The entire end behind the goal is awash with the blue and yellow colours of the home team. During the games quieter moments, I can hear the dull flap of flags around me.
I had to overcome a few obstacles to get this far. Gianfranco, who had kindly invited me to the game, was held up returning from a day’s work up in Switzerland. So I had to head along myself.
Realising that fans at the security check were showing not only their tickets but national ID cards, I was worried that my trip would end at the first barrier. When I bought the ticket they told me it was best to say I’d been born in Italy because the ticketing system didn’t accept foreign passports.
I searched out a fresh behind the ears looking steward with a friendly-ish face. Not wanting to advertise the fact I had a UK passport (English football hooligan on tour?), I showed him a piece of paper with my Italian tax code on it. He looked at it blankly and said that wasn’t ID. So I had no option but to dig out my passport. He said that was fine and let me through.
Some fans in the ground are stripped to the waist. Back in the UK this would get you tagged as a nutter. But with the temperature having hit 33 C just a few hours ago, this is actually the sensible option. I would do likewise were I not averse to bearing my chest in public. My decision to wear shorts and a t-shirt to an evening game is a good one. Just as well it kicked off at 8.30pm and not mid-afternoon.
Modena are pressing in front of us but cannot find a way through a stuffy Cesena defence. The inevitable happens midway through the half. During a rare foray upfield, the visitors attack down the right, a low cross is sent over and the ball ends up in the net. The Curva is silenced as the Cesena fans in black and white at the far end go berserk. But a few seconds later our Curva starts chanting again.
Only towards half-time do I realise I’m not actually on a proper terracing at all. It’s just that nobody on La Curva is sitting down. I had located Gianfranco by text message. He led me up to a concourse, about 6 to 8 feet wide, between rows of invisible seats hidden under the feet of the Modena faithful.
Into the second half- I experience an incident that doesn’t particularly shock me. In his excellent book A Season With Verona, Tim Parks says he dreads teams visiting with a number of black players because he knows what’s coming. That was written over ten years ago but have things changed? A Modena substitute is the first black player to enter the fray. He quickly gets on the ball and races up the left wing. Almost immediately, I hear what sound like ‘monkey chants’ all around me. Gianfranco explains it’s because his name is Dudu. “Du-Du, Du-Du, Du-Du, Du-Du…”
Would they do that if he was a white player called Dudu, I wonder? I’m well enough versed in these matters to know that some fans will always find justification for bigoted or racist behaviour coming from their own support. And how do you go about stamping it out when so many are involved? There’s an announcement over the tannoy. I think it’s a threat to suspend play. I’m not sure. But I relate it to the incident that’s just taken place.
Next time Dudu receives the ball there are some similar noises, but not so many. After that, he’s able to get on with his game without this ambigious chanting from his own supporters. There are occasional smoke bombs and flares. Scourges of the modern game we are often told. But I don’t feel in danger and they do add to the colourful atmosphere.
Modena enjoy a fair bit of possession, without creating that much in the way of clear-cut chances. When a Cesena players sees red for a foul just outside the box the decibel level increases again. The swerving free kick hits the bar and bounces over. It’s evidently not going to be Modena’s night.
They have to go to Cesena knowing they must win by two clear goals. If teams finish level on goals after two legs, the Italian plaý-off system dictates the one who finishes higher in the final table goes through, and that would be fourth placed Cesena.
Steven Porter is the author of the football based novel Countries of the World.