The Run of Play is a blog about
the wonder and terror of soccer.
We left the window open during a match in October 2007 and a strange wind blew into the room.
Now we walk the forgotten byways of football with a lonely tread, searching for the beautiful, the bewildering, the haunting, and the absurd.
Our third-to-last match of the Serie A season was against Torino, and it wound up being historic for all the wrong reasons. At the start, it had looked so promising. It was our last home game of the year, and thus our last match ever at the Silvio Piola. With a six-point lead over A.C. Milan with three games left to play, we knew that if we took even one point from the game and Milan somehow lost to Siena, we’d win the championship in front of our home fans and give the old stadium a glorious ending.
But Torino are good this year—in fifth place, well behind Inter but leading the pack of sub-Champions League teams—and our increasingly significant rivalry with the entire city of Turin is starting to take its toll. Playing Juventus and Torino back to back is like running into that old Williams-sisters gauntlet that gradually bled away Martina Hingis’s will to live in the mid-to-late 1990s.
And our players were tired in general—Martina Hingis tired. Thanks to the Fair Play draw and the fact that our UEFA Cup qualifiers started in mid-June, they’d had no summer holiday, had played 65 matches in three competitions, and had endured the maximum possible fixture clutter to this point in the season (the entire Serie A slate, the Europa League from the first qualifying round to the semifinal, and the Coppa Italia from the third qualifying round to the end of a two-legged semifinal). For eleven straight months, they’d seldom gone four days without a match. They’d held up well, but they were starting to look flat in training and, after the high of qualifying for the Europa League final, I wondered if they’d have enough energy left to beat Torino.
And they didn’t. The match was a grim stalemate through 72 minutes, at which point Torino’s Andrea Valesi scored the 35-yard free kick that consigned us to a 1-0 defeat. After going unbeaten through our first 30 matches at the Silvio this year, we’d lost three of our final four, including our farewell game.
Just as bad: Milan squeaked by Siena 1-0, so our lead is now just three points with two games to play. The chances of Milan losing to either Salernitana or Udinese (14th and 15th in the league respectively) are very slim, which means that our last two matches suddenly look like desperate affairs. I’m not too worried about Treviso, but as I may have mentioned, our final game of the season is at Inter. It was probably written in the stars that our championship hopes would come down to that match. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous.
After the match we had a short ceremony to say goodbye to the Silvio Piola. It’s been a home to the club for over 80 years, even though—built in 1932, a decade after Pro Vercelli’s last title—it’s never seen a major championship. (In that respect, it’s oddly like Silvio Piola himself, who played for 25 years and never won a scudetto.) If we do win a trophy this year, we’ll have another ceremony to display it at the Silvio before we completely move out. After 86 years, the stadium deserves to hold a piece of silverware that doesn’t belong to the past.
by Brian Phillips · May 25, 2009