[...] On our way back from the beach we’d often stop for a late afternoon drink at Caffe la Rotonda, a dusty little café located between a fork in the road and a railroad crossing. Operated by a woman and her young daughter, it was the kind of place where old men sat and drank aperitivi while kids in flip-flops played video games in the back. It was here one sultry afternoon that I first came across a newspaper called La Gazzetta dello Sport.
Printed on pale pink paper, la Gazzetta immediately stood out from the stack, and once unfolded it covered the entire table, forcing others to lift up their drinks. But most interesting to me however, was that it appeared to be devoted solely to football. As its name confirms la Gazzetta is technically a sports daily, but anyone who’s been to Italy knows that sport means 90% football and 10% everything else. I became immediately fascinated by this alluring and exotic publication: here was a window into the world that I craved, a pink-and-black portal into the culture of calcio. Suddenly my visits to the bar became less about liquid refreshment and more about whether or not Sampdoria were really going to sell Gianluca Vialli.
My first task upon entering was to scan for la Gazzetta, which usually lurked folded on the counter or at an empty table. My Italian at the time being limited to the usual first words (ciao, grazie, margherita, centrocampista), I was initially drawn not to the speculative articles but to the daily double-page spread detailing the complex activities of each Serie A team’s summer transfer campaign. Without the money or language skills to justify purchasing the paper for myself, when the bar’s copy remained occupied I’d sit and fidget impatiently without touching my glass of acqua minerale. But quickly, out of a sheer desire to understand, I picked up the meanings of several words and began to grasp phrases in Italian, albeit most of them football terms and sporting jargon: acquisti, cessioni, trattative, probabile formazione…
Naturally, la Gazzetta takes on much greater relevance once the season has begun and there’s some actual football to talk about. Monday’s issue traditionally sells the most copies, since it contains the in-depth post-mortem of the weekend’s action. My Dad used to travel to Italy for work once or twice a year, and he began bringing Monday’s Gazzetta home for me. This is when I first became aware of le pagelle, the paper’s individual reviews and votes for each player’s performance after each match. According to common pagelle thought, a six is considered sufficient. Several players have received a nine, but not even Platini, Maradona or Van Basten ever scored a perfect ten. [...]