Italy Writers 5 – 0 Scotland Writers
Stadio Johnny Moscardini, Barga, Saturday 3rd September, 2016
Report by Doug Johnstone
So you travel all the way to Tuscany and find yourself in an Irish pub called The Shamrock. It’s Scottish Weekend in Barga. And to celebrate, the deep fat fryer in The Shamrock is broken. Nae chips? That’s NOT a Scottish Weekend.
Fourteen intrepid souls had travelled to Barga to play Italy Writers and to take part in the town’s annual festivities. Barga is known as The Most Scottish Place in Italy, and in fact it’s more Scottish than a lot of places in Scotland, with kilts, tartan tat shops, pipe bands and saltires around every corner.
One thing that isn’t very Scottish is the 30 degree heat. Or the amazing Tuscan scenery. Or the relaxed Italian vibe. But the rest, aye, pure Scotch. Especially the sausage dog in a kilt.
So we had the usual Friday night fun of trying not to get too pished before match day. Made even more precarious by the fact that kick-off time was 10am on Saturday to avoid the worst of the heat. And for the most part we did OK. Folk drank a bit, then went to bed. Mostly. Some folk stayed up a bit later. More of which in a moment.
Next morning. We were bunking in Villa Gherardi, a beautiful hostel where the lovely owner Adele, a native of Bearsden, was in charge.
Over breakfast Ciaran casually said: ‘So, have you seen Cammy?’
Me: ‘Ha ha, nice wind up.’
Ciaran: ‘Seriously, he never came home last night.’
Me: ‘Aw fuck. Not again.’
This set the tone for the next few hours. Greg had brought him home. His phone was in his room, out of charge. His camera was found on a neighbour’s patio. Francesco had seen him enter, then leave, his room around 4am.
Meantime we nashed down to the Johnny Moscardini Stadium for the match. It was already proper fucking hot, and the pitch was a bumpy desert, but the view, like everywhere in Barga, was amazing.
Still no Cammy.
Still no Cammy.
Speeches from the mayor and members of the Pro Loco Barga, a volunteer tourist organization. Thomas Clark read a frankly awesome poem he’d written about Johnny Moscardini, the only male Scottish player to play for Italy. It had the Scots in stitches, and the Italians amused and confused. We took to the pitch with mascots and sang the national anthems. With a piper, for Christ’s sake. I mean, this was legit.
The Scots were lined up with new boy Martin Stewart in goal, Danny Stewart and debutant Stan Stanton as centre backs. Out wide were Neil Williamson on the left and Thomas Clark on the right. Centre midfield was the domain of Doug Johnstone and Peter Mackay, while out wide were Emily Dodd on the left and Matthew Fitt out right. Up front, Ciaran Mackie and Greg Eden. Refusing to play defensive, we went 4-4-2, hoping to match the Italians in the middle of the park.
I had been sad, on the Friday night, to see in the Shamrock that the opposition had brought their A-team. Francesco Trento up front, Carlo Grande Sr and Jr, and the absolute class of Gianluca Lombardi in the Pirlo role. Elsewhere, Dino Giarusso and Stefano Lazzarini were always going to be dangerous. Damn it.
The match started pretty even, early tussles in the midfield balancing out. The Italians gradually had more pressure and after around 20 mins that paid off, with some nice interchange out wide putting Zannoni through on goal.
The Italians were piling on the pressure and it came good, something of a penalty box stramash resulting in the ball bobbling up into the air for Lombardi to score with the sclaffiest bicycle kick I have ever seen. Honestly, if he had connected properly, Stewart would’ve saved it, easy. But as it was, it trundled into the bottom corner.
After the first water break, Fitt did his hammy, which was all we needed. With Cammy still AWOL we were down to 12 fit bodies. But Scotland had a decent spell, a couple of shots from Johnstone at least testing Ferrario in the Italian goal.
But then the classic ‘caught on the break’. A clever through ball split the defence and Grande Jr was there to lob the onrushing Stewart.
29 degree heat was taking its toll, but it honestly didn’t feel like we should’ve been three down. Slumped in the little shade we could find, drinking water like it was cheap lager, the talk was all of getting back into it.
And it felt like we could, despite everything.
Until the first minute of the second half, when Grande Jr added to his earlier goal with an absolute peach into the bottom corner from the right hand edge of the box.
But much like in the game in Rome, we dug in to fuck, and absolutely had the better of the match from then on.
Suddenly, the Scots were on fire. Almost literally, with the factor 50 slapped on. The midfield started pushing on, Mackay and Johnstone digging in when necessary, making runs into dangerous areas when possible. Adrian Searle and Craig Robertson had shored up the defence, leaving Clark in a more attacking role wide right.
And the chances came. A couple of through balls from Johnstone and Mackay gave Mackie one-on-ones with the keeper, admittedly from tight angles. Good interplay with Dodd out wide gave another break for Mackie, while Eden also had a good chance, and Clark blasted past the post from wide right. And a quick throw from Clark and lob from Johnstone gave Mackie a difficult header which he directed brilliantly, only for Ferrario to make a great save.
And then, just as all this pressure was surely going to bring a goal, the classic sucker punch. A Scottish corner, well collected by their keeper, quickly released out wide right. A touch, a pass, a touch, a pass, and Trento was through on goal. A sublime finish made it 5-0.
Aw, come on tae fuck.
Dig in, dig in.
And we did. More chances, more tackles, more runs, great defending from Stewart and Stanton and Robertson, and everyone really.
But that was it.
Christ, the heat.
I. Have. Never. Been. So. Fucking. Knackered.
Still no Cammy.
We might actually have to call the police and hospitals for this one.
Game over, a rousing round of applause from the sizeable crowd, many of whom were clearly rooting for Scotland. Much back slapping and good feeling, despite the defeat.
And so to the pub!
We somehow ended up having a beer somewhere outside the Shamrock again.
Still no Cammy.
I phoned Adele at the hostel, who had spoken to a guy who was cleaning a swimming pool at another hotel and said a scruffy, dusty fud had been asleep in a hammock there early in the morning.
And reader, we found him.
Outside a fucking pub, drinking a beer, smoking a tab, and reading the Gazetta dello Sport.
Like a cunt.
And clearly still drunk.
So anyway, relieved that we didn’t have to file a missing persons report, we nashed on to the antipasto lunch. Raw sausage, weird quiche, ham-fat on toast – all of it gorgeous.
Then we went and had a formal reception with the vice-mayor, like you do. I got to sit on a throne and shake hands with her and give a speech I wasn’t expecting, then I gave the Johnny Moscardini trophy that Simon had made up to the Italian captain Giampaolo Simi, much to his surprise and delight. Presents were exchanged and we all went out and hung about on the mayor’s balcony, like you do.
A few hours later we were back in the main piazza, many beers to the good, eating unbelievable amounts of free and amazing food, talking nonsense about sport and literature, and then some readings.
Adrian, Emily, Francesco and Peter all gave terrific readings in difficult, drunken, outdoor circumstances, then Steffano and Giampaolo played an Italian football song, before me and Giampaolo played Ally’s Tartan Army and Mull of Kintyre in front of an utterly bemused local population.
By now we had clearly won the drinking, but we were going for the kill. Sleeping is for gimps. Especially if you have to get up at 3.30 am anyway to go to the airport and fly home. Which we did. Sitting drinking in the dark outside the Villa Gherardi with most of the team, I honestly laughed so hard at all the bullshit nonsense that I thought I might puke.
An absolutely HUGE thanks to everyone who came and played and drank and read and sang their hearts out, everyone who made us feel so welcome, and the Italian team, who are the most gracious winners I have ever met.
Even though we got beat, and it was now four days ago, I’m still buzzing. I thought our team performance was absolutely terrific, every single player, honestly.
This is a good thing we’re doing, people.
Let’s keep on keeping on.