At home with the Zebrette

Cars gathered in the Stadio Friuli carpark under blue skies. With 25 minutes until kick-off, we were parked a few hundred metres from the stadium’s famous arc.

A fast-food van selling sausages was moored half-way between our car and the stadium entrance. Nearby was the official club shop, housed in a temporary building that made it look like the display suite for a swanky inner-city high-rise development, where you can buy apartments off-the-plan from an over-confident real estate agent wearing a slim-fit suit.

Located in this glamorous car park, this is a once-in-a-lifetime investment opportunity.

Located in this glamorous car park, this is a once-in-a-lifetime investment opportunity.

The stadium is in the midst of being rebuilt. The refurbished tribuna centrale remains from the original construction, two stands are half-finished, and the city end isn’t much more than a hole in the ground. The old curva and its hard plastic seats have made way for a modern arena – dare we call it boutique – in the mould of Juventus Stadium.

The atmosphere was relaxed. Riot police watched on as local TV interviewed a Palermo fan wearing a pink scarf and a waving large pink flag. The likelihood of violence between Udinese and Palermo supporters seemed infinitely small. “The only time you could possibly imagine there being trouble would be if Udinese played against Triestina,” said my companion. Triestina is wallowing in the lower reaches of the semi-profesional Serie D.

A gaggle of glamorous women, wearing tight dresses in the team’s colours, guarded the Sponsors and VIP Entrance. Intimidated by their pouts and their clipboards, we turned right, and headed towards the main part of the stand.

The café and lounge on the ground floor didn’t appear hooligan-proof. An irate three-year-old could probably destroy most of the hanging partitions.

What is this? A half-and-half-and-half-and-half scarf? Festooned with the logos of some of Udinese's recent European opponents. This bloke wasn't the only person wearing a scarf like this at the stadium. Think about that.

What is this? A half-and-half-and-half-and-half scarf? Festooned with the logos of some of Udinese’s recent European opponents. This bloke wasn’t the only person wearing a scarf like this at the stadium. Think about that.

We found two seats two-thirds of the way back near the half-way line. Luxurious padded black seats, that would have been more at home in a theatre than a football stadium.

A short fence separated us from the VIP area, where posh bottoms were plonked in ultra-lavish seats, and their very important eyes could indulge in action replays on mini-TVs embedded in the back of the seat in front. No replays for the crowd – the temporary screen on the opposite side of the pitch carried advertising and score updates only.

The construction work meant that only the main stand was open. It was filling fast, with a small pocket of away supporters providing a pink splash in one corner of the stand.

The teams were announced and Toto di Natale’s name gained the biggest cheer. The bloke sitting behind me wasn’t too impressed. “Not di Natale, he hasn’t scored for weeks! Why hasn’t Stramaccioni dropped him?”

Stramaccioni’s popularity took a hit when Palermo scored after a quarter of an hour. It was a screamer from Lazaar, but that didn’t impress Udinese’s hard core (for want of a better term) who chanted “Non vincete, non uscite!” If you don’t win, you’re not getting out of here.

Palermo’s second goal prompted disquiet around the stand. “Eleven melons!” chanted the tifosi. Odd, I thought, so I checked with my companion who advised they were chanting undici leoni – “eleven lions”. Hmm.

Piercing whistles from the home supporters punctuated the first half, along with suggestions that Stramaccioni might consider returning to Milan.

Udinese Construction

While Udinese went to pieces on the pitch, one man holding it together was the vendor selling cups of Pepsi and mineral water. He had a limited range of products: Pepsi, water, and chips – crisps if you prefer. But he nailed it every time. The beverage was poured and handed to the customer without spilling a drop, and he gave the correct change.

Half-time entertainment consisted of the sponsors’ logos being wheeled out onto the pitch while the crowd went in search of un buon caffè or something stronger. Returning to the downstairs café, the queues were intimidating, so we satisfied ourselves with watching a replay of the goals on a TV screen before resuming our seats.

This is what passes for half-time entertainment at the Stadio Friuli: advertising on wheels. Coming soon to a league near you!

This is what passes for half-time entertainment at the Stadio Friuli: advertising on wheels. Coming soon to a league near you!

The crowd was very middle class, neatly dressed, with designer glasses. Many of them weren’t on the phone. Others sipped coffee from tiny plastic cups.

The second half began with no improvement from Udinese and no home tifosi – rows of green seats were vacant in that corner of the stand. The Palermo supporters were very happy, jumping around and waving scarfs.

Udinese’s players applauded their teammates’ back passes while the crowd whistled. Passes were misplaced by the boatload.

Palermo’s third goal was met with warm applause from the crowd. It wasn’t a special goal, but they’d had nothing else to applaud to that point.

Sky’s leggy sideline reporter by this stage was sitting down, looking terribly bored.

Di Natale scored a consolation goal near the end. He is much loved in this corner of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, but his playing days are numbered.

The highlight came after the final whistle, when we spotted local Pavarotti impersonator and honey producer Gigi Nardini, decked out in his Udinese scarf, buying a post-match snack from the sausage van.