Wednesday, January 09, 2008

On picking a side

When it comes to club-level soccer, I have never been able to support any specific team.

I don’t have this problem with the international game. All four of my grandparents were born in Italy. So was my father. When the World Cup comes around every four years, I bleed Azzurri blue.

Unfortunately, geographic ties don’t provide any basis for club support (other than the fact that I want to cheer for an Italian club). My mother’s side of the family comes from a small town in Abbruzzo called Roccamorice. The closest major city is Pescara, which has a team that’s middling in Serie C1. My father is from Bari, the tenth largest city in Italy. That club is struggling in Serie B.

For a lot of Italians, club allegiances are passed on from generation to generation, but my papa has never followed soccer closely enough to have an allegiance to pass on.

A few months ago, I had an e-mail discussion with some friends about this subject. At the time, I suggested throwing my support behind AC Milan. Some of my favourite players (Cafu, Kaka, Andrea Pirlo, Gennaro Gattuso) suit up in the red and black, and the team is usually a serious contender for both the Scudetto and the Champions League. My main gripes with the side are owner Silvio Berlusconi (the right-wing media baron and former Prime Minister of Italy) and dreadful Brazilian goalie Dida. As a keeper myself, I just can’t support a team with such a poor stopper. (There’s also the fact that Milan have been awfully inconsistent in Serie A this season—though to not choose a team because they’re struggling would kind of defeat the thick-and-thin mentality of true fandom.)

I have always disliked Inter for no rational reason besides the fact that the hardcore supporters have right-wing allegiances. From some recent reading, I’ve gathered that a lot of intellectual, left-wing types also support the club (my cousin Michele being one of them), but then there’s the disturbing fact that Marco Materazzi is one of their star players. (When it comes to the World Cup, I have no problem with Materazzi’s antics, so long as they help Italy win. In the club world, I’m far less tolerant of his shenanigans.) I feel like Juventus is the kind of team you need to support your whole life and I haven’t done that (although keeper Gianluigi Buffon is probably my favourite player in the world right now—you gotta love those winter toques he’s been sporting lately). Earlier this season, I flirted with the possibility of supporting Roma, but while I enjoy watching them play, I don’t feel a bond with the squad.

For a brief moment late last year, I was seriously considering supporting Atalanta. After viewing a documentary about Italian Ultras that prominently features the Atalanta group, I found it unbelievably hilarious that people could be so passionate about this unstoried side and decided to join their brigade of hopeless fanatics in spirit. Later, I realized that their games don’t appear on Canadian television enough to make support worthwhile. I’m faced with a similar problem with regards to teams like Fiorentina, Udinese and Sampdoria—why support a team when I can only see, at best, five to ten of their games a season?

And so at the end of it all, I’ve decided to remain a proud neutral. I cheer not for a specific team, but for fairness, hard work, quality play, and exciting matches.

P.S. Go Pescara and Bari!