I did not attend the last game of the season on a beautiful warm night at the Stadio Barbera in Palermo. Therefore, I didn’t get to join in the celebration of the team hoisting the prestigious Serie B trophy and of the fans celebrating the team’s return to Serie A, as well as toasting the team for finishing in the standings with 86 points, the highest point total ever achieved by a team in the long and glorious history of Serie B. A fun, festive, and historic evening, but I wasn’t there, and neither were my two american friends visiting our island.
Why did we not attend? Because a game that had been for nine months scheduled to be played on 5/31 was suddenly changed to 5/30. I couldn’t go on the 30th because I had a previously planned excursion with my American friends Tom and Nicole who were visiting Sicily for the week. One of our plans, which Tom and Nicole were excited about and for which we had planned, was to go to the game on 5/31. Tom, a Bronx Italian and Nicole a Greek Albanian or Albanian Greek by way of Boston—momma mia!—were very excited about seeing their first Italian soccer game and seeing this Palermo team and stadium I’ve been raving about. But they had by now a set travel plan. One thing that was set was to be at the game 5/31, but when the powers that be, make that the power that be—TV money—changed the date of the game, their dream of seeing the beautiful pink jerseys play on the field at the foot of magnificent Monte Pellegrino went out the window.
Why was the game date changed? Because on 5/31 the Italian national team scheduled an exhibition game against Ireland and as in all sports but certainly in Italian soccer it’s much more important that fans are home watching televised, advertiser-sponsored games, than actually buying tickets and sitting in the stadiums watching soccer live. So the entire slate of Serie B games was moved up a day! To have maybe 40-50,000 fans (total) sitting in Serie B stadiums across the country watching games determining the future of half-a-dozen teams instead of being on their couches watching a game of no relevance would be a tragedy to the Italian soccer power that be: TV money.
Italians reading this will remind me that the original date on a soccer calendar really represents only a time frame, and always comes with the knowledge that some games will be moved before that date or after—for TV money. Yes, I know and understand that, but knowing that doesn’t make advance planning to see games any easier. Not at all. In fact, I had envisioned a Serie B season of finding myself in previously unvisited Italian cities for a weekend getaway complete with a Saturday afternoon game—the official time of Serie B games. But almost all of the road games I wanted to attend were switched to Sunday or Monday nights, which didn’t work for me at all. (On the bright side, I’ve calculated a savings in travel expenditures of well over 1,000-euros for not making those trips!)
Some Italians will respond that they are happy the date was changed so there’s no conflict—they can sit on their couches 5/30 watching their Serie B team, and sit on their couches 5/31 watching the Italian national team practice game. Also don’t get me wrong: a practice game will still have Italian fans jumping off The Milvian Bridge should Italy lose. Oh, and don’t get me wrong about this either: for complicated, historical reasons, for Sicilians the sport of professional soccer is in fact a television event. Remember that over 95% of Sicilian soccer fans cheer for one of the holy trinity of Juventus, Milan or Inter, three teams that could not be farther away from Sicily and still be in Italy. All three of these teams come from the northwest corner of Italy, right by the Alps. Going to see their favorite team in person is not something Sicilians think about. So moving games from one night to the next is no more trouble for them than if the television nightly newscast is delayed by a long movie.
For me, though, this is the greatest paradox of all of Italian soccer. Soccer to me is best watched live at the stadium, but clearly I’m on the wrong side of history. Every thought of every game is planned for TV, not for the ticket-buyers. And then throw in security measures, and ticket-buying for individual games gets even harder. And forget about road games which require the dreaded tessera—the police-vetted soccer i.d. card. The result then is that my preferred way to watch soccer is the most difficult and frustrating thing to do.
So I surrender. I give up. If they want me to stay away from the stadiums who am I to fight them? I’ll stay away. But dear SKY and MEDIASET, please note I am not transferring my going-to-the-stadium budget to buy a satellite TV package to watch the games. You will not be profiting from the money not spent on tickets, eating, transportation, and lodging. You don’t win anything by forcing me away from the stadium. But what do you care? You’ve already won. One can clearly see you have won by watching Italian soccer games on TV and noting the half-empty stadiums. Of course, it’s all how you look at it. I see the stadiums half-empty, you see couches full.