In the autumn of 2016 I travelled to Rome under the guise of a foreign language teacher. However, unbeknown to my family and friends, my main motivation for moving to the Italian capital was to be that little bit closer to my footballing hero, Francesco Totti.
The date was Sunday 11th September 2016 and the match was AS Roma vs Sampdoria. Wearing my newly purchased AS Roma home shirt, I marched to Italy’s national stadium via Roman ruins, roaring Vespas and many, many Catholic Churches to see my idol in the flesh.
As I approached the stadium, I became engulfed in a sea of red and yellow, the colours of AS Roma. The sun was beaming down; even the heavens were blushing for Roma.
I took my seat in the Curva Sud stand with a cold, frothy Birra Moretti in hand. I stood for the player announcements beside a blend of die-hard fans and bewildered tourists, I considered myself to be a combination of the two. The King of Rome had to settle for a place on the substitutes bench, at 39, Totti’s powers had faded and manager Luciano Spalletti wasn’t the sentimental type.
So, a little disappointed, I bought another beer and lay back in my seat, imagining how the game might pan out. I envisaged an easy Roma win and a late cameo from captain Totti.
Just like that my daydream was interrupted by an early Roma goal, Mohamed Salah heading home after a sweeping move.
AS Roma 1 – 0 Sampdoria.
10 minutes passed and chances came and went for Roma, it was a good game, the kind that you could dip in and out of, which was perfect for my sightseeing. I counted 83 Sampdoria fans, the stadium was half empty, a sorry symptom of Italia 90’s out-dated stadia. Still, I was having a great time.
After 20 minutes and against the run of play, Luis Muriel scored a brilliant volley to level for the visitors.
AS Roma 1- 1 Sampdoria.
Suddenly, the sky turned grey and the momentum was with Sampdoria, rain came crashing down onto the turf, my discarded beer cup was now full of water.
Fabio Quagliarella found the net from close range just before half time with the pitch now well and truly water logged.
AS Roma 1 – 2 Sampdoria.
The referee blew the half time whistle and players and fans alike ran to shelter from the storm. All spectators were now huddled around the staircases, toilets or food stands. The minutes ticked by and the fans lost their cheer, the only discernible sound was the clatter of the hail against the plastic seats around the ground, surely the game was going to be called off.
An hour later and the hail had stopped as the air became humid. A stadium already struggling to reach half its capacity was now just a third full. Despite the weather and after numerous, tantalising pitch inspections the fans had something to cheer, a second half.
Roma made one substitution at half time. Francesco Totti entered the action, my faith in humanity was restored.
The second half began; Totti was effortlessly cool on the slippery surface. He was like a figure skater gliding on a public ice rink, doing his best to avoid the stumbling amateurs.
Dzeko levelled for the home side; Totti was the provider playing an audacious first time pass. I began to believe that this torrid, wet and rainy affair might have a happy ending after all.
AS Roma 2 – 2 Sampdoria.
A barrage of Roman attacks followed, the away team were hanging on but the clock was against the home side.
It’s stoppage time when a Roma player goes down in the penalty box. The referee points to the spot. Was it a penalty? I didn’t care. It was the 93rd minute and I knew only one person was going to take the decisive kick, Francesco Totti.
The sky was pitch black; Rome was in darkness, the match had run several hours behind schedule. The figure of Totti shone bright under the floodlights as the stadium fell silent awaiting the last kick of the game, a penalty kick. Like others I consider getting my phone out in anticipation of a goal, so I can record the moment, but I don’t, I want to see this with my own eyes.
Never in doubt.
This was unquestionably the best experience I’ve had as a football fan, and there have been a few. The next day I went out and bought a copy of La Gazzetta Dello Sport, the Italian football newspaper, which featured a glowing review of Totti’s performance; it is one of my most prized possessions.