|O Ce Biel|
|From the Friulan song "O Ce Biel Cjiscjel a Udin"|
|Memories of 1970s Friuli|
Chris Taylor has followed Udinese since 1975, the year we arrived; this section is his. He still lives in the city, so that's 44 years of devotion (it's now October 2019). I went once or twice in the old Serie C days, and returned to the stadium during the 1990 World Cup. I attended a pool game, Spain versus Uruguay, the dullest 0-0 you could ever see. Rumour had it that neither team wanted more than a draw given their strength in the group. I'm not sure, because it was very early in the tournament. Good story, mind. Bar da Brando was (and is) a popular match-day meeting place, presumably because of Neveo's prominence in the supporters' club.
I've been a football fan for as long as I can remember. I started life as a York City supporter, our nearest professional team who, at the time I started watching them, were in something called the Third Division North, shortly to suffer further humiliation as they were "appointed" to the newly formed Fourth Division. In those late fifties/early sixties days, City's star player was a man who rejoiced in the name of Arthur Bottom. Then came the young and exciting Colin Addison, but he didn't stay long as Arsenal filched him from us lads on the terraces with our crisps and Bovril. So we had to put up with games against Accrington Stanley (till they were kicked out of the league), Workington Town and Hartlepool United. We even went away once - all the way to Darlington. And there was even the odd dramatic, exciting match. I remember a third round FA Cup tie against mighty Middlesborough which ended 0-0, but it was the best 0-0 I've ever seen. Naturally we lost the replay up at Ayresome Park. However, when we got bigger, our mums finally relented and let us go to Elland Road to see the up and coming Leeds United. So it was goodbye Bootham Crescent and hello Billy Bremner.
This was the start of a long love affair. Leeds suddenly became the big time and Bremner- Charlton-Hunter tripped off the tongue of all football supporters, mostly in derogatory terms, but to us they were the works. I followed the team all through my school days, while playing and modelling myself (hopelessly) on Johnny Giles, all through university including a presence at the 1970 Cup Final replay at Old Trafford (lost to Chelsea). The culmination of this exercise in fandom was travelling to Paris in 1975 for the European Cup Final against Bayern Munich (lost this one as well). A little later in 1975 I turned up in Udine and another football horizon opened up.
The football supporters among us teachers at the Oxford School of English, that is me and Charles, decided we would definitely check out Udinese, the local team. In later years, when driving around Europe with Udine number plates, Greeks, Germans and Spaniards would say "Ooh, Udinese!" In 1975 they were unknown and not doing particularly well in the Italian third division (Serie C). However, Charles and I, together with a couple called Steve and Ursula who quickly lost interest, started going to Udinese matches in the stadium on the outskirts of the town. The stadium was interesting in that the main stand was most impressive and would have graced any English First Division club, but the "curva" or end that we frequented was little more than a grassy hillock. For three years Udinese obstinately remained in Serie C and didn't seem to offer any hope of ever seeing Juventus or AC Milan come to the Stadio Friuli.
Then in 1979 came promotion to Serie B! A group of players reached critical mass and took that division by storm and thus in 1980 we were in the much-fabled Serie A, Juventus and AC Milan included. The talk in the bars was of one season and then back to normal. However, although some of the players who had taken the team up were ceded to bigger fish, they hung on in there. Survival was the name of the game, but for us supporters we were finally seeing real football. Charles had gone by this time and thus missed all the excitement and the gradual improvement of the stadium till it really looked the part.
Then came the thunderbolt. Unbelievably, in 1983, Udinese managed to sign Zico, the Brazilian superstar. To this day nobody really knows how this was possible. It's as if Messi were signed by Norwich. This was followed by another coup when Udinese signed Causio, the ace Juventus player and World Cup winner. Naturally with these two, things improved. In two seasons Udinese reached fourth and sixth place in Serie A. Winning the championship was out of the question, however, for although there were some other good players, it wasn't a team of Zicos. It reminds me of Harry Redknapp's comment when asked why West Ham didn't set the First Division alight when they had Bobby Moore, Martin Peters and Geoff Hurst in their ranks. "It just shows how crap the rest of us were".
These were heady days, however, and enthusiasm ran high. I remember going to Bologna to see Udinese win in the run-up to the fourth place. Three sides of the ground were Udinese supporters. It was difficult to get into home games. Zico's exploits filled pages of the Messaggero Veneto, the local paper. At the same time I was playing Sunday morning football for an old crocks team. I was still of a fairly normal playing age, a young crock, but most of the others were much older, although much better. They had practically all had careers in the lower leagues, mostly down south, and returned to their native Friuli on retirement from the professional game. And they could play. There were even a couple of former Udinese players who had never really made it. However, what I'm getting around to is that in the post-Zico days, the manager of Udinese at the time of Zico, Ferrari, came to join us. He explained to us that Zico's secret was the ability to do everything equally well with both feet, and he was going to show us how to do it. Of course, he didn't.
By 1986 Zico was gone but Udinese soldiered on and stayed in Serie A apart from two or three brief sojourns in B. The team has now been in the top tier continuously since 1996, though at times they have been perilously close to relegation. There have been some great moments. I remember a very exciting 1-1 draw with Ajax in the Europa League which unfortunately wasn't enough to get through the group stage. I remember Trevor Francis scoring a hat-trick for Sampdoria in a 5-3 thriller at the Stadio Friuli. I remember the visit of Barcelona in the Champions League (no need to say how that went). I remember matches against Tottenham, Liverpool and Celtic when the visiting fans were offered wine, ham and cheese in the main square, thereby fending off any potential aggro. I have of course also suffered many a dire game but, as any boring commentator will tell you, "that's football".
To get up to date, I was last at the Stadio Friuli in August 2019 to see Udinese beat Milan (although other results have been less promising). Sitting in the main stand, listening to "Magica Udinese" and the raucous support from the Curva Nord, I looked out over the bright new all-seater stadium (rather like a mini-Emirates) and tried to locate the grassy hillock of 1975. Times have changed in many ways. York City are now in some wilderness outside the Football League, and Leeds United stuck in the so-called Championship. But Udinese continue to do us proud here in Friuli. Long may it last. "Alé Udin!"
[CL update 29th January 2022. Leeds are 15th in the Premier League. Udinese are 15th in Seria A. York City are 14th in National League North.]
|© Chris Taylor, Charlie Lewis (additional text only) 2022