The pandemic has lent a bittersweet edge to Lazio’s Champions League return, but Biancocelesti fan Joshua Palma has been relishing their renaissance
Have you ever felt mysterious forces at work? You get a promotion, for example, and the same day the girl or boy you’ve admired for a while agrees on a date? No, me neither. The stars have never aligned quite so neatly in my sky. But – and there is always a but – something undeniably odd began to occur for us Lazio fans during last season’s Serie A. It started in December 2019 with a breathtaking victory, against Cagliari, and then another, and then another. We won against Internazionale, we beat the unbeatable Juventus, a series of stunning victories that crumbled the wall of superstition that stops fans from saying, “Yes, we can win the championship.”
However, Covid-19 also had something to say and, echoing my old grandfather, it whispered, “Don’t count your chickens until they’re hatched.” Lazio’s players collapsed under the weight of their ambitions, having built a sandcastle that reality washed away. But as we woke from our dreams, we had to smile at the consolation prize: after a long 12-year wait, Lazio were finally back in the Champions League.
The group stage draw was rough: Borussia Dortmund, Club Brugge and Zenit. Not the worst, perhaps, but certainly not the easiest. First up: Lazio v Dortmund.
Have you ever stopped drinking your favourite beverage for a while and then, tempted, you permit yourself a little sip? Heaven. Try imagining a Champions League stadium full of flags, voices, faces, smiles, fears, the anthem… and then, actually there’s almost none of the above. Silence, no flags, no voices. Your favourite beverage but an empty can.
We didn’t imagine returning to the “main event” like this. But that’s life, a river that keeps flowing one way or another. And so we still scream “Gooaaaal”, we still loathe our opponents – in a respectful way, of course – and we still want to win every game and progress: that’s the soul of champions.
When you feel overwhelmed 24/7, as if you’re living in a sci-fi story – full of viruses, vaccines, assaults on Congress and more – football, like a time machine, can bring you back for 90 minutes of normality. But what’s normal about football?
Lazio’s group stage began with a 3-1 victory, a decent result for a team hit by Covid, and we then followed an unexpected path that, while not exactly tortuous, could easily have led us off a cliff. Indeed, the late crossbar struck by Club Brugge that so nearly ended it all still echoes around the Stadio Olimpico. This unpredictable game doubtless has a few tricks in store now for our tie against Bayern. At least, we hope.