Seeing an Italian Football Match at San Siro in Milan

by Jessica on March 11, 2008

by | March 11th, 2008  

sansiro1I’m not a huge sports fan, but I’m married to one – so that means I do pay attention. Most of the time I’m only vaguely aware of what’s going on in whatever game I’m watching (regardless of the sport), but it’s hard to be in Italy and not be acutely aware of how much a part of daily life soccer is here. There are two “home teams” here in Milan – A.C. Milan and Inter. The former is a powerhouse of a team, full of stars from Italy and elsewhere, but a team which isn’t having the best season. The latter is currently leading the standings for the national championship, and if they win it’d be for the second year in a row. In other words, Italy in general is a good country to visit if you’re a soccer fan – and Milan is particularly good.

The husband and I decided rather spontaneously to go to an A.C. Milan game the other night, because they were playing a team that isn’t doing so well this year so we figured it’d be easy to get tickets and get in. There’s a tram that’s supposed to stop right in front of San Siro, the stadium where both Milan and Inter play, but the tram we were on stopped long before it got to the stadium. From there, everyone piled onto a waiting bus which dropped us all off in front of San Siro. We’re still not sure why they did it that way, but it worked out.

We jumped in a line at the nearest ticket kiosk – although using the word “line” here is pretty generous. Italians aren’t generally known for their queuing skills. As an aside, this still works out okay in most shops and such, because people just pay attention and know whose turn it is next, so it isn’t generally as unfair or chaotic as you’d think it might be. With a bunch of football fans descending on the ticket windows, the clock rapidly approaching game time, it was exactly as chaotic as you’d expect.

When it was finally our turn we bought two tickets in the second section from the top for €28 apiece, and we had to each present a piece of identification. I think this is true throughout Italy, so there’s a tip if you’re hoping to attend a football match in Italy – bring an ID card. It doesn’t have to be a passport; they don’t write down the ID number or anything, they just type in your name which then appears on your ticket. In our case, an Oregon driver’s license was just fine with the gal behind the counter.

Tickets in hand, we stopped at an elaborate food cart for a quick dinner of sausage sandwiches, which we carried with us into the stadium. After showing our tickets to an official at the outer gate of our “ingresso,” we then went through what I suppose is “security” – they were checking the occasional purse or backpack, but didn’t check us. I guess we look innocent. From there, we then came to a wall of those tall revolving gate things (the kind that look like revolving doors only they’re metal bars instead of glass doors). There’s a slot to one side where you put the bar-code end of your ticket, upon which there’s a loud beeping noise and a green light appears which indicates that you can push through the revolving gate. It’s really incredibly clever, if you ask me.

San Siro is massive, capable of holding more than 80,000 spectators. But this behemoth was well-designed – at least from an entrance/exit standpoint – we went to the entrance number indicated on our ticket, and there was only one stairway that only had one exit point, right onto the level of our seats. Later, when we left the stadium, the exit ramps were extremely efficient and there wasn’t any crowding or bottle-necking at the exits. Of course, the place was only half-full (at best) for the match we attended, so maybe it’s more of an issue when all 80,000+ seats are filled.

At any rate, our section was mostly empty, although our seats were occupied already when we arrived – so we just claimed some nearby seats. The seats themselves are pretty dirty, and many regular fans brought little folding seat cushions with them to the game. People who didn’t have the seat cushions grabbed some of the free newspapers which were being distributed outside the stadium, which they then used as seat covers so as to keep their designer pants clean. The seats also don’t have seat-backs, and the only stairs with handrails are at the ends of sections, so the whole thing has a much more open feel than I’m used to in sports venues in the U.S. Plus, as someone who has a serious (and completely irrational, I know that) fear of heights, the steep stairs to get to and from our seats were more than a little intimidating. But the open-ness of the stadium actually makes it feel more akin to a genuine Roman arena than any other sports venue I’ve ever been in.

L-R: The game in progress; the steep stairs to where we were sitting
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The home team’s most serious fans occupy one of the ends of the stadium, and come to each game bearing huge flags and banners. They also sing and chant team songs throughout the match, none of which I could make out. What doesn’t take an Italian speaker to understand, however, is the passion they have for the game and their team. The opposing team’s fans have a small section on the opposite end of the stadium, only in the very top ring of seats, and the whole thing is behind metal fencing stretching from the floor to the ceiling. I think that section has its own dedicated entrances/exits and toilets. This is a testament to how bad things can get when the most rabid fans of two opposing teams mix, and it’s not just for show. There have been instances of serious injury being caused by the fans of one team on the fans of another, and in at least one stadium I know of in Italy the “away” section is not only behind fencing but has netting over the top of it so the “home” fans can’t throw anything into that section, either. In the case of the game we saw where Milan was playing Lazio, the Lazio fans were vastly outnumbered by the Milan fans – but they were making a concerted effort to be just as loud. And the one chant of theirs that I understood was “culo, culo, vaffanculo!” – which is essentially a long way of saying “fuck you.” This came out, as you can imagine, whenever they thought a call had gone against their team unjustly, or in response to some specific chant from the Milan fans on the other side of the stadium. From our standpoint, it was pretty entertaining.

L-R: The home team’s fans in the lower two rings of the stadium on their end of the field; the away team’s fans in the uppermost ring of the stadium at their end, behind metal fencing.
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What wasn’t entertaining, on the other hand, was the halftime show. Or lack thereof. Of course, I’m used to halftime productions in the U.S., which are ridiculous in their over-the-top-ness, but I was expecting something during the 15-20 minute break between halves at San Siro. What we saw, on the other hand, was a few guys dragging a big tarp out to the center of the field which, when they unrolled it, just bore the team’s sponsor’s logo. That’s it. What’s more, I’m also used to being bombarded with not only music and sound effects but also information and play calls during sports events in the U.S., in person or when you watch them on television. At San Siro, the only time the announcers made a peep was when a team substituted one player for another. Other than that, it’s quite remarkable just how little information the fans are given in the stadium. This says, to me, that the average football fan in Italy isn’t interested in all the fluff – they just want to go to the stadium and see a game. I can’t help but wonder how overwhelmed they’d be at the SuperBowl, for instance.

You call that a halftime show?
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Upon exiting San Siro after the game, there is an army of trams lined up on the tracks outside the stadium just waiting to take away the crowds of fans. The trams are lined up one after the other (it’s all the same tram, route #16, which goes near the Piazza del Duomo) so that when one gets full (and they can get really full) a traffic-cop-type person blows a whistle and away it goes. Then the next tram in line gets full, and so on. It’s amazingly efficient. And I never saw a single person validating a transportation ticket on those rides.

Unfortunately, although the experience of being in San Siro was fun, the game itself was forgettable – A.C. Milan was resting most of their best players for a match they had coming up a few days later against Arsenal in the Champions League (which they subsequently lost anyway, dammit), and only managed to eke out a tie with a team that, in theory at least, they should have beaten easily. What’s more, my favorite player didn’t even set foot on the field. And yes, that kind of thing is important to me. So I’m hoping we get a chance to go to another match before we head home.

UPDATE: We went to another A.C. Milan game. My guy played, but this time they lost. Damn. At the second game we saw, however, we got there early enough to see the Italian national anthem – except they didn’t play it. I was disappointed, because it happens to be an anthem I adore; but I got to hear Milan’s theme song as the team was coming onto the field – and I have to say, it’s got just the right amount of overdone drama, so I was quite content with hearing that instead after all.

The next generation of Italian soccer fans.
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To recap – a couple of tips for people going to San Siro in Milan especially, but this also likely applies to other stadiums around Italy:

  • Bring an ID card when you’re buying your ticket. It doesn’t have to be a passport, just something with your photo and your name on it, so they can enter it into the computer. Your name will then appear on your ticket. We didn’t have to show our ID again at the entrance gate, but I don’t know if that would be different in a more important (or potentially controversial) game.
  • Bring (or grab) a few sheets of newspaper to put on your seat in case it’s a bit on the icky side. If you’re a serious fan, you can invest in a folding seat cushion, but for one game a newspaper is perfectly adequate.
  • Cheer for the home team, whoever that is. If you’re a fan of the opposing team, be careful. Or stay home.

There’s more information about seeing a soccer game in Italy, and if you like Italian soccer be sure to check out the Italian site at The Offside soccer blog. Also see more info on San Siro itself (it’s amazing in its huge-ness, but it’s seriously ugly) and here’s A.C. Milan’s official website. I took some video at the game, but I’m waiting to hand it over to BootsnAll’s video expert – so if he deems it worthwhile, it’ll get posted here eventually!

{ 27 comments }

Mary March 11, 2008 at 5:21 am
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So, you never mentioned your favorite player!

I really enjoyed this article, probably because I know very little of the game, yet like watching it for the skills required. Especially though, your account gave me another look into the culture – always entertaining.

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Jessica March 11, 2008 at 10:22 am
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My favorite player? The husband refers to him as my “boyfriend,” because I do think he’s cute, but he’s also an excellent footballer – I first noticed him during the last World Cup. It’s Andrea Pirlo, a midfielder for Milan. The husband says I think he’s cute because of his hair (I do tend to like longer hair), but his hair is only a bonus in my eyes…

Thank goodness I have a tolerant husband. :)

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Gianfranco April 18, 2008 at 6:22 am
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Again great stuff but I have to disagree with your take on San Siro being ugly, those 70′s style fins are what makes it look cool, and if aliens ever invade Europe San Siro will most certainly be where they hang out…

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Jessica April 18, 2008 at 8:01 am
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Okay, Gianfranco, but if aliens invaded Europe I would want to be as far from their favorite hang-out as possible. So I’m not sure that’s a selling point for me. ;)

Seriously, though, it’s not really the fins that I don’t like – the whole thing is just so utilitarian, and it’s so massive, that making it “pretty” would probably be nearly impossible for anyone. But these are ITALIANS we’re talking about here, for goodness’ sake – they’re supposed to be able to make anything look good.

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Tamim April 19, 2008 at 5:36 am
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san siro ugly!!!!!!…..i totaly disagree with you

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Annie January 7, 2011 at 12:25 pm
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Ok Jessica…question #2 for the week…so glad you are out there in cyber land willing to answer these questions…..so
For an early graduation present (and a reward for taking 4 years of HS Italian) we are taking a family trip to Milan next month. Plainly put, his life is Soccer, playing, watching, talking about it and XBOX FIFA ’11. I want to surprise him by getting him tickets to a soccer match at San Siro. For him it would be like a pilgrimage to Mecca. He is such a good kid and he deserves this. I would hate to wait till we got there to try and get tickets and be out of luck. Can I trust ticket agents, the Hotel Concierge or OnLIne ticket agents to get the job done? There is a Champions League game that week that would be awesome to see. What are our chances of getting tickets? If you don’t know,can you direct me to someone? Thank you so much for being there to answer this question.
Best,
Annie

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Jessica January 7, 2011 at 5:48 pm
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What a great gift, Annie! I love seeing games at San Siro – it’s such an awesome space. If he’s that into soccer, I also highly recommend the stadium tour – you get to go into the dressing rooms of both of the teams who play at San Siro, as well as see all the trophies they’ve both won.

Yes, you can absolutely get tickets in advance. You’re likely to pay more than you would if you waited, but as you said, it would really be a drag to get there and have them be sold out. Having said that, most regular Serie A games don’t sell out, but if you really don’t want to take the chance then I’d suggest checking out what our sister site The Offside has with regard to tickets:

http://tickets.theoffside.com/italy-serie-a-soccer-tickets

With two teams at the San Siro, you double your chances of seeing a game. I will say that seeing a Champions League game could be really tough, since those tickets will go faster than most other games. It’s worth checking, of course:

http://tickets.theoffside.com/uefa-champions-league-tickets

This article I wrote for The Offside will also be useful to you:

http://travel.theoffside.com/italy/travel-to-ac-milan-san-siro

That’s AC Milan-related (because that’s MY team!), but the same basic stuff applies if it’s an Inter game, too.

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Annie January 8, 2011 at 11:04 am
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Jessica:
Thank you, Thank you!! You have been more help than you can even imagine. I did purchase 4 tickets this afternoon. I could only afford upper deck for the Champions League game but he will be thrilled to be there in person. We will Tevo the game at home so he will have the upclose view when he returns. The memory of being there in person will last forever.
There is so much more planning to do for this trip so its back on line to read more about Milan and the day trips. At least I can cross this crucial “must-see” off the list.

Many, many,Thanks
Annie

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Jessica January 10, 2011 at 8:53 am
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Annie, I’m SO glad I could help – and I think it’s an experience none of you will ever forget. Enjoy! And please let me know if you have more questions – I really love Milan. :)

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Annie January 10, 2011 at 12:43 pm
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Since you asked…. :-)

I received the confirmation from Viagogo and I am a little concerned that the tickets might not get to me before we depart for Milan. If the tickets aren’t sent out until 5 days before the event, we will miss their delivery here in the US. Do you think I have anything to worry about? The event is scheduled for 2/23 we leave for Milan 2/18. Maybe I should have sent them to the Hotel.
I have loads of questions and the most pressing has to do with a train trip. Where should I post it? I have read your other travel tips (and they are all excellent) but this one is too hard for me to figure out on my own. Please post a link to the appropriate message board whenever you get a chance.
Thankful as usual,
Annie

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Jessica January 10, 2011 at 5:58 pm
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If you can contact the ticket agent and have them delivered to the hotel, that’s better – and then contact the hotel and tell them to expect a delivery for you, in case it arrives before you do. Too bad there isn’t an e-ticket option you can just print out.

There’s no appropriate or inappropriate place for questions – you can ask train questions on any one of the train pages, or you can ask it here. Either way is fine. Here’s the main train page (no comments allowed here, but there are other articles linked on the right that might answer your questions) – http://www.italylogue.com/train

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Amy January 15, 2011 at 10:35 pm
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Hi Jessica:

Thanks so much for answering questions so generously!

I have one for you…

I am a mom traveling to Milan in March with two boys ages 10 & 6. The woman who manages our apartment where we are staying told me about the match occurring at San Siro while we are there, on the 15th – : Bayern Munich vs. Inter. My boys are not soccer mad, but they are interested in sports and new/different experiences in general (that’s why we travel!). So I’m just toying with the idea of going. My question – aside from availability issues – is whether it would be weird/unsafe for a woman alone with two kids to be at a match? I only ask because while doing that doesn’t feel odd in the US, it might be there. We spent a couple of weeks in Sicily a year or so ago and absolutely loved it, but I admit there were times I felt as if I was an object of curiosity as a woman traveling alone with children. I would think that I wouldn’t sense that so much in a city like Milan, but then you throw in European sports culture – and I don’t know.

Any thoughts?

Thanks!

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Amy January 15, 2011 at 10:43 pm
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Okay – strike that. I just searched and found my future landlady was wrong – that match is not at San Siro but in Germany!!!

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Jessica January 17, 2011 at 10:42 am
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Oh, too bad, Amy! Well, you can always find a restaurant/bar with the game on TV & watch with the Italians – that’s fun, too.

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Alan February 3, 2011 at 5:55 am
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Good read, Jessica, always interesting to get the objective viewpoint of somebody who isn’t an avid football fan. Quick question, I’m assuming you flew in from the States and rented a room, so how much did it cost per person approximately? I ask because I’m a cash-strapped student who desperately wants to watch Milan again but don’t have any clue as to how much I should carry with me for the trip and stay. Thanks in advance.

Oh, and I share your admiration for Andrea Pirlo, wonderful player.

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Jessica February 4, 2011 at 2:45 pm
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I’m much more of an avid fan now than I was when I went to my first game at San Siro… :)

On most of my Milan visits, I’m there long enough that I rent an apartment for a few weeks rather than a hotel room. If you’re looking for cheap accommodation in Milan, there are a few hostels in the city – two of which are semi-close to San Siro:
http://www.italylogue.com/featured-articles/finding-the-hostels-in-milan.html

You might also find this travel info for San Siro & soccer games in Milan useful:
http://travel.theoffside.com/italy/san-siro-stadio-giuseppe-meazza

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James February 25, 2011 at 3:36 am
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Great post, I found it especially interesting regarding the half-time entertainment and lack of information during the game. I’m a football (soccer to you probably) fan in England and go to watch my teams games and as in, probably, the rest of europe there isn’t any commentry during a game. It got me wondering what you get in America?

We go to football to sing, shout, and get entertained by the sport I’ve never considered a need to have extra information during the game as it’s unfolding in front of me.

To pick up another point, is there no segregation of fans at sports venues in the US? – I think it’s only football here due to the hooligan problems in the 70s/80s but I think that it adds to the atmosphere, I’ve been to watch rugby where everybody mixes and there isn’t the them and us feeling that you get/enjoy at football.

Anyways great post which has intrigued me about watching sports in different parts of the world. Next time I’m in the US what should I go to: NFL, NBA, or Baseball?

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Jessica March 2, 2011 at 6:51 pm
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Hi, James – It’s interesting, I should probably go back and update this post now that I’m more familiar with Italian footy (and I usually do call it footy, even though it’s soccer here in the US!). The differences in American sports still stand out to me, but for different reasons now.

Generally, there’s more announcing going on during an American sporting event, but it’s not constant. There’s more than just player substitutions, however, which is essentially all the Italian announcers do at the stadiums. And we often have music going throughout a game, too, in the form of a band playing in the venue itself (more typical at college games) or someone playing “pump up the crowd” music on an organ or something. (As I’m writing this, I’m noticing how strange it sounds…)

American fans do cheer and yell and whatnot, but we don’t have the tradition of singing songs and chants throughout an entire game. The half-time “show” is really a noticeable difference in the U.S., though. In fact, during any time-out in a basketball or football game there can be something happening on the court/field – usually cheerleaders or dancers running out to do a 30-second routine before the game starts up again. Half-time can be a parade of events – cheerleaders, dancers, contests involving fans, marching bands… It depends on the sport and the level of importance of the game. For the pinnacle of half-time show craziness, the Super Bowl takes the cake.

And no, there isn’t any official segregation of fans in the U.S. – although in college games the “student sections” of a stadium often become something like a de facto “curva” in that those tickets are all purchased by students of the home team. It’s not enforced by any official mechanism, however.

As for what sports to watch here, I’m not the right person to ask, I think – my favorite sports are footy and cycling, neither of which is huge here! Of the ones you listed, I far prefer basketball (NBA) to American football or baseball, but American football is probably the most universally popular here. We also do have a growing soccer league, so if you happen to be in one of the MLS cities it might be fun to check out an MLS game, too – there are elements of American sports incorporated into the whole spectacle, even if the game itself is familiar.

If you find yourself in Portland, let me know – we’ve got an NBA team and (as of this year) an MLS team, so you can at least experience a couple different sports! :)

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Manuel April 15, 2011 at 6:35 am
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Hi Jessica,

This is a really nice post. I just have an extra question: can I bring my backpack to San Siro in a match day? It’s a day backpack, just like a school one (not the big hiking travel packs).

Any ideas?

Thanks!

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Jessica April 18, 2011 at 4:40 pm
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I’m pretty sure you’ll be able to take in your backpack – I’ve carried my purse in every time – but someone will look through it at the entrance. Just be sure you don’t have anything in it that you don’t mind losing if they decide it can’t come in – water bottles, keychain with a swiss army knife or laser pointer, etc. I don’t have a list of banned items, but I’d be very careful about what was in my bag if it were me…

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Derek September 8, 2011 at 4:17 am
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Jessica, I’m an American Soccer Fan traveling to Como in a couple weeks. Can you give me any advice on the most affordable way to get to the San Siro on game day, (if we are not already in Milan). We have tickets already to the Champions League match. Thanks

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Jessica September 9, 2011 at 9:49 am
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Hopefully this article will help you:
http://travel.theoffside.com/italy/san-siro-stadio-giuseppe-meazza

I imagine that the easiest thing would be to take the train to Milan and then take the tram/bus to San Siro.

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Dmitry April 18, 2012 at 2:44 am
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Hello Jessica. Thanks for article. Very useful!
I am going to visit the game on San Siro, but I wonder if I can bring my camera. It’s semi-professional DSLR. Do they let me go in? Pictures here are too small to recognize whether it’s DSLR of small camera. Thanks in advance

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Jessica April 18, 2012 at 5:26 pm
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I have a DSLR camera and I’ve brought it to matches at the San Siro before. I don’t see why you’d have any problems.

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Robin April 27, 2012 at 2:55 am
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Hi Jessica, I’m amazed at your incredibly detailed sharing!
I have bought tickets to the Milan derby and I have a Milan jersey. I’m Singaporean, and I’m not sure if it’s ok to wear it that day as my seats could be amongst Inter fans.
Also, the match is scheduled at 8.45pm, what time do you recommend I be there?
Thank you!

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Jessica May 3, 2012 at 5:45 pm
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When I went to a derby at the San Siro, there were Milan & Inter fans mingling in most of the stadium – it’s just the ends (curva sections) that are where the hard core fans sit. I was there when it was a Milan “home” match, however, not an Inter “home” match. So it may be different when there are more Inter fans. You can get there early just to catch the atmosphere, but if you’ve got reserved seats, you can show up whenever you like.

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Christian Hill January 14, 2013 at 4:46 pm
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Hi Jessica, I am planning to attend my first Milan Derby next month, never been to the San Siro before.
Just wondering do they have English speaking staff at the stadium?
I presume there will be but just want to be sure.
Any information will be greatly appreciated!
Also did you go on the stadium tour?

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