I’ve been a Fiorentina fan for something like 20 years, ever since we got cable for the first time and I saw the Sky Sports report on Serie A about once a week. I was taken with the purple shirts; with a wildly diverse (and what I now know to be utterly bizarre) roster featuring guys like Hidetoshi Nakata, Tomáš Ujfaluši, and Cristiano Lupatelli; and once I realized that they played in the city we scattered my grandmother’s ashes in, I was head over heels in love.
That love has never decreased in the intervening time, even though it’s changed from that all-encompassing first crush feeling—the type where you make excuses just to say their name out loud—to a more mature one. I’ve learned to accept Fiorentina’s faults and love the team more for them. I’ve been there through the good and the bad, the beautiful and the hideous, the inexpressibly joyous and the unspeakably sorrowful. I thought that I’d gotten through just about everything this team could throw at me.
Now, though, I’ve got a whole new Viola issue to chew on, one that’s got me questioning all sorts of things. It’s not based around team performance or transfers or press releases. It’s nothing to do with Serie A, or the sport in general. This is smaller, intimate. It feels so much more personal.
This year is the first time that I’ve been older than every player on Fiorentina’s roster.
Since Antonio Rosati’s surprise retirement to join the coaching staff, I’ve existed on the earth for longer than all these guys. Jack Bonaventura’s doing his best to catch up to me, but I’ll need to spend awhile in low orbit at near light speed for him to pass me. I don’t have a Franck Ribery or a José Callejón to rely on anymore. It’s over. I’m old.
I obviously knew this in a soccer context. After spending most of my adult career as a central midfielder and occasional striker, I’ve moved backwards as my legs have slowed down. I still play for a Sunday league team in the top division here in Seattle, but I can only hang if I play in central defense, and even then as the sort of grizzled veteran who relies on their reading of the game more than athleticism; think Dario Dainelli, who could still probably play 90 minutes in Serie A if he really had to.
Dainelli, by the way, is only 43. Some of the guys on those magical Prandelli teams that swept me away are even closer to my age. Hell, Stevan Jovetić is a year younger (a fantastic reason for Daniele Pradè to bring him back home). I’m older than most of them were when they were swashbuckling across the screen and making me wish I was them.
And I did wish that I was them, and tried my best to be them in the most juvenile possible ways. I tried growing out a Franco Semioli soul patch for a little while (mistake). I tried an Alberto Gilardino center part (mistake). I tried some Sebastien Frey sideburns (mistake). I wore a Riccardo Montolivo skinny headband for years when I played. None of them worked, but I still idolized those guys.
My relationship with the players—insomuch as you can have relationships with people who don’t know you exist—is very different now. I can’t imagine emulating Igor’s bleached hair, or getting inspired by Nico González’ tattoos. It’s normal for a teenager to hero worship players, but it’s a bit odd to hero worship somebody younger. When you run into the guy at the bar who tries to dress and act like he’s fifteen years younger than he is in a weak-fisted grasp at youthfulness, the emotional response is equidistant from pathos and distaste. I really don’t want to be the equivalent version of a fan.
This obviously isn’t a particularly personal experience. Neither does it have any real application to any Viola players, or fans, or anyone outside of myself. The old chestnut about Father Time being undefeated doesn’t apply to me, because I never even challenged him in the first place. Everyone who’s older than I am has dealt with a similar process, and everyone who’s younger couldn’t care less.
Still, my relationship with Fiorentina has changed in a way that I’d never expected. I can’t look up to these guys as idols anymore. Instead, I have to look at them as fellow adults, albeit adults that are better at their jobs than I will ever be at anything. It doesn’t mean that I’m farther away from them and it doesn’t mean that I’m closer. Instead of imitating these players, the nearest I can get is applauding them as equals from a vast distance in time and space and ability, one that I can’t cross, and hope that it’s enough.