It was the perfect ending to a magnificent four days away. The six of us were sitting in Bologna airport, waiting for our flight home when my interview with Paulo Mugnai from ViolaNews was published, telling the story of why our group of people from Stockport had become Fiorentina fans.
The trip had started on Saturday with us dropping our bags at the accommodation and heading straight to see a football match: the Juniores of C.S Lebowski, who play in Regionali Girone C. We sat in the sunshine in the stands at the Stadio San Donnino; which can be found just outside Florence, and afterwards sat outside at the stadium bar having drinks with our friends who are involved with the club. Talking and laughing until well after dark, it was then time to head back into the city for a special dinner that had been arranged between us and a group of friends in Florence. They had arranged a special menu of typical Tuscan food and it did not fail to disappoint, with a delicious selection of antipasti, Tuscan steak and chips and a chestnut cake. The outstanding part of the meal, however was spending time and celebrating our extraordinary friendship with the people from Florence. Not all of us speak Italian and not all of them speak English, however it is clear that they understand and respect our passion for Fiorentina.
We were presented with T-shirts with the symbol of the Bianchi, the Calcio Storico team from Santo Spirito and we collected our tickets for the sold out Curva Fiesole from Sonia, a friend from ATF (Associazione Tifosi Fiorentini) who had been so kind in organising them for us. Sonia had news for me - that ViolaNews wanted to interview me about why we come to see Fiorentina. We arranged that I would go to the ATF headquarters before the game to meet with the journalist.
I didn't quite know what to expect but Paulo was as warm and friendly as everyone else that we have encountered in Florence. His article said that I was "Conversando in un italiano inframezzato da parole inglesi" (Conversing in Italian interspersed with English words) which was exactly how it happened. Having been learning Italian for less than 18 months, I was pretty happy with that and proud of myself that apart from the odd word in English, I could freely converse and make myself understood. When I explained the story of my great-grandfather to Paulo, he was astonished, and also seemed surprised when told him about writing for this website.
After concluding the interview and heading for the stadium, the atmosphere was, as always, incredible. Our flag was taped to the glass in front of the curva by friends and is clearly visible on TV footage and photographs. After sitting to one side of the curva on previous occasions, we managed to find a place in the centre this time. This not only provided a good view of the game but meant that we were right in the thick of the adrenaline fuelled noise, passion and mayhem. The result was a shame and the referee was awful but it didn't seem to matter when the players walked off the pitch to rapturous applause. The defeat will soon be forgotten, but being in the stadium created memories that will stay around forever.
You can see my article on ViolaNews here and you can also read the original ViolaNation article that I wrote back in January about my great grandfather here. Below is a rough translation of the article for the benefit of those that do not speak Italian:
Happily lost in a Florentine weekend, the English guys head towards the Franchi with an original flag, white with a purple cross and the lily of Florence, the Union Jack and the badge of Stockport County. They come from Stockport, a town 10km from Manchester. The girl with the red hair recounts their story. I love Fiorentina, I love football. We are fans of Stockport, in the past a great team, but now due to economic problems they hav fallen down the leagues. We also have a reasonably big stadium.Conversing in Italian, interspersed with a few English words the girl called Chloe tells us that this particular group of Fiorentina fans were formed in 2013, and at the moment have about 20 members and are hoping to create an official viola club.
How was this passion born?
My great-grandfather played here. I am very proud of his history.
Chloe, to add to what she is telling me, shows some photos in black and white. The Florence stadium was called "Berta" on 13th May 1934 when Fiorentina hosted Manchester City in a friendly that finished 3-3. One goal for the English was scored from the right by Peter Percival, great-grandfather of Chloe Beresford, who 80 years later would become a viola fan in memory of this match.
"My father Paul Ward, grandson of this footballer grandfather has been to Florence more times, for me it's only three - but now I have the intention of coming here often. I have seen the friendly with Chelsea, the Europa League game with Tottenham and the Coppa Italia final with Napoli (note: this was lost in translation, it is my Dad and his friends that went to the final) I love the fans and we now have friends in Florence. I love the atmosphere in the stadium.
There were six watching the match with Roma. But when they are in Stockport they also come together to watch the matches of Sousa's squad. Then to talk about the match, they can go to violanation.com - a community that speaks in English about Fiorentina.