21 September ~ Jorge Luis Borges composed a short story 43 years ago that took as its subject the final football game ever to be played in a “real” stadium. “Football, like all sport, is a kind of drama interpreted by one man alone in a projection room or by actors in front of a cameraman,” Borges wrote. This was football’s 1984 moment, a dystopia that no one really ever thought possible. Sadly it’s already happening at Serie B side Triestina. Writing in the letters pages of the local paper Il Piccolo, a supporter complained: “We always go to the ground, and now we are depicted on a piece of tarpaulin that covers the stand. We don’t like it.”
When Triestina faced Pescara on September 4, the “real” fans, totalling just 3,810, were astonishingly outnumbered by the virtual ones. The entire lower tier of the Colaussi stand was populated by a set of video game-like 2D supporters represented on a huge drape. Asked to explain himself, Triestina president Stefano Fantinel said: “Against Juventus in 2007 we were packed. The blow-up was pulled back that day, which was a real rarity. The stadium is too big. We have a 30,000-capacity ground and it’s always half-empty.
“And that’s not all,” Fantinel adds. “We want to double the tarp also in the upper sector of the stand. I would like to put in sound effects and there will be more space for advertising. The stands will become a window for everything that happens in Trieste; we’ll see the sails of the Barcolana [the city’s regatta] and then it will be time for the theatre season.”
Naturally, Fantinel has been made out to be something of a charlatan in the national media. Not least because football in Trieste has a proud tradition – the poem Goal by Umberto Saba is about the local club with one stanza proclaiming: “Rosso-alabardati, a people loved by everyone.” The ground is even named after the locally born Nereo Rocco, who lays claim to being arguably the greatest Italian coach of all time not just for leading Milan to two European Cups, but for developing the catenaccio style with which Italian football came to be identified for decades.
Fantinel insists that he has explored ways of luring fans back to the stadium, such as collaborating with the local co-operative so that every time you spend €15 (£12.70) on your shopping, a Triestina ticket costs just €1, but to no avail. Unpalatable as it is, Fantinel claims he is merely trying to raise enough revenue to keep his club alive. “I save €100,000 a year in the management of the stand and I hope to earn at least as much with advertising,” he says. “We are studying other experiments – when we play at night we would like to project adverts [on to the canvas]."
Triestina’s problem is that of Italian football as a whole, especially below the top tier – there are simply too many reasons for fans to stay away. The rise of pay-TV means it’s more attractive to sit in the comfort of your own home rather than in a dilapidated ground somewhere on the peninsula, and if the threat of violence – albeit reduced – wasn’t enough, then controversial efforts to curb it like the fan ID card, which is seen by many as an invasion of privacy, make it an even greater hassle.
Then of course there is the credibility factor with UEFA recently opening a new probe into alleged match-fixing after being tipped off by bookmakers concerned about suspect betting patterns on three Serie B games in February, one of which was supposedly Triestina’s trip to Salernitana.
Meanwhile, Triestina’s players are yet to comment on the new arrangements in the stadium, but Fantinel claims there has been no dissent. “They’re happy,” he says. “Because the fans who were in the Colaussi stand were the most critical of them while now they don’t make a noise.” James Horncastle