Girls & Goals

My friend Simone and I have been concerned for some time about a mutual friend, Massimo, a man in his fifties. His affair with a plain young Neapolitan girl, barely twenty-three, has being going on for almost three years. Every week, twice or three times, he risks all kinds of trouble with wife and family to see the girl. Exasperated, Simone, a Milanista, tells me: “I said to him, Massi, I said, I have the video of Milan beating Benfica to win the Champions Cup. Fantastic game, historic moment. Orgasm for the rossoneri. I’ve seen it, what, a dozen times? But in the end, enough is enough! Understand? How many times can you watch Frankie Rijkaard slotting it in? People start to find you weird. Get on with something else!”
How many times? In Germany on business I check into my hotel around one in the morning, pull out a beer from the fridge and turn on the television. The only channels I can get are showing pornography or football. Girls or goals. And zapping back and forth between a long-haired caveman who just goes on and on pressing his enviable torso against beauties of various ethnicities, and then all the goals in the French, Spanish and even African leagues, I’m suddenly struck by how much football and eroticism have in common. There’s an inevitable sameness about each game, each sexual encounter, yet a seemingly inexhaustible yearning to repeat. Time after time. Now the Neanderthal is crushing a cheerful little Asian girl, but he still has the same glazed look in his piggy eyes. Now it’s Zidane shooting into the top left corner, but the ecstatic embraces are always the same, likewise the goalkeeper’s remonstrations with the linesman.
I suck on my beer and turn out the light. 33 goals in the English Premier League this week, someone announces. On the other channel the Incredible Hulk has been allowed a short break from his exertions while a babe in red underwear advertises a subscription to a 24-hour stream of satellite hard-core. It’s mad, I tell myself. The sheer repetitious abundance of it. Girls and goals! The same limited poses and actions over and over again. The same boasting, dreaming, nostalgia, photographs. Del Piero scores from the spot. The tireless troll takes on two busty beauties in a swimming pool. He’s amazing. I’m exhausted. And I fall asleep thinking of next week’s derby with Vicenza. Can my team Verona beat their old enemy? I have a ticket in my wallet.
But however much they have in common, sex and football don’t mix. This is a curious thing. They’re like oil and water. So logging onto the club website to see how many of our useless team are injured or disqualified, I come across the following appeal on the fans’ chat line: “Please, please can someone help?” A guy who signs himself Panzer is complaining that his new girlfriend won’t let him go to the game. “Any ideas how I might convince her?” “Shame on you,” someone called Il Bandito replies, “how can you call yourself Panzer and let yourself be humiliated like this? Porca miseria, it’s Vicenza Verona, for God’s sake! Show her who’s boss!”
For a moment it occurs to me to write and suggest that Panzer brings the girl along with him. Then I decide against it. Girls are fine at the stadium, but only if they really want to be there. Bring a girl who disapproves and poor Panzer will go through the game in an agony of repression; while everybody else is yelling Vicentin de merda la la la! he’ll have to hold her hand and pretend he’s only interested in the football. I’m always grateful that my wife has never come to the stadium. I can behave as badly as I want.
Then the derby, of course, is a partita a rischio, as the Italians say, a high tension game. From the station to the stadium the police march you along for a kilometre and more through the hostile streets while the local fans hurl stones from behind fences and parked cars. I’m frankly amazed how many girls come along. Pretty girls too. Do they like being crushed in the crowd among all the men? Are they attracted by the mad male rituals, the carnival of testosterone? “I feel completely safe,” a girl called Marta tells me. She’s tall, dark, slim, with fine quick features, sparkling eyes. “Last week, when Verona scored, there was this sudden explosion, everybody falling all over each other, dancing and pushing. Like an idiot, I slipped on the steps. I thought I was going to be trampled. And this huge brute behind grabs me round the waist and pulls me up. And he keeps holding me tight for about five minutes in the chaos. I thought, help, he’s going to start feeling me up. Only he didn’t. Just held me, like I was a little kid needed rescuing.”
I imagine the hulk on the German porn channel standing on the terraces when Verona score. What a relief! Finally he can hold a girl without having to have sex with her, without even thinking about sex. I saw some American survey a while back that claimed most men think about sex on average once every three minutes. Maybe we go to the stadium to get some respite from that.
Packed in the fan’s special train, walking along the road to the stadium, people you hardly know salute you. People you’ve never seen exchange a comment on the game. “We’ll lose for certain,” a bearded man with a bead on his tongue tells me. There’s a lovely intimacy in the air, and a strange kind of complicity too. But complicity is always directed against somebody, isn’t it. Who? The Vicentini of course. The police, obviously. But not only. These nods and smiles, I sense, are also at the expense of those who tried to stop us coming, which means those who are most important in our lives, the partners we sleep with. Got away! And I wonder if Panzer has made it. I scan the faces as the first loud chants begin. How many of these men had to put up a fight to be here today? How many will return home to anger and resentment?
The game begins amid an orgy of insults. If the blokes don’t have to think about sex at the games, the ladies are freed from being ladylike. “Schwoch, sei sempre un figlio di puttana,” shouts a handsome middle-aged woman right behind me. She’s enjoying herself. I’m beside a guy called Maurizio. I know I mustn’t ask him if he had trouble getting permission to come to the game. His girlfriend left him a couple of months back. They were planning to get married. As a result the football season has become terribly important to him. He’s trying to bury his sorrows in the exploits of Hellas Verona. This is pretty difficult when Verona are facing a possible second relegation in a row. The team is awful. We only watch them because they’re our team.
Vicenza score. Merda! Maurizio keeps muttering. Amazingly, almost by accident, Verona equalise. He’s ecstatic. He isn’t thinking of Caterina now. He’s embracing everyone all round him. Fifteen minutes from time, Vicenza score again. Merda. And then again. 3-1. Merda. And then yet again! This is humiliating. This is Hellas. Turning round I see Maurizio has tears in his eyes. Don’t ask him who or what they’re for? Another similarity between girls and goals is that you can cry over both.
Still, it’s a mistake for women to see the sport as a threat. On the contrary. I remember a couple of years ago on the train to Naples, a group of young Verona fans were eagerly courting a pretty young student from Rome. “Could you imagine a guy like me as your boyfriend. I’m a fantastic lover you know.” I said to one of the fans: “So what if she says yes, do you miss the game to go to her apartment?” He looked at me as though I were completely stupid: “World’s full of skirt,” he said, “but there’s only one Hellas Verona.”
Increasingly concerned about our friend Massimo, the one with the young mistress, the one whose wife is ever more suspicious, I told him this story. “You should get yourself a football team before it’s too late,” I said. He looked at me with slow sceptical eyes: “Either you’re mad,” he replied, “Or jealous.”