Let’s say you’ve already checked off the major museums and art galleries and Roman ruins in the Italian cities you’re visiting, you’ve got more time on your hands, and you’d like to experience something a bit less art-y. How about a game of Italian soccer?
Now, I’m a big fan of soccer in Italy – I go to games in Italy and I watch them on TV every weekend when I’m at home – but even if you’re not a huge sports fan, going to a game can be a cultural experience as much as a sporting one.
Soccer – called calcio in Italian – is one of the most popular sports in the country, and it’s relatively easy to see a match during your vacation. The main things to know before you go to the stadium on game day are:
- It’s not a summer sport. The Italian soccer season starts roughly in late August and usually goes through late May, so even though most travelers are in Italy during the summer that’s the one season when you won’t be able to see soccer games in Italy. You may find that there are exhibition games being played, and (depending on the year) possibly a game involving the Italian national team, but those will be far less common.
- It’s a weekend thing. Nearly all Italian soccer games during the regular season are played on weekends, with the vast majority being played on Sundays. There are typically 1-2 games every Saturday, and sometimes one game on Monday, with the remainder on Sunday. Every so often there are Wednesday games during the season, too, but generally speaking you should look the weekends you’ll be in Italy to figure out which games coincide with your travels.
- It’s cash only for tickets. You’ll need to have cash in hand at the ticket booths outside the stadium. Find out from the local tourist office what time tickets go on sale, and whether they know if the game is sold out. For advance planners, you can usually get tickets online through resellers before you go to Italy, but you’ll pay quite a bit more that way than if you just buy them on game day.
- You’ll need picture ID to buy tickets and get in. In an effort to get a handle on fan violence, tickets are now printed with names that are taken from picture IDs, and you must present your ID when you buy the ticket and again at the gate. Your passport will do just fine, and usually a state driver’s license works, too.
- The ends of the stadiums are generally where the hard-core fans sit (so go with the side sections instead). You usually won’t even have the option to buy tickets for the ends of the stadium (the end is called the curva in Italian) at the booth, as they’re often sold out by that point, but if you’re presented with the option and you’re just there as a casual observer it’s best to skip the curva and get a ticket in one of the side sections.
- Don’t wear the opposing team’s colors. This is probably a no-brainer, but what if you don’t know the team colors? Basic black or white always works!
- Some games are more contentious than others. Some rivalries are stronger than others, such as the two teams in Rome or the two teams in Genoa, so if you’re just a casual observer you might want to avoid those matches. However, incidents of fan violence are far more rare than they used to be, and in several trips to see soccer games in Italy (including one between the two teams in Milan) I’ve never felt in danger in the slightest.
Here’s an article I wrote with more information about Italian soccer for the traveler, which has a few more tips – and you can find out which stadiums are best for watching games in this episode of the Eye on Italy podcast with two soccer commentators in Italy: The Italian Culture in Italian Soccer, with Paul Visca & Max Patrick.
photo by funky1opti