited knowledge of Italian vocabulary I understand it’s all about football.
Like you see kids in India playing cricket everywhere or in America playing baseball, in Milan you spot them updating their skills with the ball. I watch an impromptu match played in the outside grounds of Sforza Castle, another landmark of the city, but hardly any spectators as interest in the 14th century fortification is more than the game itself this time.
Milan is universally recognised as the world’s fashion capital and you can’t leave without paying a visit to its celebrated fashion district located in the heart of the city. Here the streets are lined with shops of every designer label that you can think of. While wandering there I see the some parking spots filled with Bentleys and Ferraris, which according to a shop attendant can belong to the city’s wealthy football players. However, he warns me saying that if any of them are spotted in the streets, no doubt with minutes a large mob will gather around them for snaps and autographs, creating a mini chaos possibly disrupting the shopping momentum for many. I smile, being familiar with that kind of celebrity syndrome in India.
READY TO GO
Fly Singapore Airlines (www.singaporeair.com) to Rome from where there are regular fast trains to Milan.
Best Western Hotel Madison (www.madisonhotelmilano.com) located in close proximity to public transportation.