‘How come you never had a baby’? my friends would ask (indeed, a lot of times).
‘The truth? Because of Pippo Inzaghi’.
Thing is, one day or another, it comes for everybody, in a love story, the day in which you need to be forgiven.
But only in my case, this whole thing of forgiveness did apply the very day in which my football team was likely to prevail in the most epic league of our times.
Are you familiar with those romantic comedies, all alike, with the main character who, at the end of the second act, is in the wrong place, both physically and emotionally? Well...exactly that.
It is the year 2000, May 14, and this is how it goes.
Where I’m supposed to be: At the airport, with the woman I love.
Where I am, instead: Olympic Stadium, Rome.
Why: Because Lazio is winning the league title after thirty years, that’s fucking why.
And this was not expected, not a bit.
Not a month ago, when we were down 9 points from Juventus, and I bought those two tickets for Paris.
Not this morning, when we were still 2 points under, and I thought: I’ll go to the stadium, then leave at quarter to five sharp, and I’ll be still in time to catch the flight. However, we would come in second at best, so there will be no feasting, after all.
Indeed, a perfect plan, overturned by a deluge: Under a torrential rain, the famous referee Collina suspends the Perugia-Juventus match, due to the pitch being unplayable.
One hour later, the whole country waits: Lazio just won the match against Reggina, and the title now depends solely on the match in Perugia, the only 45 minutes left to be played in the Italian league.
The pitch is quite a mess, a quagmire, but Collina, despite the objection of Juventus’s players, blows the starting whistle. The second half begins.
In my defence: I was leaving the stadium at that time. It was the roaring sound that brought me back.
The Olympic Stadium in Rome explodes to the sweet news: Perugia is, incredibly, leading with a goal from Calori. If nothing changes in the next 40 minutes, Lazio will win the league.
Some metres below the feet of their eighty-thousand supporters, all the Lazio players, in the locker room, hold their breath. As we, the people, suffer on the bleachers. Thousands of people across an empty pitch.
But well, I shouldn’t be here.
I tried to explain the dilemma to the stranger next to me.
‘If you leave’, he said, ‘you will not tell your children about that’.
‘Besides, if I do stay, I will never have children. At least, not with her’.
‘That so’? the guy asked.
‘That so’, I replied. And then, however, I did not leave.
Which is weird. Because, if you think about it, we are not even watching a game. We are just clumped, in piles of seven, nine, twenty-three people, next to the lucky owners of a radio. We’re at the mercy of a few frantic men, who scream, at every action of Juventus, ‘NO! ZIDANE! NO’! then turn to the others and apologize: ‘No, the ball is out, everything is ok’. An army of kamikazes without exploding belts who, with a false alarm, could cause a mass heart attack.
Our kamikaze is a fifteen-year-old lunky boy, who lies on his knees beside his radio from the beginning of the second half. Constantly making the sign of the cross, he vaguely resembles a nun undergoing a serious mystic crisis: ‘Inzaghi, oh, my God, no! My dear Lord’! Our heart rate jumps up to a hundred and ninety.
‘My love, of course, I’m coming’, I say to Laura, and then I disconnect. It is late.
I wave goodbye to the people around me, but I can only make a single step, and yet the stadium yells, in great despair: Juventus almost scored.
A hand now grabs my wrists: ‘You cannot leave’, says the chubby guy who sits on my left. He’s stinking drunk at this point, because when Perugia scored, he was drinking a liquor. And out of superstition, or so he says, he drinks one after another trying to recreate ‘the flow’.
‘I’m dead serious, man, you cannot leave. If you go, we’re all in deep shit’.
‘Of course, you’re right’, says an unknown inhabitant of my body. An inhabitant, I would say, who didn’t benefit at all from our degree in philosophy.
‘Of course’, I said again, and then I’m back on the bleachers.
Why? you would ask.
If you have never seen a football match in a stadium, I can try to explain it like this: Because the boy who prays, the superstitious fatty one, they were in the last two hours your best friends. You don’t know them, you will never see them again, but in this very moment they are your family.
Because cheering, in the end, is a lot like Tinder: You are with a complete stranger for an hour and a half, you have fun (or you don’t), you experience great emotions together, and then everybody goes his own way.
And so, when Laura calls, I don’t pick up.
‘My battery is down, I’ll see you at the gate, sorry’, I text her. And after that, I switch off my mobile and start cheering.
I drink a liquor with the chubby guy, and it works, because at the seventy second minute, Collina shows a red card to Zambrotta, and we both give the finger, I don’t really know to whom, to Zambrotta, to Juventus, because today they found a decent referee on their way, and maybe they wouldn’t be able to cheat.
‘Up yours, up yours, fuckers’! I scream, and only after a beat I realize a little girl is staring at us, baffled.
‘I’m really sorry, kid’, I said to her.
And then: ‘How old are you’?
‘I’m eight, and you’?
‘Oh, so you are almost forty, like my dad’!
She evaluates me, a while. Then comes the verdict: ‘You’re not fit to be forty’.
She means it as a compliment, I think. Her father, indeed, he could easily pass for my uncle.
But it’s a brainwave, it’s a deep insight: My problem, in life, is that I am really not fit to be forty. I’m not fit for being an adult, not fit for love.
‘Thanks’, I say, amazed, to the kid.
And then, I start running up the bleachers.
Wonderful ending, isn’t it? The Hero, deeply touched by the pure words of an innocent creature, immediately realizes what life is truly about, finally puts his Need above his Want, and runs to his beloved princess just in time for a last-minute declaration of love.
This is the moment in which, in Notting Hill, Hugh Grant runs to Julia Roberts, the moment in which, in Pretty Woman, Richard Gere runs back to Julia Roberts, and so, Julia Roberts basically stands and everybody else is bound to rush to her.
I only need to throw myself out of the stadium, jump into the first cab and...
‘Noooooo! Inzaghi, for fuck’s sake, noooo’!
It is a false alarm, but you find out you cannot go. So you come back, back to the nun-lunky boy, to the liquor-dispenser fatty one and who cares if the audience of the romantic comedies says ‘no, you idiot, run, sacrifice the ephemeral, down with the transitory, go for the Greater Good, run to her’!
You stay, and suffer through endless seconds, you stay until the ninety-seventh minute, when the referee Collina says it is all, says Perugia did actually defeat Juventus.
You stay until Lazio players are back on the pitch, and you clap your heroes, you cheer late into the night the most absurd league title in football history.
But well, of course you may want to know how the other match ended.
I reached Paris in the morning, the day after. It wasn’t raining, not at all: There was a perfect sun. Nevertheless, Laura declared the pitch unplayable.
And this time, not even the referee Collina could make it right.