The reason for my trip to Rome was to see the All Blacks play Italy at the stadium build for the Olympics in 1960. This was the place that Murray Halberg and Peter Snell won gold medals for New Zealand. The stadium has a seating capacity of 74 000 seats and the All Blacks drew a capacity crowd which is a major achievement in itself as a recent local derby between Lazio and Roma didn’t manage more than 55 000. Strangely though, the seat next to me was empty.
You’ve probably all seen or read about the game but I wonder if TV coverage conveyed how electric the atmosphere was in the stadium. There was no pre-game entertainment on the field. It was all off the field. The Italian supporters were exuberant and optimistic. I saw a lot of face paint and a fair number of silly hats and wigs (no skin suits though). When the national anthems were sung, it was clear that this was going to be a special occasion, and then when the stadium was asked for silence for the Haka, and got it, it was spine chilling.
Early in the game, the Italians cheered their team every time they touched the ball or made a tackle. But they also cheered and clapped when the All Blacks made a move and burst through the line of blue defenders. At half time, two teams of school girls played a version of touch rugby (the one where they rip tags off each other) and the crowd cheered for them too.
There were Mexican waves that went around the ground back and forward. I sat next to a young guy from Brazil who filmed it all on his mobile phone making sound effects as the waves got closer and closer. There were spontaneous outbursts of singing the Italian national anthem and everyone joined in. There was lots and lots of noise and leaving the ground after the game, even after a big loss there were smiles and shouts of “good game Kiwis” and absolutely no doubt of the respect that the Italian fans have for the All Blacks.