For as long as I can remember, I’ve always dreamt of attending a Milan match at the San Siro. Ever since becoming a fan of the red and black years ago, it’s been a goal of mine. Despite the struggles and turmoil surrounding my beloved club, my dream never died.
Two weekends ago, I attended my first ever Milan match at the old, yet prestigious ground. But, this wasn’t just any old Serie A fixture. This was the heralded Derby della Madonnina.
The following is a dialogue of the entire day leading up to Derby di Milano.
January 31st, 2016. The day finally arrived. My flight into Aeroporto di Milano-Malpensa landed at approximately 8:30am on Saturday and I was still in the midst of making the six-hour adjustment. Breakfast. Cappuccino -which was the pick me up of choice all week – kickstarted derby day.
Prior to making the trek to the San Siro, there was still so much to do and see. My parents and I had scheduled a tour to lay eyes upon the glorious Last Supper painted by Leonardo da Vinci. NOTE: This was also my first ever trip to Italy.
After our brief, but unforgettable visit to the Last Supper, we visited the Castello Sforzesco via Piazza Castello built in the 15th century by the Duke of Milan, Francesco Sforza. Though we would have loved to spend more time here, we knew we couldn’t spend much time and drift too far away. To Piazza del Duomo we went.
Piazza del Duomo, a commonplace for tourists, sightseers and football fans to gather and bask in the aura of the beautiful city. Standing tall and capturing all of the attention was the Duomo Di Milano, a cathedral full of history, religious tale and tourists with the popular selfie stick (impressively enough, I managed to avoid the pressurized sales tactics of the local sellers of these.) The tour inside the church was remarkable on Saturday, but on Sunday me and friends Ginelle, Michael and Adam took to the roof of the cathedral to gather pre-match and enjoy each other’s company. The view atop wasn’t too bad either. Simply put, it was an experience that warrants it’s own blog post, but let’s keep this moving shall we?
After making our way back down from the roof, the piazza was swarmed with football fans. A group of Milan ultras were gathered with their scarves and banners held high, chanting their support for the club. At around quarter after 3, the town was already red and black. For every fan donning black and blue around the city, we saw ten others in rossonero. Outnumbered.
There was no time for lunch. More important things were ahead. On to Casa Milan.
Via Aldo Rossi is where you can find the ground of the recently constructed Casa Milan. Naturally, I’ve obsessed about making this a must-stop while in Milan, especially before matchday. Despite standing for a few years, the images, media and trophies resting inside are anything but new. The large red and black office building is home to several features and attractions.
Museo Mondo Milan guides visitors through an exhibition of the club’s history by showcasing the trophies, narrating the history of the red and black through interactive video reels and letting fans relive some of the finest moments the club has ever produced. The Ballon d’Or awards of Kaká, Andrij Shevchenko, George Weah, Gianni Rivera, Ruud Gullit and Marco van Basten can all be seen on display here, along with the seven Champions League trophies. As we proceeded through the exhibit, several short compilations were shown, taking you on a journey through the club’s winning seasons. Trust me, you’ll want to make room in your iPhone prior to stopping here.
Next is the Milan Store, which was swamped hours before the Derby della Madonnina. Fans everywhere were picking up kits, scarves and various merchandise to take with them to the stadium. Guilty of doing the same. I purchased a Home Giacomo Bonaventura kit and a scarf. (Still regret not buying the Gianluigi Donnarumma keeper kit there too as it’s practically sold out anywhere Milan kits can be obtained. Downer.) At any rate, if you needed anything Milan related, this was the place to get it.
Due to the amount of fans taking mass transportation that day, our group skipped out on dining at Cucina Milanello and proceeded to take the metro to the San Siro. Finally, the time had come.
Stadio San Siro
Via Piccolomini 5. Stadio Giuseppe Meazza. The supporters of both Milanese clubs flooded the ground. Food and club merchandise vendors were sprawled across the outside of the gates, and supporter groups from each side made light work of a pre-match meal. The atmosphere outside was live and you immediately felt the excitement of the spectators as they patiently awaited entry into the stadium. We quickly devoured our sandwiches and made our way to the gate (Ingresso 2) to go through the extensive – yet proper – security procedures. “Biglietto e passaporto!, ” explained the security official. Of course, you must present proper identification that goes along with the name on the ticket. (You know, I’d hate to be the guy to forget the passport back at the hotel, which is why checked my coat pocket roughly 5-6 times prior.)
After being cleared to enter, we proceeded to the stairs. Primo Anello Verde, Settore 142, Fila 1, Posto 3 (what a coincidence that my seat was the number of….you know.) We were sitting on the north end of the stadium. Yes, the same end of La Curva Nord. But, the view we had of the Milan ultras in the Curva Sud? Priceless.
In complete awe as to where I was currently standing at that time. Living in the United States of America and having already attended a handful of Major League Soccer matches, I knew this was going to be like no other experience I’ve had in my entire life at a sporting event.
7:45pm. An hour before kickoff. The roughly 80,000 venue began to fill up and it was obvious that the San Siro was to be at full capacity. Even though the match had yet to start, you could feel the excitement in the air. While others got out of their seat to grab a cold beer or just go for a pre-match stroll, I sat there in awe, taking in the sights, sounds and vibes of the crowd filing in. Countless times I scanned the beautifully manicured pitch and just absorbed what it all meant, to be living this moment and fulfilling a childhood dream. Was I dreaming? Was I really about to be one of the lucky 80,000 to watch a Milan Derby? I was….
Lineups. Siniša Mihajlović once again fielded the 4-4-2 formation: Donnarumma; Abate, Alex, Romagnoli, Antonelli; Honda, Kucka, Montolivo, Bonaventura; Niang, Bacca.
Conveniently enough, Milan was the home side, and their lineup was announced after Inter’s. The stadium announcer began to introduce each squad player for the rossoneri and like any other sporting event, the home fans rose to their feet to show their appreciation. Donnarumma, Bonaventura and Bacca got the most roaring ovations.
Kickoff. The 164th Derby della Madonnina in Serie A was officially underway. You could find me bundled up and on the edge of my uncomfortable plastic seat. At this point, I could not complain. One of my dreams was coming true. For the first 45 minutes, Milan were attacking on our end. It was a seesaw battle for the first thirty minutes or so. Both the rossoneri and nerazzurri were exchanging counter attacks and each side did have a few decent looks, but Donnarumma and Handanovic were having none of it. The defense of Milan, though tested quite a bit, stood their ground. Alessio Romagnoli and the Brazilian Alex seemed to cut out any threat thrown at them by Eder and the bolstered Inter attack. Then, the breakthrough occurred…
GOAL! ALEX! The fans immediately rose up after the 35th minute goal. Keisuke Honda supplied the perfect ball in from the free kick and the goal came from the unlikeliest of sources. The elderly man next to me and I instantly formed a friendship with the headed goal by the former Chelsea centre-back. Many high-fives were exchanged between me and the group of Milanisti around us in section 142. Milan headed into the break 1-0 and things looked promising despite Inter having applied significant pressure. Roberto Mancini and his side were unable to solve Donnarumma and break down the teenager. Surely, we were in for another thrilling forty-five.
The second half was underway and from the whistle, it did not disappoint. Eder pounced on the botched clearance attempt of Donnarumma (yes, he’s human after all) and controversially, nearly earned a penalty. Mancini was not to pleased with the ruling of a goal-kick, thus forcing his sending off.
The pendulum kept swinging back and forth. Inter really lacked the creativity from their secondary attacking players and it seemed as if Mihajlović would start transforming his approach to possession-heavy football. Then, the nerazzurri finally got the opportunity they so desperately craved. 69th minute. Penalty.
The women sitting above me had a certain admiration and appreciation for Donnarumma, as if he was their grandson and they were watching him play proudly. “GIGIO. GIGIO. GIGIO MIO!” she weeped. (It’s one thing to understand the fandom through Twitter or Facebook, but sitting around diehard supporters for an entire match and hearing them pour out their love for football players… it was truly remarkable to see the fans love regular human beings wearing merely a football kit of their favorite club. This was something that struck me, and still does to this day.)
Mauro Icardi had his initial shot saved by Donnarumma but Alex took down the Argentina striker to prevent an easy rebound goal. Easy call for the referee (from the stands, Mancini must have been thinking “it’s about bleeping time.”) So, Icardi stepped up to the spot. The Inter fans in the section were on their feet with fingers crossed, while Milan fans whistled to distract the penalty taker. Up he stepped…
WOODWORK! Donnarumma dove to his right, the shot went to his left and off the post. The game – and I immediately said it – flipped on it’s head with that miss. And you’ll see from the remainder of the match that this in fact was true. The stadium had reached deafening levels at this point. I was hugging the man next to me (we are best friends now. No big deal.)
Minutes after the spoiled penalty chance, Milan struck in the name of Carlos Bacca. GOAL!
M’Baye Niang delivered the perfect ball in behind the Inter back four and on his daughter’s birthday, you knew the Colombian was going to make easy work of the chance. Bacca has been a fan favorite ever since he arrived to Milan this past summer. His love and dedication to the club has – and was – appreciated through the post-goal reaction. 2-0 Milan.
A two-nil lead was fantastic and would have been a phenomenal result to take the Metro home with, but the club wanted more. The hunger for a statement victory was evident in their reluctance to back off and suffocate the match.
75th minute and the Milan supporters were roaring together. The atmosphere was incredible and it felt as if the club who once ruled world football had finally returned -at least for one night – to glory. All together, the red and black faithful sang “CHI NON SALTA NERAZZURRO È” and everyone obeyed. While doing so……
GOAL! NIANG! The Frenchman had his first shot denied by Samir Handanovic, but with poise his second attempt was deposited into the back of the net. 3-0 for Milan and out ran Mihajlović to rejoice with his men. (At this point, I was in complete shock. Not only was this my first ever Milan experience, but it was also a Milan Derby and one that had my beloved club ahead 3-0 against our hated rival. Pinch me?)
With both sides appearing to be content with the result, Milan subbed out some of their starters to receive an arousing ovation from the crowd. Mario Balotelli -loved by my friend Michael who was also here for his first ever Milan match – was subbed on for Niang. This was a treat. (It certainly feels good to watch your favorite players live for once rather than on the television, eh?)
Bacca was relieved by Andrea Bertolacci and the former Sevilla hitman received a roaring applause. Just after the substitutions were made, and the clocked wound down, fans stood to their feet, applauding the performance of the squad. (Picture watching your favorite band or artists perform for the very first time. You always listen to them. They consume your life. You lean on them when things in life are in a bit of disarray. You told yourself that one day, you will watch them live, have an incredible time, and leave the venue smiling ear to ear. Well, think of that but in football terms. Yeah, this was me. Does that help explain?)
Milan had done it! It was the first derby win since 2014 when Nigel de Jong scored to give then-manager Clarence Seedorf the 1-0 win.
If you’d ask me prior to the match “what would be your ideal derby outcome?,” I would have said “I’m not going to be too picky. Give my team the win and I’d be throughly pleased.” Well, in my first ever Milan experience, I was spoiled. A 3-0 win against Inter was far too much to ask for in such a major matchup, but they delivered; Not just for me or my friends, but the entire Milan fan base who have been suffering so much these past few years. I was happy for us as a fanbase.
For minutes upon minutes after the final whistle, I just soaked it all in. I did not want to leave the San Siro that night. I did not care that the Metro was to be bombarded by thousands of fans, nor was I worrying that I’d return back to my hotel by 2am (Also had a 7am train ride booked to Bergamo the next morning…I know, I didn’t plan that well.) It all didn’t matter because I had just got my fix. I finally made it from New Jersey to the San Siro to watch my favorite football club and the outcome could not have been any better.
This piece is a complete 180 in comparison to what we typically produce but I just wanted to share my unforgettable experience, and I felt this was the platform to do so.
The last thing I will say is this: If you ever dream of attending a Milan match, but do not think it is possible, don’t give up. From Indonesia to Nigeria to us here in New Jersey, we all deserve the chance as diehard Milan fans to see our team live. Go out and make it happen. You will remember the experience for the rest of your life .
From New Jersey to Milan, I have fulfilled the dream of attending a Milan Derby. Now, it’s your turn.