Original article at https://www.bausciacafe.com/editoriale/alla-juve-chiedo-solo-una-cosa/
Every time, you always go back there.
It is the afternoon of a spring day, the 90s are about to end and we are in a sort of alien dimension, where the games are watched in huge rooms in the back of bars. Places with no windows, where chairs are stuck together and everyone, absolutely everyone, does nothing but smoke. Generous puffs rise up from the patrons, mostly elderly, composing an enormous cloak of fog, a dense cloud of Marlboros dominates the room and flutters stale, clinging to clothes, hair, and lungs, polluting them with their passivity.
The game has started a while ago, I am nine years old and I can’t fully understand the concept of “referee’s yardstick“. The players in black and white hit very hard and go unpunished, I can see that, while our Nerazzurri are sanctioned without hesitation at the first hint of intervention; I perceive discontent growing in the room, but it is not entirely clear to me what is wrong.
But when the strongest of our side, the strongest of all sides, is knocked down in the area, charged with a rugby intervention, without the referee finding anything to object; and when, on the other hand, the referee himself, in the immediate counterattack, suddenly recovers his lost diligence and whistles a penalty without any delay… there is nothing more to interpret or to understand. No preparatory notion is needed to realize what just happened.
Next to me, my grandfather takes what could easily be his fiftieth daily cigarette from his mouth and watches the various replays, with a grim look on his face, his jaws clenched, without saying a word.
I need someone to give me an explanation, so I can’t help but ask
He puts the cigarette back in his mouth, takes a puff, exhales, sending everything directly into the increasingly bulky cloud that flies over our heads, and without taking his eyes off the big screen he responds
And that’s it.
Nothing else, just “Eh.” The replays start again, the opponents’ number 10 goes to the spot, but by now the game is over, as it is the championship.
That day, the harsh reality made its first foray into the imaginative and partial world that I had built up until then, during my childhood. And yes, to state such a thing in relation to a football match may sound a bit ridiculous, yet it is what happened.
Mind you, I consider myself lucky, since up until that afternoon in April – and even after that, in fact – I lived a relatively quiet and safe life, away from serious turmoils. I would not want to disrespect those who experienced traumas at that age, and I’m talking about real traumas, not a penalty not given to their favorite team.
However, those who live football with passion know how totalizing and absolute the feelings that derive from a match can be, whether they are positive or negative, and also know how bad the feeling of having been cheated can taste. And I had never seen such a blatant, overt, flagrant fraud. Or rather, I had never been able to understand one so deeply, without filters; to feel it, as if it had been committed against me, directly.
One of the most beautiful Inter ever, and certainly the most beautiful ever for someone who was nine years old, had just been deprived of the possibility of playing for the Scudetto in the most important match of the season. Not of winning the Scudetto: just of playing for it.
Thus, the team of Pagliuca, Bergomi, Zanetti, Simeone, Djorkaeff, Moriero, and Zamorano, the team whose players could afford the privilege of passing the ball to the greatest striker of all time and watching him do things that nobody had ever done before, this team had to suffer such abuse. And with the teams, all its fans, and with all its fans, all the nine-year-olds, those who couldn’t even conceive of the existence of someone like the referee Ceccarini.
It is, in all respects, a kind of childhood trauma. Romanticizing a little, I could say that that moment coincided with the end of my childhood, the definitive abandonment of a certain type of naivety. Above all, because that injustice (and not just the penalty, but the whole game, and in general the whole championship) appeared immediately obvious, something that – except for those who are denial-of-evidence professionals – cannot be affected by too many interpretations or reinterpretations.
That day, for a nine-year-old boy, complaining about the game was not a childish whim; rather, it was the realization that the beautiful game in the name of which considerable time and energy are spent does not work as one would expect. And, consequently, that the whole world is also made like this; that things can go wrong, even if you didn’t do anything to deserve it.
It is for this reason, for the indissoluble bond that exists with that day, that everything is so complicated with Juventus every time. This is why, when something that even partially evokes April 26, 1998, happens, we are forced (especially those who were young at the time) to deal with ghosts that reappear as quickly, vividly as the first time they showed up. And it doesn’t matter whether this happens in an important game or in a useless one, like the one last Saturday. When Cuadrado kicked Perisic and threw himself on the ground, obtaining in exchange a penalty with which Juve won the match, the environment around me disappeared, slowly replaced by the walls of that big room full of old people smoking; over my head, the Marlboro cloud has formed again; next to me, my grandfather is back, with a cigarette on his hand, and on the tv-screen Gigi Simoni has appeared, wriggling out of the technical area and screaming “ma si vergogni!”.
The exact same thing has happened three years ago, on that macabre April 28, when the (almost) precise twentieth anniversary of the great crime occurred; and that time everything was made even worse by the importance of the match. The sensations, however, were and still are always the same: every time, the original suffering is recalled, pure and intact, as well as the impotence that follows the final whistle, with the result that certifies the defeat and sets the stage for their celebrations, in which the contrary-to-any-kind-of-sportsmanship behavior of their players are rewarded – Iuliano, Davids, Torricelli and, of course, Conte in ’98; Pjanic and Cuadrado in 2018; and again Cuadrado, Mephistophelean, together with the unbelievable, outrageous Chiellini that we’ve seen last Sunday.
I know that normally, in order to overcome childhood traumas, what one needs is the help of a psychotherapist. In this case, however, there is not much to analyze: the origin of the trauma is clear, as are its consequences and its nature. It is a rather simple analysis, since the facts are conscious and indelible, and everything is made even easier by the various re-enactments that the trauma has enjoyed over the years.
Eventually, I got an idea of what I would need to leave all these ghosts behind. And it is not seeing Juve involved in the most widespread case of match-fixing in the history of football, and relegated to Serie B; it is not seeing Inter win all the winnable in the space of seventeen days, while Juve stagnates in the middle of the table, scarred to live by that legendary team and that legendary coach; and it’s not even winning a Scudetto with one of their old symbols on the bench, the captain of ’98, who finally had the chance to realize what it means to play a Championship against Juventus.
All this has already happened, and it was not enough, because after more than thirty hours I am writing this article, still thinking of Chiellini’s face transfixed by the atrocious, stabbing grimaces with which he tries to fool the referee (succeeding). I recently realized that there is one thing that still never happened, one that would have an immediate effect on me, restoring a currently unattainable inner peace. After so much wandering, I finally understood what I need:
I need them to apologize to me.
Nothing else, just this. I need one of them to come up to me and say “sorry”, admitting that what happened on April 26, 1998, was an unacceptable farce, for which he feels ashamed. I would like him or her to tell me that it is not possible to enjoy that robbery, because it is really ridiculous, badly done. Sometimes, a scam may be elegant, brilliant, well-organized, and there is more than one case in which even dignity can be attributed to it; but this is not the case, it was nothing but a miserable play, carried out by poor and vulgar actors, from which nothing but squalor and desolation can emerge. There’s nothing funny in it, it has no bright side, the only thing it brings with itself is an exasperated pathetism.
I would like to hear these excuses without any “but”; with no references to fake passports, Oriali, Guido Rossi, or any other possible nonsense. Just “sorry”, sorry to those who were nine years old that day and were unable even to imagine what was about to happen, and sorry also to those who were seventy-one or fifty or whatever, to everyone that had the misfortune of witnessing that hallucinating show.
Of course, for this to happen, it would be necessary for a Juventus fan to get rid of the elaborate self-belief system he/her has built over the years; the one that allows all the bianconeri to continue to support Juventus despite everything, by telling themselves that yes, at the end of the day referees’ mistakes compensate themselves, that they favor Juve like the other teams, and that in the end, those who complain are only gnawing.
It’s a very complicated thing, I know because acknowledging all these facts would lead this imaginary Juve supporter to repudiate the whole way he/har has lived football over the last twenty-five years. It really seems to me a remote, unlikely eventuality; I can only fantasize about it because after all, it would be just a word. A word that would certify the will of not being complicit, however silent, in something gloomy and demeaning.
Just one word, the only possible answer to that “Eh.” that sometimes I still happen to hear.