Guest blogger Rick Elliott finds himself on the wrong side of a closed door…
It’s 4.30pm on 22nd December. The location is Stadio Carlo e Filippo Tassara, Breno, located high up in the province of Brescia, 30 minutes from Lago d’Iseo. The result is 1-2 and Mantova are crowned Champions of Winter. This is the title given to the division’s leading team at the start of the winter break.
Players and staff are celebrating wildly. Mantova officially have the best record in Italy, not only of the season so far, but also of the whole 2019 calendar year. Sadly, they are celebrating alone. No away fans are present to join in an occasion that should be for all.
The match was played behind closed doors, with both home and away fans banned from entering the stadium. This was due to Breno’s previous home game against Fanfulla, which had gained Italian publicity after a group of Kilmarnock fans turned up to watch their former player Manuel Pascali turn out for Fanfulla. The match finished 1-1 after a dubious injury time penalty for the away team gave them a point.
The home fans were incensed and gave a heated Breno send-off to the referee. Money, plastic bottles, stones and other various objects were thrown successfully at the three officials. And as they exited the field of play, they were spat at and given dogs abuse. Ironically, the referee was from Mantova.
The ban didn’t stop a small group of Mantova Ultras making the long journey in order to peer over the fence from an elevated car park area, adjacent to Breno’s picturesque ground. But the majority of the hardcore away support stayed at home to watch online on Eleven Sports, who have recently started a partnership with the club to broadcast live games online.
The closely fought encounter was once again won with a goal in each half from Luigi Scotto and Filippo Guccione. Another misunderstanding between goalkeeper Adorni and his defence gave Breno a lifeline with 10 minutes to go, but Mantova held out as they have so often done this season.
Whilst the behaviour of some Breno supporters had clearly been over the top, the decision to ban fans from a 4th level Serie D game that would, in any case, have attracted no more than 500 fans did feel ludicrous. Once again in football, it is the real fans that are on the receiving end of unjustified punishment. And one that ultimately reinforces the football thug stereotype, especially here in Italy. Decisions like this will not make our life any easier in the coming months and years.
Off the pitch, treatment towards the travelling red and white army this season has been a mixed bag; we’ve seen excessive, heavy-handed extremes, but also friendly and relaxed approaches elsewhere. We’ve had to accept alcohol bans and a strong police presence at Fanfulla and Alfonsine. We have endured all four of the longest trips of the season in the first nine away games, including the opening away game at Sammaurese and a fascinating historical trip to Savignano sul Rubicone.
We’ve had to navigate a couple of last-minute ticket and stadium changes that have caused some mild panic, against Fanfulla and Progresso and I have personally had to miss this week’s game and the one against Crema. We’ve been to celebrations of sport in Forli and tragically to sleepy towns in mourning in Carpaneto Piacentino. Overall, approximately 950 kilometres have been driven, one train journey taken and on average €50 a game spent.
In Italy more generally, we have also seen the usual bureaucratic problems and some bizarre incidents that can only crop up here. Recently, away fans were banned at the Seregno-Pro Sesto Serie D division B match due to an online spat between the two clubs culminating in Seregno’s president forcing the local police prefecture to issue an unnecessary ban.
Many other games in the lower leagues, particularly in the south, have had ticket sales prohibited to away fans and games played behind closed doors due to stadium irregularities and slow bureaucratic procedures. In Serie A, Hellas Verona fans were escorted around Naples by local police on their arrival by coach resulting in missing the first half of the match. That after a 700km drive south. And let’s not even open the ubiquitous racism debates and farcical anti-racism campaigns!
On the pitch though, Italian football seems to be back on the radar and looking fashionable again. Some popular managers have returned, whilst high profile ex-Premier League players are making their mark. The football is forward thinking, quick and exciting to watch – and Inter are making Serie A competitive once again. Football in Italy seems to be finally making a move into the 21st century.
For Mantova, this first half of the season couldn’t have gone much better. Their stats say it all really: 17 games played, 12 wins, 5 draws and 0 defeats, totaling 41 points. Forty-nine goals scored with 39 of those from the front trio of ‘Pippo’ Guccione, Christian Altinier and ‘Gigi’ Scotto. Scotto is the leading scorer so far in Serie D with 17 goals. The only other team in Italy who can claim an unbeaten record is Turris, from Serie D’s G division.
The winter transfer market has also been open for a few weeks here and the much travelled 34 year-old Argentinian central defender Paolo Dellafiore has already been brought in to strengthen competition and provide some much-needed experience for an inexperienced back line. Due to young player regulations Mantova have opted to invest heavily at the other end of the field, with an experienced, lethal frontline and a measured midfield. Consequently, the defensive line has been filled with younger, inexperienced baby faces. Despite some recent improvements and clean sheets, they have suffered slightly conceding 22 goals in total and receiving some strong criticism, especially from the home support.
But more worringly though are the rumours of ‘Gigi’ Scotto being chased by Serie C team Gubbio and ‘Pippo’ Guccione interesting Palermo. The duo surely couldn’t consider leaving Mantova at this point of the season? They couldn’t, could they? We’ll just have to wait and see.
So, an anticlimactic end to the year for this football travel blog in what has been an incredible journey so far. The first part of the season is over and the winter break starts here. A thoroughly deserved one for all concerned. But it’ll be short lived as we’ll be back on the road with the reverse fixtures starting out on the first Sunday of January against Calvina.
Wishing everyone a great festive period.
Teams: Breno 1-2 Mantova 1911
League: Serie D Girone D Matchday 17
Time & Date: 22nd December 2019, 14:00
Stadium Info: Stadio Carlo e Filippo Tassara, Viale Italia, Breno
- Lots of great walking trails in Val Camonica – http://www.invallecamonica.it/aree/risorsenaturali/itinerari/elenco.aspx?Lingua=ITA&Tipo=166 C.A.I. Breno (Club Alpino Italiano) walking trails in Breno – http://caibreno.it/category/itinerari/
- 13,000+ year old Rock drawings are spread out all around the area in Valcamonica – http://www.vallecamonicaunesco.it/?lang=en
- The beautiful hamlet of Bienno is only a few miles away. In the summer, they hold a stunning Artisan Market – http://www.mostramercatobienno.it/