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Official Review by Jeremy Inson, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
With a capacity of just over 80,000 the Stadio San Siro is Italy’s largest and most well known soccer arena and home to two giants of Calcio, Associazione Calcio di Milan, the red and black shirted Milan and the blue and black striped Internazionale di Milano, or more commonly Inter.
The stadium was built in 13 months and at a modern day cost of $4.5 million. The first match to take place there was a friendly between Inter and Milan on 19 September 1926 and it was the blue and black shirted hordes that left the happier after a 6-3 win.
Initially the capacity was 35,000 but over the 20th century there were a number of extensions that eventually took the stadium’s capacity to its current total of 80,018 in preparation for Italy’s hosting of the FIFA World Cup in 1990.
In 1980 the city of Milan decided to name the stadium after Giuseppe Meazza, a former hot-shot striker for both Milan and Inter, who had died in 1979. Despite this, the vast majority of the fans making their way to the stadium refer to it as the San Siro, after the area of the city in which it is located.
Over the years both sets of supporters have made a strong case for their team to be top dogs. The 1960’s was certainly the heyday for the city, a decade in which Inter and Milan both won the European Cup twice.
For most of the 1990’s Inter had to look on in envy and content themselves with three UEFA Cup wins, while their owner Massimo Moratti threw millions of dollars at the team in the hope of finally breaking Inter’s title drought.
Their break came in 2006 when Juventus were stripped of the Serie A title in a match fixing sting and second placed Inter were handed the title. It set them up for five consecutive title wins, the most recent two in 2009 and 2010 under the guidance of Jose Mourinho.
The Portuguese made few friends in Italy, but he brought an end to Inter’s 43-year wait to be crowned European Champions when two goals from Argentine striker Diego Milito secured a 2-0 win over Bayern Munich in 2010.
For Inter the alumni is impressive. Striker Sandro Mazzola was at the heart of the 1960’s success, while Giacinto Facchetti and Tarcisio Burgnich embodied coach Helenio Herera’s catenaccio defensive system.
While AC Milan had the trio of Dutchmen, Inter had a trio of World Cup winning Germans – Lothar Matthaus, Andreas Brehme and Jurgen Klinsmann. Then under Mourinho it was the arrival of Dutch playmaker Wesley Sniejder to complement the likes of Milito, Samuel Eto’o, Maicon and captain Javier Zanetti that finally gave Inter the class to win the Champions League.
More recently Milan’s title victory in 2011, six months after Inter had won the 2010 World Club Championship, means that those Inter and Milan fans making their way towards the San Siro will be able to continue their debate about which team is the bigger for many more years to come.
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This being Italy, good food goes without saying. But a word of warning; eat before you get into the stadium as the options once you get through the turnstiles are few and far between, except for poorly supplied and jam-packed cafes.
Outside though, the range of concession stands is remarkable. The majority of them serve tasty warm sandwiches, usually ham or roast pork, with either beer or a soft-drink to wash it down with. While basic is the word, they go down very well and the aroma from the roasting pork or sizzling sausages means you need a strong will to refuse a second one.
If you have more of a sweet tooth keep an eye out for Il Padrino, a stand serving a vast array of Sicilian desserts, candies and sweets, such as canoli and ciambelle, a type of doughnut covered in chocolate.
With 80,000 seats to fill, the San Siro is rarely full, with the exception of city derbies or the visit of fellow northern Italians, Juventus. Even so the curva nord (north stand), which is home to the Inter masses, makes a fair amount of noise whomever the opponents.
Come derby time though, the stadium becomes a frothing cauldron of love for your team and contempt for the opponents. Fan groups spend weeks designing banners to display, songs to sing and crowd choreography.
Sometimes the emotions spill over, such as the time a scooter was thrown from one tribune onto fans below, miraculously without anyone being seriously injured, but most of the time it produces an atmosphere the players feed off and which infects everyone in the stadium.
The San Siro neighbourhood is in a fairly suburban, non-descript part of town, north-west of the city centre.
There may be some very minor trouble around the end of an evening match, but most fans are far more concerned about getting back to the warmth of home, especially in winter when the mercury in the thermometer plunges ever lower and the wind whips in off the mountains north of the city.
In truth there is little to see around the stadium and if you have time before or after a game, then there is plenty to see in the city centre once you are back there.
Traditionally Milan fans came from the city’s working class, while Inter’s came from the bourgeois ranks. Nowadays, though, they come from a cross section of the city and boast numerous supporter groups from around the country.
Milan was originally known as Milan Cricket Club, in recognition of its founding by the English community in the city in 1899.
Inter by contrast, were formed in 1908 by disgruntled members who had grown exasperated by the snobbish attitude of the founders of Milan CC and so struck out with a more ‘international’ club, that featured players and members from across Europe.
Nowadays the majority of the noise comes from disgruntled young men, who have similar grievances against their opponents, the government and their lack of opportunities in society.
Lotto is the nearest metro stop and is about a 15 minute walk to the stadium, just follow the crowds. Alternatively there are free buses lined up outside the station to whisk you to the stadium in about 5 minutes and more importantly take you back after the final whistle.
The station is on the red line that passes through the heart of the city and has a stop at its most famous sight, Il Duomo, the cathedral outside which Inter and Milan celebrate their triumphs. Be warned though on match day the station and trains get packed very quickly.
If you are coming in by car, the stadium is on the north-west of the city and well-signposted throughout. There are a few car parks near the stadium that charge around €10 ($13). There is free parking in some of the residential streets nearby, but these get snapped up quickly.
As one of the most successful teams in European soccer, tickets for Inter are in hot demand for city derbies and Champions League matches in particular. Prices begin around €30 ($40) and rise to about €80 ($105).
There are a number of places to buy them around the city. The easiest place to buy tickets is either at branches of the Intesa San Paolo bank or from one of the numerous tobacconists around the city. In both cases, fans need to have a passport or some sort of ID on them when they buy them and it is advisable to have it on you at the game because spot checks, whilst rare, are rigorously enforced.
While the size of the stadium means that it is rarely full, it does mean visiting supporters can watch some of the biggest Italia clubs when they come to town.
The stadium holds tours three or four times a day, both in Italian and English and it allows fans to go through the administrative and media areas and visit the dressing rooms.
As part of the tour, visitors receive access to the calcio museum that is on site. It contains copies of all Inter and Milan’s trophies, shirts from players from around the world and many interesting and unknown pieces of the clubs’ histories.
In the city centre there is plenty to see. The cathedral and nearby Galleria are at the hub of city and for Dan Brown fans there is the chance to see the Last Supper at the Santa Maria delle Grazie church, but you must book beforehand.
There continues to be talk from Inter that they will eventually leave the San Siro and find a new purpose-built home further out of the city. However, with money tight and the stadium a big draw for Italian and foreign players that is unlikely to happen any time soon. Furthermore the stadium appears to be intrinsically linked to the success of the team.
Like many teams in Italy both Inter and Milan want to own the stadium. With the exception of Juventus and Cesena the majority of stadiums are council-owned and as such clubs miss out on match day revenue, as well as pay to rent an increasingly outdated venue.
Until then though, the stadium will continue to be a huge draw for supporters from around the world and while it may be some time before the Champions League final returns, there will still be plenty of drama and magic to come at the old stadium for many more years.
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