Friday, November 08, 2013

SSN Special Report: Alessandro Cazzojourno in England

After leaving Milan following Inter's 4-2 win over Hellas Verona, SSN's Serie A Expert Alessandro Buonjourno changed his name to Alessandro Cazzojourno and headed to England. Alessandro took in Arsenal vs. Liverpool, Everton vs. Tottenham, and Manchester City vs. CSKA Moscow. In London he was blindsided by the news that his old pal and host for the evening was dating one Scott Murray of The Guardian, and that the three would dine together. Quite the trip, indeed, and those of us forced to remain at SSN Headquarters will no doubt make Alessandro suffer for his good fortune for years to come. He'll be making the coffee and paying for lunch for a while, let's just say. He filed this report.  -The Editor


A tedious arrival into a typically overcast London via Standstill Stansted ended with an impossibly excellent surprise courtesy of my host, friend, and college editor Wendy Mitchell, following an exchange something the lines of:

Me: So is your boyfriend joining us for dinner?

Wendy: I’m not sure, he’s not feeling great and he has to cover the matches tomorrow.

Me: (curiosity piqued) Which matches?

Wendy: Newcastle / Chelsea. And yours.

Me: (really curious now) Ummm….who exactly is your boyfriend?

Wendy: His name’s Scott Murray.

Me: (full-on yelling) YOU’RE DATING SCOTT MURRAY?!?

Scott Murray, Guardian sports editor/genius, frequently found at the helm of The Rumour Mill, The Fiver, minute-by-minute reports, and occasionally amongst the Football Weekly podcasters...familiarize yourself with his work if you haven't already. I could scarcely believe my luck and the small-world-ness of it. Not surprisingly, he's even funnier in person, and was a great sport about answering my many questions about football, journalism, and his role at the intersection of the two. He also talked about the Liverpool and World Cup books he's working on (keep an eye out in April), and I even managed to conjure a few laughs out of him while not coming off as too much of a weirdo by quoting things he'd written (and sometimes forgotten he'd written). Talk about a result...crikey! Not that he needed to bolster his credentials, but he did correctly predict an Arsenal victory. Which brings us to...

Two goals to the good. Alessandro with Laura Webb.
Emirates was a grand time. Chelsea blowing it at Newcastle set the stage nicely, and after a few pints at The Twelve Pins with ticket connection and peach of a Gooner Gal Laura Webb and her mates Christoph and Paul, we set out to grab our seats, which were lower level, about nine rows behind goal. Mental. This made for the expected two-dimensionality at the far end of the pitch, but watching Cazorla's strike bulge the back of the net in the slow-motion that seems to take effect in those moments was just outstanding, the pinging off the post right beforehand only adding to the adrenaline surge. A German fellow behind me seemed to think the crowd was chanting "Oh, Sexy Cazor-la!", which he certainly was after that strike. Hard to fully appreciate the craft of Ramsey's goal from our vantage point, but seeing the replay certainly helped explain the absolute shockwave of a roar that made its way across pitch from the opposite end. What it's all about, really.

As for Liverpool, Flanagan didn't look ready for prime time, while the fabled Suarez/Sturridge partnership never looked like igniting, and seemed positively frayed towards the end, with Sturridge casting outstretched, pleading arms and a long, frustrated glare at Luis after some selfish shot selection -- that was intense to see. Though Suarez...even on an off word, you really understand what a handful he is up close like that. Apart from some singing early on the away support was a pretty massive disappointment: Nary a single verse of You'll Never Walk Alone! Kam ON, lads!!! Maybe they just knew it wasn't their night. We were only a few rows away from their section, and it was sobering to see one Scouser in a nice retro track top wiping away tears at the final whistle. On the walk home I was able to grab a decent shot of the stadium from a distant bridge (see below), a fitting punctuation to an unforgettable night.

Emirates Bridge View
One grueling Megabus ride north later I was savoring 'real ales' at Doctor Duncan's with my former-penpal-turned-actual-friend/Manchester host Joe Pollitt, and his Everton mate Kev - two bona fide class acts - on what turned out to be a gorgeous day in Liverpool, which along with the atmosphere and experience of being tucked under the awning at Goodison were the highlights of what was otherwise an absolutely diabolical day of football. Really, REALLY hard to believe either of those sides are in the mix for Champion's League on evidence of that abject display. Crazy seeing Lloris getting knocked out though, and the 'thudthudthud' of seats flapping up as people stood up for approaching action (or lack thereof) being concentrated by the roof right above our head was pretty awesome. Every bit the portal into what football used to be like that I'd hoped.

Goodi-sun Park
Champion's League! A-HA! It was Guy Fawkes and fireworks were in the air as me and Joe and his gang of City regulars trekked over to the Etihad for City/ CSKA Moscow. It was precisely the kind of pounding the shirtless mass of xenophobic cretins in the away end deserved, though hats off to them for the sustained din they created during the match. Impressive. And what a performance by Negredo. Hat trick! "Beast of the Match," as the announcer said, channeling his inner Partridge... Not sure where this side were for the FA Cup Final but on their night they possess formidable graft, craft, power, and pace.

City vs. CSKA
The time in Manchester shattered all expectations. Fantastic people, food, architecture, history, beer, loads of music history... Plus the occasional overheard gem like "James Milner's dog had a wee on my gatepost this morning. He looked a bit embarrassed." Three points on Sunday, and it will be one hell of a trip.


-Alessandro Cazzojourno

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