Comparing (and especially contrasting) the stadium experiences in Italy and England
Posted on August 27, 2009 3:17 pm
Many of you will be familiar with my intimate accounts of my time at the San Paolo stadium in Naples. Well, I recently had the opportunity to check out the Chelsea-Hull City Premiership opening match up close and personal during a very recent week-long vacation to London centered around the two U2 gigs at Wembley Stadium (no, I’m not gonna be comparing the concert experiences in the two countries…only soccer today).
In many ways, the stadium experience in the two countries couldn’t be more different, a product no doubt of the existing differences between the two societies. So let me run down my thoughts:
Ticket procurement – I went to London with some Italian friends, who as I would discover are also Chelsea fans/sympathizers to whatever degree. Marco in particular (a Roman Inter fan…a rare breed) was fired up about trying to get tickets. Upon arriving in London, Stamford Bridge was our first stop. If nothing else, the crew was hoping to get a tour of the grounds, while I was essentially tagging along for the ride. We first asked about tickets to the girl working the cash register at the museum entrance. “All sold out” was all we got from her. Marco kept asking around, and finally hit the jackpot in the official gift shop. Some tickets were available for 65 Pounds (roughly $100). I was uncertain of attending (for some reason I was convinced the game was Sunday and not Saturday), so Marco got three tickets. Credit card form of payment, and that was that. No ID required, except for the credit card payment. The tickets themselves did not feature the name of the person attending on them.
Later in the day my friend Dario and I decided we also wanted to attend. Giuseppe’s cousin was also planning on getting himself a ticket, so we asked him to buy two more for us. Was not a problem. We provided no ID info, and none was required.
In Italy, due to (characteristically ridiculous) anti-hooligan measures, you are required to provide ID info for every ticket that you intend to purchase. Not just a name, verified by an official document, but also the codice fiscale number, which is basically the Italian equivalent of the US Social Security Number. This number must also be verified by an official document (i.e. you can’t just jot it down on a piece of paper and had it to a friend getting tickets for you, but must provide at least a photocopy of the official document granting you the number. I had to provide both a photocopy of my (US) passport and codice fiscale paperwork when getting the Napoli season tickets over the past couple of years, and that’s even with having the process significantly eased by going through a friend of a friend.
We also had to pay cash for the Napoli tickets. Existing season ticket holders wishing to renew their seats this season had to go to a number of ticket issuing venues, and had all of a couple of days in order to do this before their seats were thrown out for general purchase. And this in the month of August, when most people are out on vacation. People had to get in line in the sun and pay for the tickets in cash, or set up an automatic payment via their bank accounts. My friend Fabio told me that last year, an old man passed out from the heat while waiting in line to renew his ticket…the internet and credit card revolution has yet to truly hit Italy. Assuming it ever will.
Bottom line: getting tickets in England was a breeze, in Italy it has to be a huge, gargantuan pain in the ass ordeal (as is typically the case with anything one tries to accomplish in Italy…)
Security - we had to show our ticket all of once when entering Stamford Bridge. On a couple of occasions we had to ask stewards where our entrance was, but that was it. Otherwise, the one turnstyle where we had to have out ticket’s barcode scanned was the one place where our tickets were checked. There were also a number of stewards around, not to mention signs and reminders of what not to do: “it is an offence to go onto the pitch” or something to the effect that persistent standing during the game was also an offense, and you would be ejected from the stadium for standing.
In Naples, we have to show our tickets and ID (we never had to show ID in England) a few times before reaching our seats. The first check, then the second right before the turnstyles (a recent introduction in Naples…). Then we scan our ticket barcodes at the turnstyles, sometimes someone checks our tickets and ID right after the turnstyle, someone always checks our ticket and ID when we enter our specific sector, and sometimes they check everything one last time before the pitch itself is even visible to us. Argh. At least there are no rubber gloves involved.
In Naples, once you reach your seat there are no guarantees that 1) your seat will be unoccupied and 2) that any of the stadium’s “security” staff will aid you in freeing your seat should you find it occupied. There are also no guarantees that the security staff won’t confiscate your umbrella when you enter the stadium, regardless of that day’s weather (as I learned back in December…still bitter about the idiocy of that incident).
At Stamford Bridge, no one ever sat in another seat, nor attempted to enter the pitch or a sector of the stadium different than the one marked on their tickets. And yet, there was no real separation or barrier between the sectors, nor between the stands and the playing field. Unlike Italy, where the “away” fans sector is a veritable cage, complete with a netting that prevents home fans from throwing projectiles of any kind at visiting, and vice versa. At Stamford Bridge, there was only a token distance enforced between them at the Chelsea fans (three whole rows of seats) with a cordon of unarmed (and bored) security stewards in between. And once the game was over, the Hull City fans exited the stadium at the same time as the Chelsea fans, with no incidents occurring.
In Italy, the visiting team’s fans are often escorted by police both going into and exiting the stadium. In addition, once the game is over, the visiting fans can often be held up in the stadium for hours as the home fans exit and disperse, in an effort to keep rival fan groups apart. An experience that can be bewildering to fans being held up for hours, whether or not they had any intentions to participate in violent acts. Not to mention that some of these (excessive? painfully useless?) measures don’t prevent incidents from happening.
“Persistent standing in seated areas whilst play is in progress is strictly forbidden and may result in ejection from the ground.” Doh!
And here is where I’m very happy I couldn’t finish this post and sat on it for a few days: the WHU-Millwall fun! So, uh…kinda shoots some holes into where I was going with this post…so OK, we all knew English soccer/football wasn’t completely cleansed of hooligan violence, and on countless occasions I’ve heard comments in passing that “the hooligans have simply moved on elsewhere (presumably outside football grounds).” Regardless, it can’t be denied that Upton Park’s incidents aside, English stadiums are by and large safer than their Italian counterparts.
Which isn’t to say that Italian stadiums are war zones! I’ve attended two full seasons of Napoli games, and while Napoli ultras typically get along with…well, no one…I have yet to see a single incident of violence at the San Paolo while I was present (knock on wood). So there…
Bottom line: English stadiums appear to have efficient – and bored – security, while Italian stadiums are a little closer to the “pandemonium” end of the spectrum. Typically tons of security where it isn’t needed, not enough where it is…
An interesting development on this front is that there are some efforts at reducing security in Italian stadiums. The police chief of Florence has placed no police at all anywhere near Fiorentina’s ground on a few game days, the most recent being the Fiorentina-Sporting Lisbon Champions League preliminary round game. No incidents were reported. Also, I read earlier today that prior to the Juventus-Chievo game from Serie A’s opening day last Sunday, the “cage” I described above was removed. Not sure if this is a permanent measure, but it does seem that at least some officials in Italy are beginning to appreciate the concept that if you “empower” someone with a degree of responsibility, they may be more likely to live up to that expectation. I.e. “I’m not gonna surround you with police because I trust you will behave” and voil