By Patrick Benard, third in the ’Fuori Tutto’ weekly column
Just outside of Porta Elisa is Lucca’s sports stadium redundantly enough called: Stadio Porta Elisa. Lucca’s professional football club plays its home games in its none too attractive, Fascist-era walls. Sadly, both the team and the stadium have seen better days.
Lucchese FC 1905 (sometimes rosso/nero, or Libertas) are a national series C team that hovers in the mid to lower-end of the classifications. In its glory days, the Lucchese were in contention for Series A premiership along with Milano, Rome and Napoli, but that was in the mid-1950s. Lucca’s more recent rivalries with Pisa, Livorno,and Florence are out of reach for our local boys. All these other teams are in superior leagues. Despite this morose assessment, real passion as well as some spectacular play can still be mustered on any given game day.
It has always seemed easy to be a supporter of a perennially winning team (Yankees), and I can also understand the passion a perpetually losing team (Mets) evokes. Loving a mediocre team is the real challenge that a few thousand Lucchese supporters rise up to, year after year.
My first experience at the Stadio was several years ago when Lucca was trying to fight its way out of Series D. The games actually did mean something, and visiting team fans were carefully corralled behind fencing as the Carabinieri oversaw the games, armed with automatic weapons. I expanded my Italian swearing repertoire by orders of magnitude that day with the airing of so many lurid details concerning the referee’s mother that seemed too much for the (allegedly) blind, and (allegedly) fatherless official’s already (allegedly) fragile mental state.
Despite the referee’s tears, I had a great time. Lucca won and was promoted to Series C where it languishes to this day.
Tickets are inexpensive 19 euros but frequently discounted. Today’s tickets, for instance, were 5 Euros for the Curvo west section (bleachers, for a baseball equivalent) which happens to be the most fun. The stadium is on the same east/west axis as churches, and each of its four sections have a distinct clientele and character. Assigned seats on the north side are poorly attended and stodgy. East is exclusively for visiting team fans. South is for sun drenched aficionados and their families. Curva west is for the anthem singing ultras who seem to care more for harmony and refreshments than the actual game, and you are expected to cheer and sing the twenty or so anthems in the Curva or will be called out.
Each section seems to disdain the other, choose your tribe wisely.
There is little alcohol consumed in the stadium (except in the curva) so most of the rage you witness is caffeine induced. There are some women in attendance, but I can’t speak to how comfortable a space it is for the fairer sex, as my own wife has yet to attend. Certainly actual physical comfort is lacking, the seats are concrete and mostly unassigned, and in the warmer months too much sun can be a factor.
In case I‘ve made any compelling argument for attending a game, choose a day when the opposing team has some out of town fans in attendance (Siena, Modena) or some local rivalry (Pontedera, Carrera). Tickets are (always) available at the gate on the day of the game, so weather should play a factor in your decision. ID and GreenPass are required and checked, for US residents your CDC card will get you in. Masks are worn or not depending on the section, and as you will have guessed, the Curva is a non-mask section.
I know less about football than Ted Lasso (best TV of the Pandemic BTW), but spending an afternoon in the sun, watching a game along with the locals, is one of the truly authentic Italian experiences one can have in Lucca. I recommend it.