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FEATURE | A 29-year love affair with San Siro

The news this past summer that Inter and AC Milan officials are planning to demolish the iconic Giuseppe Meazza Stadium was met with shock and outrage across the footballing world.

The stadium, more commonly known as San Siro, is an iconic location known and recognised the world-over. I can’t speak to the merits of tearing down the existing ground for a new stadium as I’ve never been to San Siro. I do somehow feel like I have been there after thirty years of watching coverage of games from the stadium. It all started for me in on the 8th of June 1990.

The opening fixture of the 1990 World Cup brought great excitement for myself as a schoolboy in Aberdeen, Scotland. It was the first World Cup tournament that I was old enough to really appreciate and I couldn’t wait for it to start. I ran home from school and sat in front of the television as the opening ceremony was about to take place and I was struck by an awesome sight.

The footage was taken from a helicopter flying around San Siro, the beaming red grid across the top of the stadium sparkled in the summer sunshine. The spiral turrets giving the concrete exterior a futuristic look as the camera panned into the stadium and focused down on the lush green turf. It was a stadium unlike anything I had ever seen and I instantly loved it.

That summer tournament started a near-thirty-year fascination with Italian football for me. Roberto Baggio’s goal against Czechoslovakia instantly giving him hero status in his country, and my house. The tournament’s opening game saw the stunning underdogs of Cameroon shock the reigning champions of Argentina and I wasn’t the only youngster who was inspired by what he was watching.

A twelve-year-old Gianluigi Buffon was watching on from his family home in Italy. A midfielder for his school team, the young Buffon was so inspired by the performance of Cameroon goalkeeper Thomas N’Kono that he changed positions and began a journey to being the world’s best. 

San Siro was inspirational, aspirational and became synonymous with brilliant football. Milan had just become European Champions the previous month and they were the team in the era that followed. Any game that was played in the stadium was instantly recognisable to me watching at home.

The way the steel grids cast shadows on the pitch were unmistakable, as were the sections behind the goal where fans appeared to be watching on from behind a Perspex wall, as if they were at an ice-hockey match.

I’ve viewed Serie A for years now and I feel like I have watched more games at San Siro than any other stadium. Given that two teams call the stadium home the chances are that I have seen more games played at there, than at any other Italian stadia.

As a youngster, the famous stadium became the ground where you pretended to play when having a kickabout with your friends. Everyone knew the name and who played there, a far as stadia go, it was as famous as it gets.

It’s no surprise that the stadium’s uncertain future has seen many calls for a re-think regarding the plans for its demolition. Milan legend Gianni Rivera is one of many who have spoken out against the plans.

The former Ballon d’Or winner told La Gazzetta dello Sport, “What effect will demolishing the stadium have? A bad effect. San Siro must remain standing and continue to be a stage for football”.

Talking of stages, it’s not just voices from the football fraternity that have spoken out against the possible demolition. Bruce Springsteen has played concerts at the stadium several times and he spoke about the venue in a recent magazine interview. The man they call ‘The Boss’ said, “Demolishing San Siro? It would be terrible. Every building has a soul. The new buildings do not have that soul”.

Football fans all have an emotional attachment to the home stadium of their team and that adds to the soul of the structure, wherever it may be. It represents a from-from home, a gathering place where life gets left outside whilst focus turns to the beautiful game. It takes a special place to have such an emotional reach that it can travel through a television screen and grab someone in a different country.

I feel an attachment to the Guiseppe Meazza that makes it feel familiar, despite never having been there. It is a footballing pilgrimage that I have always wanted to make and the news of its impending demise has made me want to go even more. Hopefully there is still time to make that journey so I can say in person, ‘thanks for the memories San Siro’.

MG

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