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Better Know Florence: One Fan's First Experience

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Tom Lane went to Fiorentina Vs. Juventus back in April, and got in touch to tell us about it.

We love fan stories here at Viola Nation, and Tom Lane got in touch to tell us about his experience and send us photos from his first game at the Stadio Artemio Franchi back in April.

When the opportunity came up to go to Italy and get to see a live Serie A game, I just couldn't say no.
That game was Fiorentina vs Juventus, a football rivalry that goes back many years and was sure to be an enthralling game. I was not disappointed.

I invited my dad and together we made the trip to Florence. We arrived on the Thursday, the game was to be played Sunday. This gave us a few days to explore the city and see some of the famous sites.

On the first day we went to see Michelangelo's David, turning the corner in the museum to see him stood there in all his glory at the end of the hall - it was breathtaking. This was one of the world's most famous sculptures and there it was in front of me. I think I spent the best part of 40 minutes gazing up at him in awe.
On the Friday we took a bus up to the Piazzale Michelangelo, which is THE place the view the city. You can see everything from here, The Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (Cathedral), the Tempio Maggiore (Synagogue) and the Ponte Vecchio Bridge. Luckily for me, there happened to be a gelato festival on that day which was a most welcome coincidence and I managed to sample 14 different ice-creams that afternoon out in the sun. My dad was cheeky enough to ask for a sit in a Ferrari that was available to drive for 10 minutes at a time, luckily the gentleman was very kind and obliged.

The great thing about Florence is that it's only a train away from other cities relatively nearby so we made the most of our stay and visited both Pisa and Siena in the space of two days.
If you get chance to go up the Leaning Tower then you must, just be prepared for a bit of a climb though as sadly they forgot to build a lift.

Match day soon came around. Luckily, and by pure chance, our hotel was only 15 minutes walk from Stadio Artemio Franchi, so we set off a with good few hours before kick-off.
Outside I enjoyed a beer whilst young men in leather jackets with scarves tied around their arms one at a time pulled up on scooters. The place was buzzing with excitement, groups of fans laughed and some waved homemade flags. There was a good two hours before kick-off still so my dad and I got a sandwich each and visited the merchandise stands. Huge collections of scarves were neatly spread out over tables, almost too many to choose from but eventually we both bought one each so that we could join in and show our support, purple of course.
Suddenly there was a great roar from the group of fans near the main road, I turned around and saw the Fiorentina team bus. Fans ran over shouting and cheering, the ones in touching distance of the bus did so and they banged on the sides.

Once inside the gates I couldn't wait to walk under the stands and see the pitch itself. I have no doubt the excitement was written all over my face, I was beaming.
We climbed the stairs and chose our seats right at the top which provided an excellent view of the pitch and we found a purple flag had been placed on each one.
We were lucky enough to be a part of a choreography that had been organised for in the main stand.
As we sat in our seats, the stadium filling up around us, two guys with a megaphone were walking from section to section giving instructions about when to hold up the flags. We asked if they could explain it to us in English but they could not. Luckily though there were about 10,000 other fans that were able to provide us our cue and up went our purple flags when the time came. We held up our flags in unison and revealed the choreography. A spectacular image of a player in the famous purple shirt, complete with Fiorentina badge surrounded by red, purple and white stripes. It was an awesome site, I had never seen anything like it.
I bought the flags home as a momento.

The match starts and for the majority of the first half Fiorentina looked by far the better team and looked more likely to score. In fact, Bernardeschi did but it was wrongly ruled out for offside.Our celebrations were rudely cut short after four or five seconds.
Football doesn't always follow the script and first blood went to Juventus. After looking the second best team, the visitors put together some neat passing, Sami Khedira played a chip over the home side's back-four where Paul Pogba towered in the air over Nenad Tomovic, headed the ball back across goal and it was then met by the left boot of an oncoming Mario Mandzukic, first time on the volley.
1-0 Juventus, the organised defence had been breached by 39 minutes.

The second half carried on much like the first, Fiorentina again enjoyed the lion's share of possession and eventually, after almost 35 minutes, we were treated to a goal that we could celebrate this time. Bonucci got caught in two minds and turned straight into trouble in the form of Mauro Zarate who dispossessed him easily in a dangerous area and the ball fell conveniently to Kalinic who had enough time and space to take a couple of touches and from outside the box finished fantastically. Gianluigi Buffon could only grasp at thin air as the ball flew past him. The stadium erupted. What a celebration it was in the stands, you could feel it rocking.

Unfortunately though the euphoria was short-lived. As the Fiorentina fans sang and bounced up and down in the stands, Juventus wasted no time in attempting to regain the lead and quickly had the ball down the opposite end and won a corner.
Mandzukic then almost turned provider as he played back an inswinging corner from Paul Pogba from the back post to Patrice Evra who was perfectly positioned on the penalty spot to take a free shot on goal that was initially blocked but bounced into the feet of Alvaro Morata who won't score an easier goal in his career. It was a tap-in from a yard out but was an absolute sickener and just like that the wind had been taken out of our sails.
Heartbreaking so soon after we levelled, we were dealt a swift kick to the gut.

The home side refused to give up though and chased the equaliser. 89 minutes and the goal-scorer Kalinic is brought down in the area by Cuadrado, who had only been on the pitch for 2 minutes, and the referee awarded a penalty. The challenge did look clumsy at first but in retrospect it has to be said Kalinic may have made the most of it. Never-the-less it was he who stepped up to take the penalty and surely win a point against the eventual league winners. However, the veteran Buffon had other ideas as he guessed correctly denying Kalinic and then also Bernardeschi a second later on the rebound, thus saving the points for the Old Lady. It had been a busy night for the legendary goalkeeper and although there was another very late chance right at the death once more for Kalinic, it was Gigi's crossbar this time that came to the rescue. I felt the hands of the man behind on my shoulders as we all watched wide-eyed in anticipation, holding our breath, but it struck the bar. The whistle blew and that was that.

The scoreline was disappointing but nothing could take away from the experience of being there and witnessing a match at the famous stadium.
The fans made the evening even more memorable, they were singing an hour before kick-off, they sang the entire game and continued well after it had ended. It was an exhibition of pure football passion, they did not stop. Flags were waving, there was a really impressive variety of banners on display and at one point purple, red and white smoke starting appearing from a group of fans sat behind the goal.
The atmosphere was incredible, almost intimidating it was that loud, but I'll remember it all for a very long time.
I felt honoured to have sat with these people. It's slightly embarrassing that I barely speak a word of Italian except for a handful of essentials I picked up along the way but football is a language that everyone can understand. I couldn't join in the songs but I could join in the mass throwing of out-stretched arms if we angrily disagreed with a decision and I could join in the collective show of appreciation for a good piece of play. We felt so welcomed by not just the Fiorentina fans but all Italian people, but that night especially we felt part of something. It really was magical.

I have no doubt in my mind that I'll be back one day. If I didn't make use of my newly acquired membership then it would be a crime. Florence is a truly beautiful city, whichever angle you look at it from. There's lots to explore, plenty to see and endless places to eat and drink.
I'm looking forward to it already, and you never know, hopefully next time we'll win!

Forza Viola!