One of football’s classic rivalries, Inter Milan and AC Milan have been duking it out in the San Siro for decades. But that’s all about to change soon, as the historic stadium is set to be demolished in the near future. We were able to experience what may be one of the last ever derby matches in the San Siro, getting a taste of the pure energy that has fueled Milan over the years.
My first day in Milan, I met two men who’d been inseparable for years at a coffee bar. They lived through five different Popes, eight Italian Republic Presidents, and had nine combined grandchildren. They shared countless stories, and complemented each other like mozzarella does pizza.
These two friends meet daily for an espresso at 7:45 a.m. to debate the news and trade their used books. They share a passion for good wine from Toscana and they can’t live without panzerotti. They even like to share their most irreverent passion — football.
These are the type of guys who can’t watch football sitting down. When they ventured to the San Siro to cheer on their team, their seats were behind the goal, in the most popular sector of the stadium. Gianluca and Antonio share almost everything, but they will never agree on a football team. Gianluca supports AC Milan, and Antonio Inter Milan. In this manner, they couldn’t be more staunch rivals.
In a unique city in terms of football, Milan hosts two Champions League winners, FC Internazionale and AC Milan — nerazzurri (black and blue) and rossoneri (red and black). The roots of the latter date back to 1899, when Milan Football and Cricket Club brought the two most popular British sports to Italy. The club was restricted to Italians only, excluding any foreign-born players from participating.
Nearly a decade later, another club sprung up that allowed internationals to join, aptly calling themselves Internazionale Milano and adopting the color of blue to differentiate from their counterparts’ red. Thus birthing the Derby della Madonnina, a rivalry that would consume the city over the next century.
Football in Europe is full of symbology and it is meant for fans to connect with the team and city they represent. Milan is not an exception. Perhaps the most famous feature and tourist attraction of the city is the famous Duomo Cathedral, which has come to symbolize Milan’s history. On the cathedral’s top, a small bronze statue of the Virgin Mary oversees the landscape of the city. Called La Madonnina, it is the namesake of the centennial rivalry.
Since its opening in 1926, the San Siro has played host to the majority of the derby matches, a run that is set to end soon as plans for implementing a modernized stadium in Milan are in the works. In an attempt to separate themselves from the red side of the city, Inter fans refer to it as the Giuseppe Meazza Stadium, after one of the all-time great Italian footballers who played with both Inter and AC, though his connection to the nerazzurri is much stronger.
I’ve watched games in football temples such as Camp Nou, La Bombonera, Celtic Park and Stade Vélodrome, and while I attended the San Siro in 2014 for a Trofeo Luigi Berlusconi friendly game between AC Milan and Argentine side San Lorenzo de Almagro, I can hardly consider that an official visit. It was a great journey but not a remarkable San Siro experience. I always have been captivated by the exceptional structure of the stadium and the striking choreographies by the ultras.
It is fascinating how both fan bases share their journey to the stadium on the subway and enjoy some drinks in the surroundings of the colosseum. Annoying chants to rivals is part of this folklore, meanwhile spectacular tifos are prepared and set at the same time. The clash on the terraces is populated by the two groups of ultras located in each goal — Curva Nord for Inter and Curva Sud for Milan. Pyro flares erupt everywhere and some bombe carta (cherry bombs) decorate one of the best derby frames in Europe.
San Siro is one of the cathedrals for devoted fans and has adopted an iconic status in the world of football. It is a perfect cinematic backdrop to an action film. Welcome to Milano.
Photography by Naxto Groundhopper for Urban Pitch.