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 kickabouts 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 about less often, 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, soon-to-become my biggest love story. 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.
For us Rossoneri, it was a very different era; an era of countless victories, international success and domestic domination. With Carlo Ancelotti on the bench, and the likes of Kakà, Alessandro Nesta and Paolo Maldini, to name a few, on the pitch, what was not to be adored for a seven year old?
The first pictures were taken by my dad on the 23 March 2004—definitely not our first match together, but surely one of the most sensational games of that season. That evening, Milan played against Deportivo La Coruña in the Champions League. The result was a comfortable 4-1 victory for us (but little did we know that we’d get kicked out by a 4-0 loss to the Spaniards in the second leg).
Above: The rossoneri’s star-studded starting XI, brilliantly pictured by my dad directly from the stands. It was an incredible team, which, as said, 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, Ballon d’Or winner that year, but the whole team was comprised of world class players.
Above: 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. I cannot help but sigh melancholically when comparing that to today’s club all-time low (approx. 10,000). I really miss that team, and those Champions League nights.
Below: Nothing could beat the atmosphere of Champion’s League nights at San Siro
The second set of pictures is also from that 2003-04 season were taken on 2 May, a date that the keenest Milanisti will surely remember. On that day, my father and I made our way to a legendary 1-0 victory over Roma, which officially crowned us Italian champions. Crazy to think I was actually there, as history was made.
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.)
Above: The gorgeous choreography exposed by the Curva Sud. Back in the day, with the Fossa dei Leoni group as leaders, the Curva was indisputably among the best fan-sets in Europe. The atmosphere, chants and choreographies were always breathtaking—this is something else I remember markedly.
As a child, unable to comprehend and appreciate the game’s complex mechanisms, the stadium’s atmosphere was what excited me the most: the relentless singing, beautiful colors and the roar that met the many goals scored. ‘Milan l’è un grand Milan’, reads the sign. Fundamentally, it translates to ‘Milan is great’. There was no better way to put it, back in the day.
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 to imagine the enchantment in the eyes of a seven year old. In those days, San Siro was constantly full, whether we played against Reggina or in the Derby della Madonnina.
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 16 May) was also Roberto Baggio’s farewell to football. Happy belated 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. Once again, my father and I were witnessing a historical moment in the history of Italian football, together.
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. Upon Baggio’s exit from the pitch, I remember my father telling me about Robi as one of the best to ever play the game. In admiration, I joined in with the applause.
Below: Pictures like this are a real depiction of those days, for me and for all Milan fans. A balmy afternoon spent at the stadium, celebrating the team’s successes, sub-consciously joyous for the discovery of my biggest loves; football and AC Milan.
And still, from those San Siro days, there are no pictures of my father and I together. He was always behind the camera, in the background, orchestrating everything and ensuring I had the best time. Building, within me, the love for football, currently a big part of my life.
And even more importantly than football, these pictures are somewhat representative of my bond with my dad: a turbulent, rollercoaster-like, but strong relationship. And what these pictures might not indicate, I’ll say, is that the gratitude and respect that I have towards this man, who has geared his adult life towards trying to make mine better, is infinite.
Starting from introducing me to the game and using football as a catalyst to help me grow. Helping me to become more confident, to share a hobby with my schoolmates, to develop a passion, to strengthen my bond with him and with my brother, mother and sister, who joined us on many occasions, and to learn how to share these special moments with others.
Words by Federico Manasse @FedericoManasse
Federico is a columnist, editor and sketch artist for Italian Football Daily. He also writes for the Football Pink and his own website, Fede's Calcio.