THEY say you can judge the dedication, or perhaps slight insanity, of a football fan by the lengths to which they go to follow their team.
On that basis, the four Swindon Town supporters who turned up at Hotel Veronello on Thursday afternoon to watch the Robins see off a local select XI 9-1 must be by definition amongst the nuttiest bunch of die-hards around.
Pete Luscombe, Nick Carter, Simon Matthews and Shaun Poole made the eight-hour, 870-mile trip from Swindon railway station to the stunning surroundings of Lake Garda on Wednesday in a footballing-sightseeing holiday hybrid that satisfies each of their vacation cravings.
For Luscombe, who also travelled to Norcia 12 months ago with the Town touring party, the chance to see his favourite team and some of the most beautiful scenery and architecture in Europe in one fell swoop was a must-do.
“We’re in Garda most of the time but we’re going to take in Milan, Venice, Verona and then we’ll make our way to Molveno (for the match against Bayern Munich II next week) – wherever that may be,” he said.
“It’s a holiday and football combined. We are on a holiday but it just makes it easier to plan when there’s football involved.
“For the Bayern Munich game, personally, I’m looking forward to meeting Gerd Muller because he was one of my boyhood heroes so I can’t wait.
“He made me cry as a little boy.”
The four are all season-ticket holders at the County Ground, and regularly take to the road to support Town.
But crossing half a continent for a couple of pre-season friendly games is a step beyond the norm.
“The last time we all went to a game together was Hereford and this was slightly different circumstances to that game,” said Luscombe.
Poole added: “It’s a good chance to get away, have a holiday and take the opportunity to get to see some football.
“I must admit I’ve never been by ferry to a game before, so that was quite interesting.”
Meanwhile, Matthews suggested that the group would not be daunted by the opening-day visit to Victoria Park to face Hartlepool after their excursions in Italy.
“Travelling to this game makes Hartlepool seem a bit of a doddle really, that’s a local derby,” he said.
“We’re billing ourselves as Swindon’s cultural attaches to Italy and we’re really gutted that we’re missing ‘Swindon: The Opera’ back at home this weekend, but we might go and see Don Giovanni instead.”