IT’S EURO 2012 final night, you’re in a country that boasts one of the two finalists and you cover a team managed by perhaps the greatest player never to have donned that nation’s national jersey. It couldn’t really set up any better.
Unfortunately, the fairytale took a fairly bitter twist late last night when Paolo Di Canio’s Italy were dumped out of the competition in unceremonious circumstances, and instead I’m writing to you from a country in which the silence of anti-climax is perhaps as deafening as the several million car horns that would have sung in unison had the Azzuri not been the victim of a fair old hiding.
But that’s not why we’re all here. Oh no, there’s something far more pressing at hand – the small matter of Swindon Town’s pre-season tour.
The Robins squad took the team bus to Gatwick yesterday morning before jetting off to Verona, a 20-minute drive from their hotel on the banks of Lake Garda.
In terrific temperatures, which exceeded 35 degrees until well gone nine o’clock local time, Paolo Di Canio and his staff oversaw a light training session in the stunning surroundings of Hotel Veronello before Town settled down en masse to watch the Euro 2012 final.
For players such as Alessandro Cibocchi and Raffaele De Vita, as well as Swindon’s favourite adopted Italian and his coaching team, it proved to be a difficult evening.
However, depending on your viewpoint, worse is to come for those individuals – and the remainder of the Town squad – with double training sessions planned for the rest of their stay.
Having arrived alongside BBC Wiltshire sports editor Chris Wise a little after seven, I met up with the gaggle of local media bods – which includes in its number Swindon media manager Chris Tanner and operations manager Mark Isaacs – and, after the briefest of pit-stops, headed off into the Italian countryside in search of a much-needed watering hole.
Mark had already arranged to search out the local bar belonging to a man aptly named ‘Bomba’.
Charging up to meet us on a growling Vespa, sporting the latest, Boca Juniors-inspired Town away kit, covered in tattoos and oozing charisma, Bomba was certainly a sight I wasn’t expecting on day one.
As it turned out, the guy is pretty exceptional. A personal friend of Di Canio, he is putting together the side which will give his compatriot’s club their first test of pre-season on Thursday.
As he brought out trays of salami, bread and pasta and several rounds of beer, he seemed more intent on keeping us happy and entertained rather than watching his own country in the final of a major international tournament. Then again, he might have had just cause.
By the time we’d had our fill it still felt like the middle of a balmy summer’s day, but it was close to midnight.
“There’ll be no rain until September,” said Bomba. The players will be begging for it come July 14.