Juventus’ continued dominance of Serie A is in no small part due to the intimidating atmosphere created in its new Juventus (Allianz) Stadium. The cacophony the 41,000 Bianconeri fans generate here is in stark contrast to Juve’s previous home, the truly awful Stadio delle Alpi. I went there in 2003 and - like many others - am glad to see the back of it.
Many of The Gentleman Ultra’s visitors will have already read Calcio by John Foot. In his chapter on the Turin clubs – Juventus and Torino – a common thread is how both sets of fans hated the delle Alpi.
The original thinking behind the Stadio delle Alpi was sensible enough: a high-capacity, multi-purpose sports arena that could host both Turin’s football teams and six matches at the Italia ’90 World Cup. These matches included England’s famous penalty loss to West Germany and Brazil’s second round exit to deeply unpopular Argentina. I can still hear Barry Davies’ commentary now: “Caniggiaaaaa….scores!”
Constructed in less than two years, the delle Alpi was designed to hold 69,000 spectators, but it rarely achieved that. Juventus’ average attendance peaked at 47,800 in 1994/95 season and even fewer turned up for Torino’s home games, especially during the club’s spells in Serie B. Ground was broken in 1988 and the ground was demolished in 2009.
The delle Alpi is significant for me as it was where I watched my first Serie A match, in the autumn of 2003. It was a terrible first impression and I didn’t return to Serie A for a further 12 years.
As a young fan growing up in the 1980s', my cultural references to Juventus were my favourite player at the time – Michel Platini – and, of course, Heysel. In the 90s' it was Gazzetta Football Italia, by which time I had selected Roma as my Italian team, with a major soft spot for Batistuta’s Fiorentina (“Batigol” went on to play for Roma and win a Scudetto).
It wasn’t until years later when I read Calcio that I understood the countrywide antipathy for Juventus.
The Crowd of Turin
The day I was there, I remember Turin being surprisingly cold and the fog too dense to see the Alps in the distance. A man in his 50s' propositioned me at the station while I was researching my route to the stadium, not the greatest of starts, so I adopted the standard “follow the crowd” routine to get to the stadium. It was a long bus ride from the centre of town, part of its unpopularity.
My first impression of the Stadio delle Alpi was how its grave-grey exterior blended neatly with the miserable cloud above it. I took my exposed and uncomfortable bucket seat moulded into the concrete. It was in the third row back and so low that the pitch was level. The frozen drizzle was pricking my face, an endless icy taunt.
Looking up, I felt like I was lost among Saturn’s rings. Three grey-white tiers stretched around in a giant oval with us, the audience, separated from the field of play by the dreaded running track.
Having studied in Spain and experienced the Bernabeu, Calderón and Mestalla, I was used to a full house, so the swathes of empty seats was both a surprise and a disappointment. I moved further up in my curva block but my view still appeared to be level with the pitch. At the other end, the ultras piped up but it was very muted, lost in the size of the arena.
My experience was redeemed somewhat by matters on the pitch. The visiting team was Bologna, who were awarded a penalty at my end for a chance to cancel out Iuliano’s opener. Cue the famous Beppe Signori one-step penalty. Goal! Bologna’s small gaggle of support jumped up somewhere in the middle tier provoking me to sing, “come in a taxi” under my breath.
Juve’s dominance was never in doubt. If you ever saw Pavel Nedved play live you’ll know how he bossed the midfield. He was partnered by the bespectacled Edgar Davids, Tacchinardi and Camoranesi. La Vecchia Signora had movement and creativity in abundance in the middle of the park.
The next time I saw Davids play it was in a Crystal Palace shirt seven years later in England’s second tier.
I want to go back to Turin and do it properly next time: watch Juve, with their new badge, J-Museum and full house, and also take in Torino at the Olimpico. With six titles in a row for Juventus, and Torino safely established in Serie A’s top 10, it would appear that for both clubs and their fans, the ghost of the delle Alpi is truly laid to rest.
Words by Chris Lee: @CMRLee (and @OutsideWrite)
Chris Lee is a digital marketing and PR director based in Kent, England. He runs the football travel and culture blog Outside Write.