Tis Returns to Italy! Day 72: Game Day in Lecce!
Today I overcame many obstacles to find myself richly rewarded on game day.
Today was game day in Lecce! If you have followed along at all or know me in any small way, you will know how much I love watching football. Football, as it’s known to the world, or soccer as it’s known to Americans is a huge passion of mine. While I never played it, I find it to be a fascinating and beautiful sport to watch. While I still have much to learn about the game, I enjoy watching it at all levels, from the tiny tots just getting their football feet under them, to the most experienced professionals making ridiculously obscene amounts of money to just play the sport they love.
Big Game for the Local Team!
Today the local team, Lecce, was playing Parma. It was a big match as the table (rankings) were still pretty fluid and both teams needed the points (the win or draw). I had no particular loyalty to either but would pull for the home team partly as it is more fun that way and partly as a matter of self-preservation. Football fans can be a bit “enthusiastic” when they hold strong loyalties.
I was particularly excited to see Italian football legend Gianluigi Buffon play as the goalkeeper for Parma. What a treat! Seeing him was worth the price of admission plus some given that I paid only a euro for my ticket (keep reading…).
Locals Not Interested?!?
Despite this being a big game, many locals don’t know how to reach the stadium via public transport. Some don’t even know Lecce is playing today. I discovered this phenomenon when trying to find directions to the stadium via bus. Keep in mind, I have been asking men who are typically the ones watching football, not little old ladies or young girls with bows in their hair who are less likely to be fans. All have returned my request with puzzled looks, followed by much discussion with their friends. This usually led to a somewhat forced bus route recommendation in which none seem confident.
Google Maps even failed me. It showed, as if an accurate foreshadowing of future events, that there was no option by bus, only walking. Eventually, I asked the incredibly kind woman who was my Airbnb host for help who had to call the transit agency to confirm the best route.
Interestingly, my ticket to the big game was cheap as women and children only pay 1 euro. Maybe the team is trying to drum up much-needed business?
The Search for a Bus Ticket
Armed with the number of the bus that would take me to the stadium, I left plenty of time to get there and have a little time to walk around. When I asked at a kiosk for a bus ticket, the surly man said he did not sell them and it would not be possible to find a tabacchi open today that did.
Seriously? I know it is Sunday but this is the center of a major Italian city. The unpleasant man told me it was no problem to walk. Just take a right at the next street and go straight slowly. Thank you, kind sir, but according to Google Maps it is almost an hour walking and my feet have just about had it after 2 ½ months trekking all over this beautiful country. If I take it slow as you recommend, I might reach the game in time to see everyone leave at which time I can ask them what the final score was.
Out of options, I started to walk in the direction of the stadium, hoping to pass an open tabacchi on the way. I tried a “24-hour tabacchi” which is simply another way to say a vending machine. Among the offerings, there were no bus tickets for sale. However, I could buy lottery tickets, cigarettes, and condoms. Interesting priorities here on a Sunday Lecce.
A Glimmer of Hope Quickly Fades
Finally, about ten minutes later, I found a little kiosk and was able to purchase two bus tickets for the trip to the stadium and back. As I had not seen any buses, I asked if they were running today. The two men running the kiosk conferred and agreed there would be a bus coming along soon.
There was no bus. After 15 minutes, I continued walking toward the stadium, keeping an eye behind me hoping to wave down any bus that might pass. Soon, the area I was walking through became more suburban. Eventually, I was out on the open highway alone outside of an apartment complex or two.
On the Horizon…the Stadium!
As my feet were rebelling against me, at long last I saw the stadium on the horizon. Ironically, as I headed toward the gate, I noticed a little old lady handling the lock on a bike just outside the stadium. My first thought was that she worked at the stadium. Then as she pulled a newspaper and a ticket out of her bag, presented her ticket at the gate, and went inside. I suppose she was planning to catch up on today’s news while she waits for the game to start. Ahh, a glimpse of my future self!
Maybe I should have been asking the little old ladies for directions all along.
I headed into the stadium and, of course, could not locate my seat. This is usually a fairly easy task for me in any stadium, in any language. I just chalked it up to the full Lecce Game Day experience, gave up, and sat in a seat where I had a bit of distance from folks around me. Everyone had to show proof of vaccination or a negative test but I prefer to remove as much risk of Covid as possible.
Finally, it was time for the game to begin. The energy in the stadium was palpable and so fascinating to me. After all I had been through to get here, overcoming most locals’ complacency about their team, it was very jarring and satisfying to see such a raucous crowd of fans. Granted, the stadium capacity here is 31,533 and it was not even close to being half full considering all sections. However, the supporter’s section was full. It was fun to see there are some devoted fans of the local Lecce team. Their enthusiasm far outmatched many home team fans that I’ve seen for any sport in any part of the globe that I visited.
Just before kickoff, and several times during the game, fans from the rabid supporter’s section hurled fireworks onto an area below just outside of the actual playing field. Calmly, a fireman walked over and extinguished the flames. While I assumed the fans responsible for the fireworks would be escorted out, they were not. Instead, this is just part of the fun. As long as they don’t hurl them at my section I am okay with that and even support it.
Note to self: Next time you attend a Lecce home game, try and make friends with the local fans and get a ticket in the supporter’s section.
Unwavering Support for the Team and the Legend
With the strong and vocal support of their few but dedicated fans behind them, Lecce took a quick lead and ended up winning the match 4-0. They were spurred on by their fans, who never wavered in their support, even when it was obvious Parma had no chance for a comeback. They did not leave the game early and the roar of their cheers never diminished in volume. It was such a high to be in the stadium with that group of loyal fans! During the game, I learned some of their team chants and joined in.
Sadly it was not a great day for goalkeeping legend Buffon, but the local fans and players were very supportive of him. Fans of both teams cheered for him from the stands while the players on the field tried to greet him during halftime and after the game.
Food Truck Bliss Post-Game
Prior to the game, I had a choice of taking two paths from the main road into the stadium. After the game, I decided to take the one I had not chosen before to make sure I did not miss anything. That turned out to be a very good decision. Inside the stadium, there is no food for purchase outside of a bag of chips and a bottle of water. Now I saw why. I ran right into food truck heaven!
Obviously, I had to stop for some local food truck delights and a beer. I chose a sweet sausage as one of the locals told me the local hot sausage was not really hot but more nuclear. While I am up for a food challenge, I have learned certain limits. I took my beer and sweet sausage and found a seat at an empty table on the side of the road. In America, this, along with fireworks in the stadium, would never be allowed. Here it just seems appropriate and very much enjoyable.
Perfect Game Day!
As I was heading back to the main road for the long walk home, I reflected on the experience. What a perfect day at the game! I was beyond glad I had overcome the barriers put in my path and was able to experience a day among the faithful supporters of Lecce’s football club. I hope to have the opportunity to return in the future!
Ciao for now!