I had managed to get a ticket to Trapani vs Latina for free, so went along to the Casa Santa to watch my first game in Sicily, and indeed Italy.
After a hasty consultation with Google Maps I didn’t really have any trouble finding the stadium, and was surprised to see quite a throng of crimson-clad supporters heading towards the electronic turnstiles, which were very efficient. Once inside there was a bunch of Panini football sticker books strewn across the floor invitingly, so I took one, glad to discover they were complimentary having seen pretty much everyone pick one up.
There was a little food stand where they sell snacks, soft drinks and espressos, and a betting stall which wasn’t open on this particular day, most likely due to the fact that there are scores of bookmakers’ spread out across the city and the punters have ample opportunity to gamble elsewhere. It’s quite a new thing in Sicily supposedly, and from what I’d seen, they certainly did good business.
The stadium itself is comprised of four stands that have clearly been built at different times, as they vary in design and size. Behind one goal are the ultras, who sang and waved massive flags throughout the match, guided by a guy with a megaphone and someone playing the drums. Opposite to them, the away fans are caged behind metal bars and mesh in a tiny stand with space for no more than a hundred, so I’m not sure how good their view of the game was. I was sat in one of the side stands, which was covered and behind the dugouts, whereas across from me was another seating section that went only halfway down the side of the pitch, meaning that people living in houses near the stadium can grab some chairs and watch the game for free, rather like people can at Northampton’s Sixfields stadium.
I had some time to burn prior to kick-off, so perused the Panini album and was reminded of my love for Luca Toni, now plying his trade at Verona, unfortunately now bottom of the table and still winless as I write. Anyway, he started playing professional football when I was six years old, and last year at the age of 37 or 38 he was Serie A’s top scorer. Remarkable. As have been his goals stats throughout his career.
To the game, and Trapani came out of the blocks in determined mood, attacking in waves from the whistle. And it was no surprise when they won a penalty after about five minutes, though it did seem extremely soft, as did several other fouls given throughout the match. I suppose it’s the art of drawing the foul so prevalent in Italy, where penalties are probably more often given than in England, as the benefit of the doubt always goes with the attacking team.
The penalty was dispatched and Trapani proceeded to hog the ball for a full forty minutes, with some attractive intricate football in triangles, nice turns from the wingers and excellent spreading of the play. Yet as is often the case in football, they failed to take any of their numerous chances, even hitting the post from around the six-yard line, and the sucker punch came as the half was coming to a close. A Latina player curled in an absolute beauty from just outside the box, and the ‘keeper could only help it into the back of the net after it thudded off the inside of the post. Cue celebrations from the whole Latina squad, who all ran onto the pitch in celebration, while the thirty or so fans jumped up and down over at the other side of the pitch. Unfortunately my mixed-wine state of haziness meant I didn’t film the free kick, as I had for the penalty.
I’m rather sure half-time lasted closer to 25 minutes than a quarter of an hour, and as the match got underway, Trapani again came out all guns firing, but still couldn’t turn their possession into goals. This resulted in the crowd getting rather cranky and moans and groans could be heard every time a pass was misplaced or a ball miscontrolled. With a sense of unease growing inside the stadium, Latina took hold of the game for a 10-minute spell and started to have some chances, eventually breaking through with a header direct from a corner, scored by a centre-back who beat the flapping ‘keeper to the cross.
I noticed how an elderly gentleman sat in front of me had hold of an A4-printed team sheet which had been handed out pre-match. Every time there was a goal or substitution, he annotated his piece of paper, and if there was anything such as a foul or good piece of play, he’d consult his line-ups to see who the player in question was. It felt like a real footballing thing to do, and made me think that he’d been going to games for years and didn’t bother with a smartphone to keep up with the latest football news. At one point during the match, he and his friends lamented the fact that the ultras had let off rather loud-sounding flares, as it would occur a molta, or fine. It was nice to see fans feel such an affinity to such a small team; Trapani survived a full season in Serie B for the first time just last year.
From that point on, Latina were happy to play on the counter and allow Trapani to have the ball. As was the pattern of the game, they kept coming forward in search of an equaliser, but the final ball kept getting worse and worse. By the time the final whistle was blown, the supporters were clearly irked, and a cacophony of hisses and boos sounded at the final whistle as fans made their frustration known. In the end, I’d say the attendance was at around the 4,000 mark, a low crowd, but one which made up for lack of numbers with constant noise from the singing section.
To be fair, the quality of football was decent, and the players very technically adept. There seemed a big emphasis on what Premier League supporters might call passes for the sake of it, those which go from centre-half to centre-mid and back out to full-back in triangles while the opposition are happy to sit off. Yet for the most part, all of the players were content to receive the ball in tight areas in their own half and more often than not retained possession. Obviously towards the end, there was a bit of hoofball, and the main criticism, especially for Trapani, would be the failure to shoot when in good positions in around the penalty box.