A Season with Verona makes you both laugh and despair about football.
It is a work of non-fiction, yet at times feels anything but that. The author Tim Parks is an English ex-pat living in Verona.
Parks commits to going to every Hellas Verona league game during the 2000-2001 season. He sits on the fringes of the curva with his son Michele, he travels with the notorious Brigate Gialloblu hundreds of miles by coach, and he flies with the first team. It makes for an, eye-opening, and often jaw-dropping, read.
On a cramped coach on the first away trip to Bari, Black, Jewish and homosexual people are abused incessantly by the Gialloblu hardcore. The Juventus fans are taunted about the Heysel disaster. It makes for deeply unpleasant reading. The hardcore aren’t alone either. The curva make monkey grunts at black players. Club President Giambattista Pastorello even explains the difficulty of Verona signing a player from Cameroon. Parks certainly doesn’t shy away from describing the behaviour of the fans.
He also expands on other Italian issues through the medium of football. What better way to learn about the North v South divide than through a trip to Napoli on a Veronese supporters’ coach?
Politically-motivated corruption also appears to be rife. If you read the book at the time, you may have thought Parks’ grumblings about officiating favouritism towards the big six were exaggerated. But after the Calciopoli (match fixing) scandal in 2006, which implicated Juventus, AC, Fiorentina, Reggina and Lazio, the writer’s impassioned fury now seems entirely justified and prescient.
The scope of the story is huge, but it ultimately fixates around Verona’s fortunes on the field. In that sense Parks strikes it lucky. The team are soon embroiled in a distressing relegation battle. The mood isn’t helped by the fact that their smaller city neighbours, Chievo Verona, could replace them in the top fight.
The season has everything. The emergence of young stars, last minute winners aplenty, a disproportionate amount of red cards and a gripping relegation fight that finishes in a spectacular manner.
But Parks doesn’t just describe the drama of the campaign like a detached reporter; he encapsulates the very essence of what it means to be a football fan. The genuine, unadulterated anger. The never-ending hours of exasperation, and most importantly, those rare moments of unbridled joy, the sense of unity and belonging.
Parks isn’t the only voice, a note from ‘The wall’ (the messageboard he frequents) is a feature at the start of each chapter, and we also here reports and views from many different figures throughout. But none perhaps sum up the pain of supporting a lowly club more than a disconsolate teenager at the end of chapter 30, as Verona slip to defeat in Naples:
‘‘My world is falling apart,’’ the boy beside me starts to curse rhythmically. He has his face in his hands. ‘‘Let it be over now. Let it be over. I don’t want to hear anybody talk about hope. I don’t want t hear anyone saying it’s not mathematical yet, that they still believe we can make it.
‘‘Let’s go into Serie B. It’s where we belong. Let’s not even try to get into Serie A again. It’s too painful. It’s too painful. Pastorello is a shit. The players are shits. They didn’t try. I’m not going to get a season ticket next year. I’m giving up football. Let’s stay in Serie B forever. It’s stupid expecting Verona to play in Serie A. All we do is go to games and suffer and suffer to no end. There’s no hope, that’s the truth. We’ve got to get used to there being no hope’’.
Any regular match goer can surely sympathise with this anguished, miserable outlook.