On a quiet spring afternoon in the Florentine Hills, TPA’s Ben Shine quietly slipped into the empty and unguarded Italian National Football Museum and Training Base, Coverciano. Unaccompanied, he perused the displays of World Cup glory and retraced the footsteps of idols Maldini, Baggio and Sacchi. He shares his experience here.
Coverciano, Italy’s national football museum and training base, is like Mario Balotelli with his shirt off.
At first glance it is muscular and intimidating: the large campus is surrounded by an eight-foot-high, viciously-spiked iron fence. However, a closer inspection reveals a chink in the armour, an element of softness: the front-gate is wide open, the ticket office unattended.
And much like Mario Balotelli’s defending, I am able to breeze past the unguarded entry with ease.
I begin to snoop around. Ahead of me lie three manicured pitches, with Italian tri-coloured nets in the goals at either end. I amble over to them. The nets are taut, the turf like carpet, the touchlines a pure, powdered white. Italian football may not always be beautiful, but their grounds certainly are.
With nobody in sight, I stalk the halfway line. I imagine the greats who have trained, coached and played on these fields over the last 60 years. Maldini, Baresi, Sacchi. Their names evoke a rich history, and resemble even richer, full-bodied Tuscan wines – or maybe that’s last night’s hangover playing on my mind.
After ten minutes spent day-dreaming the joy of playing Pirlo-esque through-balls on this beautiful green rug in front of me, I still haven’t encountered another soul. I begin to feel uneasy.
I am a cautious tourist. I drink bottled water, say sorry when I bump into people, and desperately want to be regarded as a courteous guest. While my entry was accidental, it was nonetheless illegal. I feel guilty for ghosting into such an impressive establishment.
I begin searching for anyone in a position of authority to sell me a ticket. Apart from a caterer setting up nearby, I am the only person here. My ticket, and the external validation of my friendly intentions, will have to wait.
More than ten years ago my dear friend and TPA colleague Sam Perry snuck into Real Madrid’s home ground and walked around with unfettered access, retracing the steps of Zindane, Figo and other Galacticos. The daring deed earned him respect, not least because during re-tellings of the story he was able to correctly pronounce “Berna-bay-oo” with a proper Spanish accent. In contrast I was shamed by my anglicised pronunciation, “Berna-bow”. He was clearly continental and thus cultured. I was not.
As I timidly walk the touchline of the main pitch, I reassure myself that while this might not be the Bernabau, my sneakery may earn me a dose of that precious, rare and coveted commodity of male friendships: respect.
With high hopes of improved social standing, I stroll past a groundsman, the second human I have seen since entering. He stares, but does not return my “ciao”. I have been alpha’d. My brief puddle of confidence evaporates. I figure it is time to move indoors and into the museum itself.
On entering I am confronted by an impressive collection of wall-mounted items: replica trophies, match balls, match worn jerseys from some of Italy’s greatest players, as well as the coaches’ Versace-designed suits from the ’94 World Cup.
Speaking of the ’94 tournament, its tragic-hero Roberto Baggio is one of the museum’s most prolific donators. In most rooms you can find one of his jerseys, balls or boots. This selfless gesture surprises me. I tend to associate men with rats tails with the act of stealing, not giving.
In the basement lies the most controversial item in the collection: Fabio Grosso’s jersey from the 2006 World Cup. It was Grosso’s penalty (and Oscar) winning dive that effectively wrenched the Jules Rimet trophy out of the Socceroos’ hands in Japan/South Korea. The provocative display of the garment brings back dark memories of late nights and dashed hopes.
With the pain of Kaiserslautern now fresh in my mind, I decide to exit, but not before briefly pausing to consider how easy it would be to steal the Grosso jersey. The risk of getting caught would be almost non-existent; the rewards of bringing home the loot would be a heroic, patriotic act on par with Australia winning the America’s Cup in ’83.
I decide to leave the jersey untouched. Instead, I walk until I find a elderly man sitting in a closed office. I knock on the door and hand him €5 – the price of admission. He speaks no English and is perplexed by my attempts to pay him, but begrudgingly accepts my money. He likely has nothing to do with the museum.
While this gesture may not win me any cool points, I leave with a clear conscience. And an old Italian guy got some free cash. Everyone wins.
By Ben Shine