From Verdi to Bizet

Last updated : 30 July 2006 By Tony Scholes

It was nothing more than a twenty minute train journey to Verona Porta Nuova and needless to say the first port of call once there was the Marc Antonio Bentegodi Stadium, home of both Verona teams Chievo and Hellas.

We were met by some less than courteous staff who weren't prepared to give half a dozen Clarets any attention at all until someone tried to throw us out. An email from Vera Tomelleri, the Chievo press officer, was enough and we were led onto the pitch via the players' entrance and the bridge over the moat.

It was time for a photo shoot and for John to do a full circuit of the running track as some miserable looking host took another deep drag on his cigarette. It was a far more impressive stadium than we had imagined, but it had hosted four games during Italia 90 – all Belgium's Group E games against South Korea, Uruguay and Spain as well as the second round game when Spain went out to Yugoslavia.

Photographs taken it was then time to take what should have been a short, simple bus journey to the Arena di Verona. It was short, but unfortunately anything but simple. We had no problems getting the tickets, we even managed to get on the right bus, but getting off the thing proved to be our undoing.

There are three doors on the bus, at the front, in the middle and at the back, but only the middle door is an exit. Martin knew this and got off, Austin didn't and blocked everyone else as the doors shut and the bus set off again. Suddenly he turned and announced: “We've left the lad behind at the bus stop.” It was only a short walk back from the next stop where we found Martin not so patiently waiting for us.

The arena is without doubt worth a visit although it did cause problems for some of our party. Austin was the first to suffer from the incredible heat inside, so he walked to the top, took a photograph, walked back down and left to find some shade outside.

Walking down from the top proved difficult for the vertigo sufferers, Martin and myself, and they really should have more even steps. It was awesome up there at the back but definitely unnerving.

John's only disappointment was not being able to practice his singing on the stage, something he chose to do on the train journey instead. It was all hectic on the stage as they were removing the set required for Verdi's Aida from the previous night and preparing to set up for Carmen by Bizet that night.

The rest of the afternoon was spent without incident in this delightful city although Tom was cautioned in Juliet's house for spitting out cherry stones. Meanwhile some woman was trying to be Juliet on the balcony but our party weren't too impressed, not even when he skirt blew up exposing more than she would probably have liked.

It was on to the game next, and that has been reported elsewhere, but the post match banter between the two sets of supporters was fantastic. Even the Alense players joined in and they have donated one of their shirts which will be autographed by the Burnley players to be auctioned for Year of the Youth.

Our players mingled with the fans again and both Martin and Damo were overwhelmed by it all. Martin was lifted up for a photograph with Steve Cotterill but found someone nearer his own size in Claire Judd. Damo on the other hand was checking out Danny Karbassiyoon's injury situation whilst posing with John Spicer. Even the usually shy Austin rushed up to be photographed with Steve Cotterill.

It was time to leave, and back to Desenzano for the last night out. Dan and Tom decided against eating and headed straight for the bars, the rest of us found a restaurant. After the meal Austin, Daz, Emma, Damo, John and me all decided on a quiet night back at the hotel but Martin joined the other two.

They must have had a few drinks, they didn't get back until 3:45 a.m. – Tom was falling over anything that moved, and anything that didn't move for that matter. And Martin just quietly tried to get into bed with Damo – surely the two of them weren't going to be having sex again. I suspect the morning after could be a quiet affair for some of them.