On Saturday it was pouring down buckets of rain in Perugia. Parking lots, roads, and underpasses in the lower city were flooding. A tournament for piccoli amici (the level Micah plays at) at Don Bosco was cancelled, so suddenly my afternoon was open. I decided to try to get to Castel Rigone to see their home game vs. Nuova Cosenza.
Unfortunately, it was 1:30, I had no car (the rental office had closed), there’s no public transport, the town was nestled in mountains 30 min. away, the game was to start at 3:00, and it was still pouring.
So I called our friend Marzia, because she knows everyone. She’s an absolute magician. Several calls and texts later — negotiating time, cost, and location — I bought an umbrella from the street vendors who materialize in Perugia when it rains, and waited outside. A white Citroen pulled up at 2:40, the window rolled down, and Roberto, a coffee-machine technician, and his wife Alise invited me in. Off we went, and after about 15 minutes, I realized we were going in the wrong direction.
Fortunately in Italy, there’s usually more than one way to get somewhere. Indeed, we were following Roberto’s memory, and ended up going the long way around (through Umbertide), but it was a beautiful drive above the cloud line (it wasn’t raining up there), with magnificent glimpses of a mist-shrouded Lake Trasimeno down below. Past small farms, summer cottages, muddy mini soccer fields and stands of tall pines, we wound our way back down to the ‘piccolissimo‘ village of Castel Rigone.
We could see the stadium below, so we stopped near a church at the crest of the village. It was the Santuario di Maria Santissima dei Miracoli. I hoped it might be a good sign. Down below on the hillslope, foregoing the purchase of tickets, was a large band of fans visiting from Cosenza (Calabria), with rippling flags and in full-throated song. It was half-time by now, but I’d at least get a sense of the place. Roberto and Alise went off to find coffee; they would wait until the match was over, and then take me back. Finding a squad of police officers equipped for crowd control (standard at all games in Italy), I asked for directions to the home fans’ entrance.
Trotting down the winding streets, two young men called out from behind me in Italian: “Do you know where to get a drink here?” “No,” I said, and they divined immediately I was not a local. Several questions later they said, “You support Castel Rigone, don’t you? We’re from Cosenza. Come and drink with us.” I explained I was there for the football, but this did not impress them. “Come and drink with us,” they repeated. But as interesting as that might have been, I wanted to see some of the game, beer or no beer.
It is a circuitous route to the Stadio San Bartolomeo, but I located the ticket office. Seats under the roof on the north were sold out, so I opted for the open aluminum stands on the other side. After showing identification (you can’t purchase tickets otherwise), I had my ticket. 5 Euros.
Everything at the facility looked fresh and well maintained. The south stands were for both home and visiting fans. As advertised, there were security personnel, but no barricades between the two groups of supporters, which as I’ve mentioned before, is unique in Italy. I walked right through the Cosenza fans and over towards my ‘seat’ on the bleachers (no-one was sitting down; the skies had opened up again).
The view behind the stands was impressive, though (see right). The downpour got heavier, but then eased off shortly after the whistle. The field was a glorious green, well-manicured and complete — no muddy ruts in front of goal. It looked like they did regular turf repair to keep it perfect. The rain had caused problems, however. With no time to drain, the northern edge of the field stopped balls dead, and players skated as much as ran, sliding, slipping and falling over as their opponents cut back suddenly with the ball. It would have been comical but for the immense efforts players were making to stay on their feet and do something productive with the ball. In another situation, the referee might have paused the game, but Cosenza had driven six and a half hours by bus to get to the game. It would not be postponed.
Cosenza had scored in the first half via a penalty, and were leading 1-0. Seventeen minutes into the second, Castel Rigone knotted it up with a penalty of their own. When their man was brought down on the edge of the area, the players did raise their hands in an appeal for the call; when they got it, they moved into position while Cosenza argued mightily with the referees. But soon after the spot-kick was dispatched, a heavy bank of fog rolled down from the mountain peak, making the other side of the pitch nearly invisible from our stands. Again, the referees allowed play to continue. A deflected shot by Cosenza gave them a corner, and they scored immediately in the misty confusion. Players had to wait for the signal from the referee to know whether the ball had completely crossed the line (I could hardly even see the goal from where I was, so I don’t know). Despite a lively response by the home team, several close calls and several dangerous counters by Cosenza (who are now tied for first place in the division), there were no more goals. The last deep ball by Castel Rigone led to a shot whizzing past the far post (the player coming in off the corner must have regretted not sliding to try and tap it in), and it was over. Players shook hands and everyone got ready to go home.
The video compilation, with intertitles, gives some examples:
(Note that the Firefox browser often does not display YouTube videos properly; you may need to use a different browser.)
Better shot and edited are the official Lega Pro video highlights of the week 6 match:
There was an interesting difference between supporters’ behavior. Cosenza exemplified traditional calcio support — singing, chanting and waving their colors all game long. Castel Rigone fans cheered when the scored, but they also applauded when a player substitution occurred for the visitors. There was dismay and some raised arms when their players were fouled, and the Castel Rigone players played every bit as physically as Cosenza did, but the atmosphere was more calm then frenzied. A lot of attention was on the actual game, which might sound strange to American ears. Still, Cosenza ultràs rolled out all their refrains, even at the end singing a song slagging off their Calabrian rivals, Catanzaro. Catanzaro are not even in the same division with Cosenza this year (they are one flight up, with A.C. Perugia).
I don’t know if Cosenza contrived a song about Castel Rigone. It was, in any case, the first time these two teams had ever faced each other.
As of now, Castel Rigone sits second from bottom of the table. Losing at home was a blow; to have hopes of staying in the division, they need to win games at home, and get the occasional draw away from home. Twice before the team has danced with relegation, but it hasn’t happened yet. They will need a run of results to stay safe.
How does philosophy stand up under this level of pressure? In the post-match interview, President Cucinelli of Castel Rigone praised the numbers, spirit, and behavior of the visiting Cosenza fans, and while lamenting a loss, conveyed a positive outlook about his team:
Maintaining emphasis on the larger process, not every single product, might in fact deflect pressure and ultimately lead to better development. That’s what we learn as we become better teachers and coaches, anyway. It’s a welcome sight in professional soccer.
A final note. I am re-blogging these posts on quemdixerechaos.com, as part of a larger teaching project on the ‘Ethics of Combat.’ While I had never planned to look at ethics in the context of sporting events (although it seems clear that ancient gladiatorial combat was more about spectacle than killing), the story of Castel Rigone seems worth following. For those who follow both blogs and get double notices, I apologize!