No such thing as a football free weekend
ItÃ¢ÂÂs an addiction.
A few months ago my girlfriend saw in my diary that there was no football planned for last weekend. No Manchester United, Manchester La Fianna, Barca or trip to write about a derby game. So she booked a cheap flight to Italy for a romantic weekend.
The Ryanair flight cost ÃÂ£20 each way. Add on extra fees for tax, insurance, boarding cards, payment for using a credit card (do they expect you to pay with mung beans?), a tax for being English, another one as my name begins with Ã¢ÂÂaÃ¢ÂÂ, a further supplementary one for taking a toothbrush, a fuel surcharge and a final penalty as I wasnÃ¢ÂÂt nice to that dog in Moscow last week and the total cost came to ÃÂ£900. Each way.
After the hysteria of Moscow, it was to be a football free weekend. I must admit that I did look at the Italian fixtures to see if Fiorentina were at home, but Serie A finished a week earlier so I knew I wouldnÃ¢ÂÂt have to broach that one.
I prepared myself for no football. Nothing. No internet to look at the result of the play-offs. No newspapers to read about that glorious, glorious night in Moscow. No watching, training or playing.
We arrived in Pisa on Friday night. ThatÃ¢ÂÂs when I started to buckle. I heard the hotel receptionist talking about the big game on Sunday featuring second division Pisa. I felt an urge to go, but quickly suppressed it.
The next morning I saw PisaÃ¢ÂÂs stadium lurking behind the leaning tower in a postcard. How could I not see it when I was only five minutes walk away? 10 minutes later I was standing in the main stand imagining where Paul Elliott, Diego Simeone, Dunga, Wim Kieft, Christian Vieri and Marco Tardelli once played. My girlfriend waited in the car.
The easy to say Arena Garibaldi-Stadio Romeo Anconetani, Pisa
We drove an hour to Florence, a city famed for its beauty. But Fiorentina interests me more than any cathedral and I secretly programmed the SatNav to take us back to the hotel via the Stadio Artemio Franchi, with its clean Nervi designed spiral staircases and once groundbreaking concrete stands. Unfortunately, my girlfriend couldnÃ¢ÂÂt see the attraction, despite being an architect.
I watched Manchester United there in 1999 a few months after the treble, but an excellent Viola made United look like kids with Rui Costa and Gabriel Batistuta dominating.
Sunday meant Siena. I was as determined not to see any more stadiums as Viz magazineÃ¢ÂÂs alcoholic cartoon character Ã¢ÂÂ8 AceÃ¢ÂÂ is to stay off the beer. A map of the tiny Tuscan city was all it took to undo my resolve Ã¢ÂÂ they are in Serie A and their 15,700 stadium (another Artemio Franchi Ã¢ÂÂ the Siena born former Fiorentina president who was also UEFA supremo between 1972-83), lies within the walled city in a lush valley set against a backdrop of grand churches.
Just four teams beat AC Siena there this season. It was within walking distance. I was soon climbing up the back of the main stand with a camera.
Siena's Stadio Artemio Franchi. Girlfriend in car
We flew back from Pisa airport. Another quick look of the map revealed that Livorno was only 10 miles away, the port city being the home of the Serie A side famous for local hero Cristiano Lucarrelli; the striker who constantly shunned better offers to join bigger clubs until last season.
They went down without him. Livorno are famous too for their left wing connections as graffiti about Che Guevara outside another ageing Tuscan stadium testified.
Trouble at Italian stadiums means incongruous metal gates dominate the streets around the stadiums. ItÃ¢ÂÂs more 1980sÃ¢ÂÂ west Belfast than Tuscany in 2008. They cage fans, which is probably where my girlfriend would have liked to have me detained so I could go cold turkey.