The Roman Conquest: a good thing

Escaping a soggy British December, PF journeyed to Rome to take on Filippo’s former side, Italy’s journalists’ XI. Joe recalls a memorable trip from December 2000


Part I: Geoff and Filippo’s organisation

So massive was the effort to find the Roman nation (Virgil, Aeneid)

Astonishingly for this motley collection of British, thirty-something, Loaded-generation males, we somehow all booked tickets, got time off work, packed our kit and arrived at Heathrow, where we exchanged currency, bought books that were never read, made hearty noises about eating cooked breakfasts (Geoff forbade it ­ pasta and grilled fish only) and then nearly missed the plane. But we got there. And when we did, there was accommodation to dump our bags in, a mini-bus to the ground, a game to play, people to meet, food to eat, Pontiffs to see.

For this, Geoff and Filippo deserve endless gratitude. I hope we expressed this often enough out there, and sang our gratitude more than often enough, but it’s worth saying again. Thanks Geoff. Thanks Filippo.


Part II: The football

What’s brave, what’s noble, let’s do it in the high Roman fashion (William Shakespeare, Antony and Cleopatra)

Once in a while you surprise yourself. A relationship lasts for longer than two and half minutes. You remember Mother’s Day. Or, you trap the ball, look up, pass and move.

This was the game of football you dream about. Linesmen! Corner flags! Dugouts with curved roofs! Matching kit! Perfect temperature! A pitch so smooth they could cut it into strips, roll it up and sell it as lavatory paper.

We started the stronger, the Italians grumbling early on that we were too young, too fit, they had been misled, traduced, but the dominance didn’t last. Bit by bit, they wrested control and then took the lead with a ferocious, dipping 30-yard drive. We rolled up our sleeves and fought back, Chris equalising with a striker’s instinctive swivel after good work down the right by Jez, giving an old-fashioned winger’s display, full of trickery and incision. At times the game had such a classical air about it, you felt as if you weren’t playing but were watching it on TV instead. Liverpool v Roma. Our pace and directness versus their passing and technique. Boosted by the goal, we pressed on, Cornish Al jinking through the midfield, Raj biting in the tackle, Richard winning everything in the air, Owen passing long and short. The second goal duly came.

But the home team reorganised and suddenly we were on the back foot. Tactically they switched things, their wing backs pushing on, giving them the extra man in midfield and allowing their playmaker (tall, number 4) to boss things about. For twenty torrid minutes, they played supreme stuff and being under the cosh was never so pleasurable. Rob organised us, swept up, was brave at feet. Filippo, recovered from the existential doubt that had plagued his first half, exhorted us on and relieved the pressure with his forward breaks, Ian and Marco were steadfast, a dream-team combination of Hansen and Maldini. We shuffled left, we shuffled right, pressed, then stood them up. But the pressure told, space opened in the box, a challenge was mistimed, penalty. 2-2. The last quarter was end to end, intense. We talked to each other non-stop and yet it seemed as if the game took place in a concentration-filled silence. We wanted to win, but we didn’t want to lose. Personally, the disappointment of losing would have been greater than the disappointment at not winning. Maybe that’s why I’m a defender.

2-2 it ended. We shook hands, lost an impromptu penalty shoot-out (once an English side, always an English side) and beamed at each other. A job well done. Good game. “You had us worried,” they said. “You played like an Italian team.”


[Click here to read Richard’s report of the match]


Part III: The showers

Who is here so rude that would not be a Roman (William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar)

The showers. They worked, they were hot, they got rid of the mud. Filippo strutted in his bath-robe, thrilled that his two sides had emerged honourably equal. High on adrenaline, we pledged to order a range of matching monogrammed PF bath-robes. By God, these Romans knew how to do things properly. Who indeed is here so rude that would not be a Roman. The mood was hilarious. The hilarity flowed as incessantly as the wine would.


Part IV: The Pope

Take heed of thinking, the farther you go from the church of Rome, the nearer you are to God (Sir Henry Wotton)

Well, Sir Henry Wotton, whoever you were, whatever you meant, you needn’t have worried. We got as near to the church of Rome as it is possible to get. Cornish and myself had become separated from the others as we walked to our evening rendezvous. Rome was packed, the piazza we were heading for was indistinguishable on the map, the instructions we kept stopping to ask for taking us one step forward and two back. We arrived at yet another piazza, broad as a meadow, stopped for more instructions, started to cross the road and were blocked by a policeman. “Look,” said Al, pointing back up the street, “it’s a cavalcade.” Outriders, sirens, flashing lights, and a glint from a dome of glass. “No,” I said, “it’s not a cavalcade, it’s the Pope-mobile. It’s the fecking Pope.”

To tell the truth, the feller looks like he’s just about hanging on. Swollen like the mumps, his cassock billowed around him like a freshly opened parachute, protecting him against the fall. His arm moved mechanically up and down as if operated by a stick attached to his elbow and manipulated by a cardinal concealed beneath those reams of linen.


Part V: The food and drink

When in Rome, do as the Romans do (St Ambrose)

Call me sentimental but that Friday night in the restaurant was a miracle. A big table, raucous noise, story-telling, wine as honest as it was plentiful, personal dishes, shared dishes, Grappa!, familiar tastes, different tastes (the artichokes, the suppli, the pork in particular) more Grappa! and Filippo, drawing it all together like the conductor of a head-strong but talented orchestra.


Part VI: The partying

In the most high and palmy state of Rome, the sheetless dead did squeak and gibber in the Roman streets (William Shakespeare, Hamlet)

I reckon that, until Monday morning anyway, we looked healthier than the sheetless dead, but that whole weekend we certainly squeaked and gibbered in the Roman streets. Richard squeaked every time he passed a cake-shop, Rob gibbered whenever he passed a hawker selling Roma shirts. Al squeaked every time he saw a poster for the opera, I gibbered at the price of scarves. Jez squeaked at the sight of the women.


Part VII: The Opera

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears (William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar)

La Bohème, the tragic story of friendship and death from a bad cough. To be honest, the music’s superb but the story’s shite. The setting was a church, the set a cast-off from an Australian women’s-prison soap. The singing was gutsy, the audience dominated by socialists. And one socialist in particular. Whether the constituents of Bolsover would have approved of their hell-raising beast gallivanting round a European capital with his Americaine, listening to a fooking opera about a bunch of fooking students, I don’t know. But we approved. With an interval at the end of each act, we had three doses of Skinner. Skinner on how he’d brought house down at fooking t’Albert Hall. Skinner on how he’d turned fooking college football team at fooking Oxford University into fooking bunch of Peles. And mainly we got Skinner on Skinner. Thank God there wasn’t a fifth act. We also emerged with the weekend’s epithet, Skinner on football: “It’s about team-work and it’s about fooking war.”


Part VIII: Disco on the river

O Tiber! father Tiber, To whom the Romans pray (MacAulay, Lays of Ancient Rome)

The nearest we got to an injury the whole trip was on a boat on the Tiber, where we risked perforated ear-drums and any reputation we might have for style. But we did have a bloody good time. The live set was provided by a cross between Suzi Quattro and AC/DC and there was a similarly eclectic range of dancing on view. To give you a sense of that range as well as making a timely return to football matters, I give the following comparisons:

Ian danced like Tony Adams: authoritative but often static

Owen Steven Gerrard: good touch, great engine, never stopped

Rob Robbie Savage: savage

Richard Steve McManaman: flashes of sublime skill but flattered to deceive

Jez Emmanuel Petit: classy and knew it

Raj Mark Hughes: traces of a glorious past, but the pace got to him


Part IX: Roma v Udinese at the Olympico

O happy Rome (Cicero, Juvenal)

There was a sense of destiny about this game. The chase around Rome to find tickets, including the ill-advised trip to Lazio’s booking office. The lurking Anglo-Saxon suspicion that we were going to get ripped off. The buying of scarves, the Italian equivalent of pie and bovril (roast belly pork and a Coke). The fascist monolith that is the Olympico with Mussolini’s athletic statues outside, Batistuta scoring (we’d have been disappointed if he hadn’t), Totti’s wonder volley from the angle of the box, Udinese making a match of it, and at the start and end of it the Roma official song that should have seemed indescribably naff but was in fact deeply moving. It was such a perfect event, I half expected Skinner to turn up and ruin it. That Batistuta, taught him all he fooking knows.


Part X: The hospitality

The Romans were like brothers (Lord Macaulay, Lays of Ancient Rome)

Enough said …







































Catenaccio, Regent’s Park style

Italian NUJ 2 Philosophy Football 2

Richard, 8 December 2000


PFFC’s latest foray into European competition brings us to magnificent grounds half-an-hour outside Rome: the centre the Italian national team use when preparing for major international competition. This is the Italian equivalent of Bisham Abbey and is to play host to the greatest names in the business: Marx, Kierkegaard, Clough, Guevara – et Al.

The facilities are excellent, the pitch like a velvet carpet, the atmosphere like a cauldron. At centre-half Geoff unveils a new player, Matteo, recently signed on loan from Il Manifesto. His excellent English ensures no Chelsea-style problems here.

Philosophy start as they mean to go on. Four first-time touches and already we’ve fashioned a half-chance on goal. The NIG (Italian NUJ) aren’t in the picture. We have the passion, the speed and the belief that we’re as good as anyone.

Until seven minutes in. Lovely technical skills these Italians have: good possession, great first touch and close control and fantastic movement. Their number 6 strolls forward through central midfield. Our defence is happy to keep him there. Then he strikes from fully 35 yards. Top corner. Rob, no chance. No chance! Sucker punch. 1-0 to them. Questions asked. Have we woken up? You bet! Mistake by us? No! But he won’t score too many like that!

Philosophy heads stay up. We’ve started well and we know it. We resolve to squeeze all the space on the pitch. The midfield dynamos of Raj and Owen start snarling. Whoops! A bit over-enthusiastic from Raj. He catches their number 8. Who retaliates. Yellow card for the number 8.

The ball starts running for Philosophy. Great cross-field pass from Richard to Jez lands at the right-winger’s feet. Jez crosses, Chris has a chance but the keeper saves. Then Al is caught offside (not the first time, nor the last) following an exquisite diagonal chip to the right channel which Chris beautifully takes on his chest.

Owen dispossesses their number 8 (still smarting from his booking), ball through to Richard on the inside left channel. Richard takes on the defence for pace, fashions a left foot shot. The keeper saves it. Rebounds to Jez. GOAAAAAAAL!!!!! 1-1. Vital away goal.

Philosophy are definitely on the up here! Fashioning chances at will. But the Italians are still dangerous. There’s too much space for them down the Philosophy left. Midfield needs to cover and start marking their dangerous number 5.

Never mind. Quick break, Chris pounces. GOAAAAAAL!!!!!

1-2. Chris‚ eighth goal in seven games. The visitors have taken the lead in Rome just before half time.

Half-time team talk from Il Gaffer consists of tightening the midfield (especially on the left). Matteo is having a storming game. Ian is solid. Filippo has made one or two timely interventions and Joe is Steady Eddy – or is that Nice Guy Eddie? – at right back. We’re on the ascendancy. Keep playing for each other and try to keep possession.

Second half. They’ve made some changes. They’ve switched to 3-5-2, not that any of us notice until we’re on the minibus back to the hotel. They now have all the possession. We can’t get the ball! It’s looking like England v Portugal in Euro 2000. They always seem to have an extra man free. Why? But they can’t capitalise.

We have chances still. A speculative shot from Richard a foot wide. An even more speculative volley from Ian – unlucky – but wider.

They’ve got so much possession we might as well be playing the Euro 2000 runners-up. But they have no penetration! The defence has it all shored up. It will not give. Except once, bringing a marvellous save from Rob the Cat (caught by the television cameras).

We hold firm until ten minutes from the end. Their number 8 is dribbling, just inside the penalty area, Raj just needs to jockey, the Italian is going nowhere. But Raj slips and – oh! – a penalty. Penalty thuds against the inside of the upright, ricochets against Rob’s back and dribbles over the line. 2-2.

The final whistle goes. Fair result. The resulting penalty shoot-out is to satisfy the bloodthirsty (but not the blood-shy). We’re already winning the tie on the away goals rule! The second leg to take place next year!

But where? Can we, Philosophy, hire Bisham Abbey? Rent Stamford Bridge? Anyone know David Mellor? Ken Bates? Adam Crozier? Or do we bung El Tel?

This match was definitely the best Philosophy have played as a unit. The Italians marvelled that we played ‘catenaccio’‚ (containment and counter-attack) in the style of the greatest Italian teams. Filippo was castigated by them for teaching us their style of play. I feel this is unfair; credit is due to Il Gaffer!

But this was a team performance. There’s no doubt that this match (and the whole trip) brought the team together.


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