Art

Fortress San Siro

Paolo Menicucci hasn’t missed a European night at San Siro since he started writing about Milanese football nearly 20 years ago. As AC Milan and Internazionale prepare for life in a new ground planned to open in 2022, he reminisces about the grandeur of a stadium few others can match, while photographer Guido De Bortoli captures its essence on camera

WORDS Paolo Menicucci | PHOTOGRAPHY Guido Bortoli

I started reporting from the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza in 2002/03, the season AC Milan overcame Inter in the Champions League semi-finals before going on to beat Juventus in the final. I haven’t missed a European game there since. I have been to stadiums across the continent – some more modern, some with just as much history, some bigger, some even more beautiful. But nothing compares to San Siro on a big European night. This is something different.  

Maybe it’s because the stands climb so steeply – you almost feel like you’re watching the game from above the pitch. This seems to amplify the sound, creating that intense cauldron effect you rarely get in such a huge stadium. The atmosphere can be incredible. An adrenaline injection.

Even from the outside you get the sense you’re in for something special. With its twirling turrets and suspended roof lit up against the night sky, it’s like a spaceship has landed in suburban Milan. The trams criss-crossing the roads around the ground bring you back down to earth and provide a glimpse of how things used to be. They conjure up images of black-and-white footage of fans arriving to see Helenio Herrera’s Grande Inter, or Gianni Rivera’s Milan with coach Nereo Rocco – El Paron (the Master) –screaming instructions from the sidelines.

Passing through the gates you are met with plaques recalling the two clubs’ European triumphs – Arrigo Sacchi and the Dutch trio Van Basten, Gullit and Rijkaard for Milan; followed by Fabio Capello and Carlo Ancelotti. For Inter, the presence of another coaching legend is equally palpable, José Mourinho, the man from Setúbal who steered the Nerazzurri to their first European Cup in 45 years in 2010.

Some things have changed. There is now a San Siro underground station and the stadium was given a bit of a facelift for the 2016 Champions League final. The atmosphere, however, is the same as always. I watch most games from the press box, and normally take the elevator up. But sometimes I still want to climb the stairs, the many stairs, leading up to the second tier, just to experience that feeling of anticipation as you approach the most beautiful view of all – that field of grass in the middle of this concrete-and-steel temple. The surreal silence before the gates open provides a moment of calm before the cacophony of a European night takes over.

Penalty Pedigree

Etiam erat velit scelerisque in dictum non. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at. Scelerisque felis imperdiet proin fermentum leo. Nibh tortor id aliquet lectus proin nibh nisl. Nulla at volutpat diam ut venenatis. At urna condimentum mattis pellentesque id nibh tortor id aliquet. Leo a diam sollicitudin tempor id eu nisl nunc mi. Dui vivamus arcu felis bibendum ut. Pharetra convallis posuere morbi leo urna molestie. Adipiscing at in tellus integer feugiat scelerisque. In arcu cursus euismod quis. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at lectus urna duis. Facilisi nullam vehicula ipsum a arcu cursus. At tempor commodo ullamcorper a lacus vestibulum sed arcu non. Ipsum dolor sit amet consectetur adipiscing elit pellentesque habitant. Vitae sapien pellentesque habitant morbi tristique senectus. Eget nullam non nisi est sit amet facilisis. Ipsum consequat nisl vel pretium lectus quam. Elit sed vulputate mi sit amet mauris commodo quis. Pretium fusce id velit ut tortor pretium viverra suspendisse potenti.

I started reporting from the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza in 2002/03, the season AC Milan overcame Inter in the Champions League semi-finals before going on to beat Juventus in the final. I haven’t missed a European game there since. I have been to stadiums across the continent – some more modern, some with just as much history, some bigger, some even more beautiful. But nothing compares to San Siro on a big European night. This is something different.  

Maybe it’s because the stands climb so steeply – you almost feel like you’re watching the game from above the pitch. This seems to amplify the sound, creating that intense cauldron effect you rarely get in such a huge stadium. The atmosphere can be incredible. An adrenaline injection.

Even from the outside you get the sense you’re in for something special. With its twirling turrets and suspended roof lit up against the night sky, it’s like a spaceship has landed in suburban Milan. The trams criss-crossing the roads around the ground bring you back down to earth and provide a glimpse of how things used to be. They conjure up images of black-and-white footage of fans arriving to see Helenio Herrera’s Grande Inter, or Gianni Rivera’s Milan with coach Nereo Rocco – El Paron (the Master) –screaming instructions from the sidelines.

Passing through the gates you are met with plaques recalling the two clubs’ European triumphs – Arrigo Sacchi and the Dutch trio Van Basten, Gullit and Rijkaard for Milan; followed by Fabio Capello and Carlo Ancelotti. For Inter, the presence of another coaching legend is equally palpable, José Mourinho, the man from Setúbal who steered the Nerazzurri to their first European Cup in 45 years in 2010.

Some things have changed. There is now a San Siro underground station and the stadium was given a bit of a facelift for the 2016 Champions League final. The atmosphere, however, is the same as always. I watch most games from the press box, and normally take the elevator up. But sometimes I still want to climb the stairs, the many stairs, leading up to the second tier, just to experience that feeling of anticipation as you approach the most beautiful view of all – that field of grass in the middle of this concrete-and-steel temple. The surreal silence before the gates open provides a moment of calm before the cacophony of a European night takes over.

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It’s then that the mind wanders back to the champions who made this great stage their own. Icons like Paolo Maldini, the symbol of Milan’s elegance and beauty. Or Javier Zanetti, an Argentinian so rooted in the Nerazzurri culture – composed, stylish, hard-working – that he could pass for a local.

And the goals. Difficult to name one better than Dejan Stanković’s incredible volley from the centre circle against Schalke in the 2010/11 Champions League quarter-finals. Even the idea of trying something that audacious seems implausible. The goalkeeper clears, and rather than attempt to control the ball as it drops to him, Stanković hits it first time. I watched open-mouthed as his volley flew slowly but surely into the back of the net. I still remember the silence that followed the goal, then an incredulous roar.

San Siro will always be special for fans of other teams as well, notably Feyenoord (1970), Bayern München (2001) and Real Madrid (2016) who have all won European Cup finals here. Even visiting fans with nothing to celebrate can be lifted by the occasion. I’ll never forget the 8,000 Ipswich Town supporters who sang for the entire 90 minutes despite their team losing 4-1 to Inter in a UEFA Cup game in 2001.

But ask me to pick the greatest game I’ve seen at San Siro, and I won’t hesitate. It was the night Mother Nature played her part in creating the best atmosphere I’ve ever experienced at a football game. Heavy rain, lightning flashes and thunder. A perfect storm drowned out by the screaming Milan fans as their team put in one of the competition’s all-time great performance in the 2007 semi-final against Manchester United. Goals from Kaká, Clarence Seedorf and Alberto Gilardino overturned a first-leg deficit and set the Rossoneri on course for their seventh European crown. “Perfection is not of this world,” Samuel Beckett said. Well, if you were a Milan fan at San Siro that night, you might argue with that.

Penalty Pedigree

Etiam erat velit scelerisque in dictum non. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at. Scelerisque felis imperdiet proin fermentum leo. Nibh tortor id aliquet lectus proin nibh nisl. Nulla at volutpat diam ut venenatis. At urna condimentum mattis pellentesque id nibh tortor id aliquet. Leo a diam sollicitudin tempor id eu nisl nunc mi. Dui vivamus arcu felis bibendum ut. Pharetra convallis posuere morbi leo urna molestie. Adipiscing at in tellus integer feugiat scelerisque. In arcu cursus euismod quis. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at lectus urna duis. Facilisi nullam vehicula ipsum a arcu cursus. At tempor commodo ullamcorper a lacus vestibulum sed arcu non. Ipsum dolor sit amet consectetur adipiscing elit pellentesque habitant. Vitae sapien pellentesque habitant morbi tristique senectus. Eget nullam non nisi est sit amet facilisis. Ipsum consequat nisl vel pretium lectus quam. Elit sed vulputate mi sit amet mauris commodo quis. Pretium fusce id velit ut tortor pretium viverra suspendisse potenti.

I started reporting from the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza in 2002/03, the season AC Milan overcame Inter in the Champions League semi-finals before going on to beat Juventus in the final. I haven’t missed a European game there since. I have been to stadiums across the continent – some more modern, some with just as much history, some bigger, some even more beautiful. But nothing compares to San Siro on a big European night. This is something different.  

Maybe it’s because the stands climb so steeply – you almost feel like you’re watching the game from above the pitch. This seems to amplify the sound, creating that intense cauldron effect you rarely get in such a huge stadium. The atmosphere can be incredible. An adrenaline injection.

Even from the outside you get the sense you’re in for something special. With its twirling turrets and suspended roof lit up against the night sky, it’s like a spaceship has landed in suburban Milan. The trams criss-crossing the roads around the ground bring you back down to earth and provide a glimpse of how things used to be. They conjure up images of black-and-white footage of fans arriving to see Helenio Herrera’s Grande Inter, or Gianni Rivera’s Milan with coach Nereo Rocco – El Paron (the Master) –screaming instructions from the sidelines.

Passing through the gates you are met with plaques recalling the two clubs’ European triumphs – Arrigo Sacchi and the Dutch trio Van Basten, Gullit and Rijkaard for Milan; followed by Fabio Capello and Carlo Ancelotti. For Inter, the presence of another coaching legend is equally palpable, José Mourinho, the man from Setúbal who steered the Nerazzurri to their first European Cup in 45 years in 2010.

Some things have changed. There is now a San Siro underground station and the stadium was given a bit of a facelift for the 2016 Champions League final. The atmosphere, however, is the same as always. I watch most games from the press box, and normally take the elevator up. But sometimes I still want to climb the stairs, the many stairs, leading up to the second tier, just to experience that feeling of anticipation as you approach the most beautiful view of all – that field of grass in the middle of this concrete-and-steel temple. The surreal silence before the gates open provides a moment of calm before the cacophony of a European night takes over.

Penalty Pedigree

Etiam erat velit scelerisque in dictum non. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at. Scelerisque felis imperdiet proin fermentum leo. Nibh tortor id aliquet lectus proin nibh nisl. Nulla at volutpat diam ut venenatis. At urna condimentum mattis pellentesque id nibh tortor id aliquet. Leo a diam sollicitudin tempor id eu nisl nunc mi. Dui vivamus arcu felis bibendum ut. Pharetra convallis posuere morbi leo urna molestie. Adipiscing at in tellus integer feugiat scelerisque. In arcu cursus euismod quis. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at lectus urna duis. Facilisi nullam vehicula ipsum a arcu cursus. At tempor commodo ullamcorper a lacus vestibulum sed arcu non. Ipsum dolor sit amet consectetur adipiscing elit pellentesque habitant. Vitae sapien pellentesque habitant morbi tristique senectus. Eget nullam non nisi est sit amet facilisis. Ipsum consequat nisl vel pretium lectus quam. Elit sed vulputate mi sit amet mauris commodo quis. Pretium fusce id velit ut tortor pretium viverra suspendisse potenti.

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