It was the impending World Cup that made me think of it – Gazetta Football Italia, I mean. I’m slightly dreading the next version of the tournament finals to determine which nation rules supreme in the sport of association football for various reasons, part of which is general Putin-phobia, but I feel certain I would still be approaching the World Cup with trepidation even if wasn’t taking place in a fascist dictatorship with a chip on its shoulder. Truth is, I think the football of today is less interesting than it was back in the 90s and early 2000s, and the World Cup just brings this into sharp focus for me.
This could just be middle-age talking, I have to own up to that possibility. I was younger then, the world held more possibilities, and thus I am looking at this through rose coloured glasses. Except, having tried to ameliorate my World Cup fears by thinking of Gazetta Football Italia, I searched it out on YouTube. And both the show and the football made me realise perhaps this isn’t simply nostalgia for my relative youth.
I almost always watched GFI hungover, as it was on in the mornings during the weekends (Saturday or Sunday, I cannot recall). It was a wonderful cure for the savages of a previous night out. James Richardson would lounge in front of a café somewhere in Italy, instantly taking you away from the (in all probability) rain lashed doom of an English winter’s day. James would translate sections of the Italian sport newspapers, sucking you into the seedy and glamourous world of Italian football of the period. Worth remembering that most of the world’s great stars played in Serie A at the time: Ronaldo at Inter, Zinedine Zidane and Edgar Davids together in the Juventus midfield, Brazil’s defenders Serginho and Roque Junior at AC Milan, Totti and Batistuta at Roma…………I could easily be here all day just listing all the superstars of Serie A in the late 90s, early 2000s.
The thing Italian football of the time had going for it over the English Premier League, besides all the superstars (that was to come to English football, to be fair) and the greater tactical flair of the whole thing (English football at the time still retained a little too much “hoof it to the tall guy at the front and hope it goes off his arse into the goal”) was the crowds at the matches. While the prawn cocktail brigade had taken over the game in England, with people wanting to see a match live having to go on a waiting list for seven years to eventually pay £135 for a restricted view seat to see Stoke City take on Southampton, Italian football crowds still had a proletarian feel. Songs so elaborate you would think a class was needed to learn them was a highlight.
Gazetta Football Italia thus allowed us into a world that was both far more glamourous than English football, but also cheaper and more down to Earth at the same time. No wonder I miss the show so much.