Image: Flickr/Jacob Surland

Football in the floating city

Spending time studying abroad is an experience I’m sure every student is familiar with, either through first or second-hand knowledge. As part of Warwick History’s Renaissance Stream I was lucky enough to spend the first term of my final year in one of the world’s most unique cities: Venice.

Residing there for only three months, me and my classmates filled somewhat of a niche in the city’s demographic, enjoying a far lengthier stay than your usual weekend tourists, but not one quite long enough to really become ‘local’. However, my experience of attending the games of the city’s football team Venezia F.C. definitely helped me feel more quintessentially Venetian than selfie grabbing weekender.

Now when you think of Venice, sports might not be the first thing that comes to mind. This may be about to change as Venezia, backed by wealthy new ownership, are fighting for promotion to Serie A, meaning household names like Juventus could be visiting the lagoon as early as September. My stay in Venice was therefore nicely timed.

Household names like Juventus could be visiting the lagoon as early as September

My arrival in ‘The Floating City’ fortunately coincided with a home game, as I literally dumped my bags, and rushed through the city’s maze of cobbled canals to find my way to a stadium, the very existence of which I was somewhat sceptical of. Luckily even my undoubtedly terrible sense of direction managed to get me there just on time.

Their opponents that day were their biggest rivals, fallen giants Parma, who since their reformation in 2015 have got back to back promotions under Alessandro Lucarelli, their captain who remained despite their demotion four divisions. However, upon the arrival of the game there was little appreciation for this resurrection, as the two sets of ultras attempted to out-do each other in shows of brazen if slightly unhinged loyalty. As my first experience of Italian football in the flesh, this was certainly a baptism of fire, as when I took my place in the centre of the south stand, little did I know the ride I had just buckled in for.

You, as I had, may have heard something about the supposed extreme nature of Italian ultras. Well nothing quite prepares you for accidently standing in the middle of them. One ultra was somehow balancing for the whole game on a metal pole, and, like the Big Brother of the peninsula, viciously identified those not chanting loud enough. So, as you can imagine, I made sure I was always singing, or at least miming, as I didn’t actually know any of the songs. Given that I’d only said goodbye to the dreary Manchester landscape that morning, enjoying the football under the beating sun whilst trying not to die, England really did seem a world away. Although this may sound stressful, it was bloody good fun too, and my time watching the team gave me some stories at least.

One ultra was somehow balancing for the whole game on a metal pole

Following from this great first day, I really couldn’t help letting supporting the team become part of my weekly routine. Despite the insistence of tourist to stop and take selfies in front of every single thing remotely Instagram worthy, I still chose the scenic, if lengthier, route to get to the stadium each matchday, which took me past the Rialto, and through St. Mark’s Square, before beginning the long walk by the sea. From a garden full of model swimmers to a giant metallic rhino, the sites on the way are certainly interesting, as the crowds die down, and some rare greenery appears in this otherwise barren labyrinth. Taking this route once a fortnight really helped to diversify my experience of studying in the city, giving me a sense of real Venetian life away from the often-superficial show put on for the tourists in San Marco.

My time in the city came to end all time soon, as my last home clash at the Stadio Penzo abruptly arrived. It was a pretty innocuous Saturday, plagued by a permanent grey drizzle against opponents in Novara, who despite a relatively recent escapade in Serie A, are as unadventurously midtable as it gets. Amidst this unusual Mediterranean gloom, Venezia suffered a 3-1 defeat, during which they were torn apart on the break. Despite the result the atmosphere remained typically buoyant, even after the killer third goal, with chants of ‘Forza Ragazzi’ echoing long after the final whistle. This final game exemplified all that I loved about following the team, the raw passion of the fans, who no matter how divorced they feel from the island of Venice, will always identify with the team.

…with chants of ‘Forza Ragazzi’ echoing long after the final whistle

Studying abroad is an experience I would wholeheartedly recommend as one that whilst testing (especially when you’re landed with a demonic landlady), is a way to mature as a person all the while having a fantastic time. For anyone lucky enough to be going, getting involved with the local sports team is a brilliant way to immerse yourself in local culture and make you feel like a resident, not just a student.


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