Words + Photography by "Robert".
It's 4:30am on Tuesday, 11th October. My alarm wakes me up a few hours earlier than it does to drag me to work, but I find it just a bit easier to roll out and head to Gatwick for a 7am flight to Milan. I have stayed at my mate Dan's house the night before as he is a stone's throw from the airport and makes arriving at 5.30am a lot more palatable. We get through security and already see blokes in Stone Island jackets, drinking pints in the Wetherspoons. Something tells me we're going the same way. We decide they’ve got the right idea so go for the customary pint of Stella and a full English.
After that all-too-well-known shit upright EasyJet seat sleep, we land at Milan Linate at 10am local time. The plane is about 70 to 80% full of Chelsea fans. We took a punt on flights before the game tickets went on sale and our gamble paid off: at €60 a return, we did feel a bit smug as they ended up costing about €200+ afterwards. The thing I like about going to the football, and especially an away game, is seeing and meeting different fans at different points of the day. The flight, the pub, the metro and then the game itself; recognising them in some cases sufficiently more inebriated as the day goes on. I see some guy hobbling along in a moonboot and think that that’s brave. You'll hear more about moonboot later when he’s had a few too many Stellas.
We roll into the city centre and have a few espressos as we walk around. It's time to soak up a bit of culture, before soaking in the lagers. We go past the big cathedral and some other nice buildings and end up having a tagliatelle by the canal. Who says English football fans aren’t cultured? Now though, it’s time to hit the beers. We try an Italian classic called Ichnusa and enjoy it enough to get a load of them from a supermarket. We soon find the Chelsea mob all outside a bar which is appropriately named Blues Canal. A sea of Stone Island, adidas trainers and CFC calf tattoos. Before long there's probably a few hundred fans there, belting out the classics. Some more creative fans come out as the crowd splits in two, with one side starting to chant, "We are the Wesssst side of Milan” before the other side come back with, “we are the Easssst side of Milan”. This goes on for about five minutes non-stop, presumably until they all need a refill. Got to take advantage of not paying £7 for a pint, after all.
Another guy tries and tries to get his new Reece James chant to take off, but with mixed results for the crowd. Someone in one of the flats above opens their window and starts waving a Liverpool shirt (yes, even in Milan...). The crowd which react strongly. Celery is flying in the air, but the crowd are in good spirits. A group of undercover police watch from the back, not managing to blend in very well. One of them is about seven foot tall for starters, and others have their lanyards around their necks with Polizia written on. I reckon this lot did the online training course rather than the in-person one. We have some other mates at a more chilled bar nearby, and after getting tear gassed in Lille last season, we decide to go meet them instead of hanging about for a repeat.
These guys are a mix of ages, and some have been going for decades. Various stories of the 2008, 2012 and 2021 finals are exchanged and they disagree on which time winning it was more special. Hard to pick when you've got three in recent memory! One guy explains how he’s single again after saying no to holidays and then going to Dubai and Abu Dhabi for the Club World Cup. "I always warn her it’s Chelsea first!" he says.
After about five pints of Stella, we head to the metro to make our pilgrimage to the San Siro, hopefully before the mob do. I get into a bit of a row with a group of four lads who are singing some very questionable chants. Now, every team has their dickheads but I'll be the first to admit, there are some bad ones following Chelsea. At first, I ignore it but without warning they turn to someone and shout, "No filming! Put your camera away!" To which I said, “If you can’t film it, you can’t sing it...” They didn’t take too well to this.
A bit of a melee goes down on the moving train. I notice one of the lads is actually your friend and mine, 'moonboot', who I saw earlier, except this time he's taking a swing at me. There's a load of back and forth and whilst there were no knockouts, I came away with the win on points. Probably would've been disqualified, but that's for another time. It’s an absolutely packed train and when it stops, I get pulled/pushed off and Dan jumps off with me, separating us from the other lads. We get back on the next one to come along and try to continue our journey. At this point I realise that maybe we overdid it on the Stella, as I don’t have a clue where we’re going. We get off at the next stop and leave the station expecting the San Siro to be right in front of us, it should be big enough not to miss. We both follow each other for a bit until we decide it's best to ask for directions. Turns out the San Siro is nowhere near, and the locals say if you go back to the metro now, you’ll miss KO. What a fucking disaster.
A €70 Uber later and we're outside the San Siro. The melee, it turns out, ended up being costlier than we thought. Morally rich, but financially punished, we get through the searches and KO is minutes away. We run up the spiral staircases to the away section in the top tier, the literal meaning of being up in the Gods. We get in literally right as it kicks off, we've somehow made it! We hug each other as if we’ve just summited Everest.
The San Siro is a very serious stadium. It's absolutely massive, the other end looks like it has about six tiers. I can't believe they are knocking it down. The Milan Ultras are extremely loud but to our credit, the 4,300-strong Chelsea contingent are giving it a good go as well. “OOOH DENNIS WISE SCORED A FUCKING GREAT GOAL IN THE SAN SIROOOOO” is getting belted out in reference to his classic in 1999. Back to 2022, Chelsea get a penalty which Jorginho slots home, despite the deafening hissing and whistling as he steps up. Chelsea run out 2-0 winners in a match I’ll never forget.
With the main event over, my flight back to London is leaving at 6am and we've got no hotel booked. After leaving the stadium (we were held in for an hour after full-time), we get some food and attempt to find a taxi. As it turns out, Milan Bergamo airport is much harder to reach than Linate. Uber had a local taxi available through the app for €360, and one of theirs available for €110, but when we actually tried to get one, typically there were no cars available. After a lot of walking around dead quiet streets, not a soul in sight, we bite the bullet and go into hotel... to order a taxi... for €150 cash...
We know we are getting ripped off but it’s nearly 2am, and we’re starting to consider the €360 Uber. I am expected to be back at work for 8am on a building site in central London, so promptly off to Bergamo we go. I somehow get about ninety minutes kip at the airport and mercifully find another hour on the flight. Those chairs are almost first class when you're running on no sleep; I take back everything bad I ever said about them. The Stansted Express is the final hurdle, with me and Dan parting ways at Liverpool Street and making it into work for 9am—better late than never. The joys of being “self-employed” and not getting holiday pay, ey!
But yeah, not a bad 24-hours, though I'm never getting a taxi again. Up the Chels!!