Growing Up Rossonero

The article initially appeared on Football Blog Fede’s Calcio.

This article is about my father, and about how he helped to develop my greatest passion. [With the aid of 26 great, original pictures]

It would be not only a cliché, but also a fat lie, if I said that I’ve been a football aficionado since day one. During my kindergarten days, some of which I remember distinctly in spite of my otherwise-awful memory, I would never even consider playing football. More than that, I would categorically refuse to join in. As a timid and quiet child, who liked drawing cartoons as opposed to toying with miniature cars, football represented everything that scared me: the physical contact, the social attention, the pressure. Little did I know that I would one day come to love these, and many other, aspects of the beautiful game.

It is thanks to a specific person, amongst others, if that game did in fact become ‘beautiful’ in my eyes. Although I often forget it, that person is my father. My father, who, ironically, is perhaps one of the most passive football fans I have ever met. Yes, he likes it, will watch the big games and has been to more matches than the majority of people, but he is as far as possible from being a fanatic. And still, he was able to gift me with what is currently one of my greatest passions. The majority of football-related things this man has done, he has done for my benefit – not for himself.

Slowly, though not always too patiently, my father helped me to exit my shell. And in parallel with the growth of my self-assurance, grew my love for the game. Before I knew it, the street under my house became a football pitch, with my neighbour’s gate as the goal frame. After the first kick-abouts with my father, and for the better part of my childhood, my brother, my friends and I would just spend our afternoons playing on that cemented pitch, tirelessly. Our matches would’ve never stopped, if it hadn’t been for my mother literally shouting at us from the window; when dinner was ready, or when it was getting dark. These are some of the memories I think less about, but that I cherish the most.

Not only did my father get me to play the game, but he also gifted me with the experience of live football; and not only once, but countless times. At the age of seven, when I was still getting familiar with football, my father and I became season-ticket holders for AC Milan. I don’t remember the first time I entered San Siro, and in all honesty I don’t remember the majority of games I attended as a child. But what I do remember is that going to the stadium was the biggest treat I could ever receive. It still excites me to go, especially on important occasions, but at the time it was different: I would be through the roof with adrenaline for any given match.

I know this from my father, from the pictures he took and from this indescribable, heart-warming feeling that I get every time I think of those days.  Always behind a camera, my father was able to capture those moments – something else I never take the opportunity to thank him for. Let us go through them as I tell you this story.

The first pictures were taken by my dad on the 23rd of March 2004 – definitely not our first match together, but boy, what a match. That evening, Milan played against Deportivo la Coruña, in the Champion’s League. The result was a comfortable 4-1 victory for us (little did we know that we’d be get kicked out by a 4-0 loss to the Spaniards in the second leg).

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Above, the rossoneri’s starting XI, brilliantly pictured by my dad directly from the stands. It was an incredible team, which inevitably fuelled my passion for the game even more. My absolute hero, second from the right in the picture, was none other than Andriy Shevchenko, but the whole team was comprised of world-class players.

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Above: my cousin Luca (right) and I, during the warm ups. I’m eating something, as always.

Below: seven year old me, typically ready and organised for the game with my tiny bag and full kit to fight the cold – was it really that cold in March?

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Above: the last one from the Deportivo game, this is me buzzing with excitement, together with roughly 60,000 fans – which doesn’t even sound too impressive in a time when as much as 57,000 season tickets were sold. Still, compared to today’s club all time low (approx. 10,000), 60,000 sounds almost impossible. I really miss those Champion’s League nights.

The second set of pictures is also from that 2003-2004 season, specifically taken on May the 2nd, a date that the keenest Milanisti will surely remember. On that day, my father and I made our way to a historical 1-0 victory over Roma, which officially crowned us Italian champions. Crazy to think I was actually there.

Below: me, outside of the Stadium, before the game. I was clearly uncomfortable with having photos taken of me, and still am. (Sorry dad for giving you a hard time and thank you for, yes making me uneasy, but also capturing the best memories).

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Above: the gorgeous choreography exposed by the Curva Sud. Back in the day, with the Fossa dei Leoni group as leaders, the Curva was amongst the best fan-sets in Europe. The atmosphere, chants and choreographies were always breathtaking – this is something else I remember markedly. ‘Milan l’è un grand Milan’, reads the sign: translates to ‘Milan is great’, fundamentally. There was no better way to put it.

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Above: the same choreography, covered by my face. One thing that is noticeable from the picture is how full-to-the-brink the stadium was – just try imagine the delight for a seven year old.

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Above: Milan-Roma: 1-0 (Shevchenko, as always, after two minutes)

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Above: showing some real tension for the big game.

Two weeks later, my dad and I were back at San Siro, for the official celebration of the Scudetto triumph. This is without doubt the match, from my childhood, that I remember the best. Curiously, the match (played against Brescia on the 16th of May) was also Roberto Baggio’s farewell to football – happy birthday to him, by the way. On the day that fully consolidated my love for the game, one of the best was leaving for good, met by the whole stadium’s standing ovation.

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Above: once more, the choreography was one to remember. The colours, the music and the final result (4-2 for us, with Sheva on the scorers list once more, to my delight) all made that day a wonderful party and one of the best days of my childhood.

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Above: here I am again, with my ‘Champions’ flag firm in my hand and the Gazzetta dello Sport on my head in the form of hat, courtesy of my father.

Below: like this are a real depiction of those days. A balmy afternoon spent at the stadium, celebrating the team’s successes, sub-consciously joyous for the discovery of my biggest love.

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The following set of pictures comes from an evening of which I only remember the journey to the stadium. If you asked me anything about the match, I wouldn’t spontaneously be able to recall a thing – strange, how my memory works. On the 8th of March 2005, Milan hosted Manchester United for the Champion’s League’s round of 16. Although we all know that a British team eventually beat us in that year’s final, on that evening we won the game 1-0, our goal coming from the legendary Hernàn Crespo.

What I remember, however, was the time spent on the tram to San Siro. On said tram, my father and I were entirely surrounded by Manchester United fans: ‘Ruud! Ruud!’ they sang, in honour of their very own spearhead Ruud Van Nistelrooy. Squished in between that funky bunch, reassured by my father’s smile and holding-hand, but still somewhat timorous, there was something in my mind, which I dared not to say: they could sing as much as they wanted for Ruud, whoever he was, but the 2004 Ballon d’Or winner played for us (Shevchenko, needless to say).

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Above: Milan-Manchester United: 1-0 (Hernan Crespo after 61 minutes)

Below: what I think is one of my dad’s best-taken pictures, during the Man. Utd game.

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During that same year, came the surprise visit to Milanello, the team’s training ground. Once again, my father orchestrated everything, gifting me with what was probably, at that point, the best day of my life.

Below: My cousin Luigi (left) and I pose with a delighted Andrea Pirlo.

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Above: 8 year old me grabbing on to Ricardo Kakà – baller.

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Above: on one side, one of the toughest players in football history. On the other, Gennaro Gattuso.

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Above: Luca and I with another legend of the game: Marcos Cafù.

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Above: Luca and I with yet another champ (what a team!), the ex-Fiorentina man Manuel Rui Costa. My father always had quite the love/hate relationship with Rui, having always appreciated his quality but constantly moaning about his inconsistency during his time in Milan.

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Above: a picture that I find hilarious. My cousins and I posing with a very Rambo-looking Christian Brocchi, who was to have an unsuccessful stint as Milan manager 11 years later.

The remaining pictures are scattered memories, some of which I really can’t locate to a specific time and place, but all of which have great value to me.

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Above: my little brother and I at the stadium and the facial expressions say it all. He is having the time of his life and is in total bliss. I am fuming (possibly having cried by the looks of it?) because the San Siro times with dad were not something I was willing to share with anyone else. Lovely to know I’m now a little less selfish.

Years later, in fact, here I am adopting my brother’s facial expression from the previous picture: not really in my aesthetical prime, but definitely having a good time. It was 2011/12, a season-ticket year for the three of us – lovely days. Another great thing about this picture is the possibility provided by modern technology to finally include the man behind the camera. There he is, in the middle, our old man, unable to resist the lure of the frontal camera. Also, let it be known, this selfie distracted us from a Milan goal, which we missed while taking the, quite historical, picture.

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Jumping back in time a little, here is a picture from a birthday trip to San Siro. Milan played on the exact day of my birthday and thus, since I couldn’t afford to miss the party OR the game, the whole family kindly moved to the stadium, catching two birds with one stone. On my right is my little sister and on her right is my mother’s arm. Let’s not forget the part played by my mother, who was always wonderful enough to accompany my brother and I to the stadium every time that my father could not.

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Below is a picture from 2012, taken during our family trip back to my father’s hometown of Montevideo, in Uruguay. I’ve hardly ever seen my father as happy as during that trip, of which football was really not even remotely a part. This was taken, by my father of course, at the city’s Estadio Centenario, home of both Peñarol and, more importantly, of Nacional.

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Above is a picture from an Inter-family 5-aside game, an almost-yearly re-occurrence. Of course, my dad organises these matches and, whilst they almost totally lack in quality and understanding of the game, they never fail to bring us together with cousins that we otherwise have little opportunities to spend time with. Originally from Uruguay, like my father, my cousins are wearing the infamous Peñarol shirt. After the trip to the motherland, my dad, brother and I came back with Atletico Nacional shirts – it’s now a real Uruguayan rivalry. (I’m sitting, second from the left)

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This is the last picture: not an awesome one and not even the most recent. Still, this picture, from however many years ago, is really filled with everything that this piece has tried to communicate. It’s my father and I, in one of the places that has, paradoxically, allowed us to bond the most. In one of the places that has built, within me, the love for football, currently a big part of my life. And even more importantly than football, this picture is representative of my bond with my dad: a turbulent, rollercoaster-like, but strong relationship. My uncomfortable zip-smile, a classic, really fails to convey the gratitude and respect that I have towards this man, who has geared his adult life towards trying to make mine better – starting from introducing me to the game and using football as a catalyst to help me grow. Help me to become more confident, help me to share a hobby with my schoolmates, help me to develop a passion, help me to strengthen my bond with him and with my brother and to learn how to share these special moments with others. Thank you dad, for all this. And for making me a Rossonero. 

Words by Federico Manasse: @FedericoManasse

Federico is a columnist, editor and sketch artist for Italian Football Daily. He also writes for the Football Pink, the Gentleman Ultra and on his own website, Fede’s Calcio

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