This post was guest-blogged by Patrick Gullaci. Follow him on Twitter (@pg2216).
Some say it’s not possible to leave one team and begin to support another, that it takes a fool to believe they’re a true fan of a club if they haven’t followed it their whole life. Well fellow Juventini, I’m not here to make you think otherwise. But I will try to give you a little bit of a perspective, a tiny bit of insight, into how I actually came to love those Black & White stripes that unite us all.
My name is Patrick Gullaci. I’m 18 years old and I’m from Melbourne, Australia. As you may have guessed from my introductory paragraph, I haven’t been a Juventus fan my whole life. At the very origin, what ignited my passion for Calcio was my initial love for a rival of ours, Roma [Some of you may shudder at that, but hey... at least it wasn't Inter right? – Ed.].
So just what led me to change from Romanista to Juventino? Many things, but I promise you that glory-hunting was not one of them (at least I’d like to think so)!
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One day in 2008, my older brother came home and told me one of his friends at school was selling football jerseys. He asked me if I wanted to buy one. “I’ll take one from AS Roma” I replied, but much to my disappointment I was informed all that was left were two shirts: one from Real Madrid (with ‘Robinho’ printed on the back) and one from Juventus, printed with ‘Trezeguet’. Not much of a choice for me at the time, so I said ‘No thanks’.
Seeing football jerseys at school was not a common occurrence for me. In Australia, football (“soccer” for the American lot) isn’t exactly our biggest sport. People tend to enjoy more physically combative sports such as Rugby or Aussie Rules, and until around the year 2005 football hadn’t really made a stamp in this country. A main reason for its eventual rise in the land Down Under is due to Australia’s progress at the 2006 FIFA World Cup, which coincidentally was halted by the Italy at the Round of 16 stage.
The clash between Azzurri and Socceroos was actually a big test of my loyalty, and I questioned myself for days leading up to the game… who do I support ? Italy or Australia? On one hand I had the country where I was born & raised, where half my family is from, a country with which I’d experienced an absolute emotional roller-coaster 12 months before the World Cup even began (the Socceroos beat Uruguay in a riveting penalty-shootout to qualify). And then there was Italy, the other half of my family, the nation that gave me football, that made me appreciate the game.
As I couldn’t decide who to follow, I decided I’d take a neutral stance.
The game began and it was honestly hard to watch. Aussie goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer was at his best, keeping out efforts from Alberto Gilardino and Luca Toni. 51 minutes had passed when Marco Materazzi brought down ex-Palermo player Mark Bresciano just outside the area and received his marching orders. After dominating the majority of the game, qualification was now seriously in the balance for Italy: they had to play most of the second half with 10 men, against an Australian side known for not giving in.
However the Aussies didn’t capitalize on the chances they had. Extra time seemed inevitable, until Fabio Grosso galloped on the left wing with the ball, dummied a cross inside the Australian box, and attempted to sidestep around Lucas Neill’s sliding tackle. Grosso tripped, Italy earned a penalty… the rest is history.
Australians went wild for days as Grosso’s name became known to everyone down under. Pictures of the player — tripping over the tackle with an Oscar in hand — spread across newspapers. His name was shamed, and most soccer fans you ask here, still to this day refer to him as ‘the guy that cheated Australia out of the World Cup’. I was also upset at how our dream run had concluded and wish it could’ve ended controversy-free. Whether the foul that lead to the penalty was actually legitimate remained in my mind throughout the tournament.
However front page appearances didn’t end there for Grosso. The winning goal in the semifinal against Germany, as well as the decisive penalty in the final vs. France brought the future Bianconero wing-back to stardom. Thus, Italy’s World Cup win wasn’t only satisfying for me because of my Italian background, but also because I knew my Socceroos bowed out to the winning team. Both teams left Germany that Summer with much respect gained.
You may be thinking: ‘What does all this have to do with Juventus?’
Well, the 2006 World Cup taught me a very simple thing: to respect each player no matter what nation they played for. Players that come together to feature for their national team are all committed to the one cause, and all play for the enjoyment of one group of people. A group of people that is made up of club fans from all over the country (Juventini, Laziali, Romanisti, Milanisti, etc.), fans who you’d find in dispute during the domestic season but who come together arm-in-arm once there is the national team to support.
I thus began to downplay the significance of rivalry, look beyond what club a player belongs to, and just learned to respect what they stood for.
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Days passed after my brother’s sale offer, until I eventually remembered the lesson I learned in 2006. I came to the conclusion buying the jersey wasn’t a proclamation of my love for Juventus or Real Madrid. It was simply a shirt. It wouldn’t mean anything beyond the fact that I admired the club in one way or another. So I decided to buy the Trezeguet jersey.
Not long after, news broke out Juve would go on a tour of the Asia-Pacific region with my home city Melbourne being one of the destinations. Although the team couldn’t bring across many of its stars due to Euro 2008 being around the corner. I was still able to see players such as Legrottaglie, Marchionni, Nocerino, C.Zanetti and was also able to see then coach Claudio Ranieri. It was one of the turning points that swayed me from diehard Romanista to self-proclaimed Juve lover.
It was May 30th 2008, a cold night at Melbourne’s Etihad Stadium saw Juve come out strong with an early 1-0 lead thanks to a powerful Nicola Legrottaglie header off a corner. The home side, Melbourne Victory, then levelled the scores at 1-1 thanks to Costa Rican international Carlos Hernandez, blasting a powerfully-driven goal from outside the box past Juve’s Australian goalkeeper Jess Vanstrattan.
Melbourne were overrun in the second half by a clinical Juve, goals from Marco Marchionni and Raffaele Palladino (x2) ended the game at 4-1. A masterclass from the Bianconeri, I left Etihad Stadium amazed. Seeing this team, one with millions of fans around the world, one which I previously only dreamed being able to see up close, was a surreal experience. For those lucky enough to have seen Juventus live, like me, you’ll understand when I say it was an incredible experience.
Juventini around my age haven’t been exposed to the successes experienced by the older diehard 90s generation. But even though I never saw Gianluca Vialli hoist the UEFA Champions League to the sky, or Del Piero the Intercontinental Cup, there are things post-Calciopoli I remember well.
For instance, I hold our qualification over Milan in the Coppa Italia as one of the greatest Juve moments I’ve seen. I had the house to myself that day (my two Interisti brothers weren’t around) and the game had been sent into extra time. The fear of losing the undefeated streak grew with every passing minute, right up until Mirko Vucinic’s wondergoal. The man Juventini have mixed emotions over sent the Juventus Stadium into raptures, and just as Conte started celebrating by jumping around and screaming, so was I (and I’m sure many of you were as well) literally yelling at the top of my voice. We had beaten our main Scudetto rivals, knocking them out of the Coppa Italia!
Also really standing out for me is that magical day at the Olimpico of Rome during the 2009-10 season, when Diego and Felipe Melo both scored in their second game for Juventus (coincidentally, it was against my ‘old love’ Roma). I just remember the optimism and restored faith that came with that win: Juventini were joyous, arm-in-arm and hailing our new star, Diego. Although that season didn’t end up so well, I will not forget the game and the positive energy it gave me about a better future for our club.
I can’t exactly point out a specific moment when I realised I was now a Juventino, it was more of a slow process and I guess Juventus just gradually took over me. The legend of Del Piero, the hearts of those who stayed through our season in Serie B, the history of the club… these are things that set Juventus apart from any other club, that allow us to be still be feared in Europe after recent years of turmoil, where we haven’t reached the expectations incumbent upon us by the club’s great history. What is there not to admire at Juve? We should all be proud, there’s no club like us. I began to see the uniqueness all other Juventini could see.
I’m not shy to admit, I still have a soft spot for Roma but that doesn’t matter. Juventini out there, trust me when I say this: rivalry is overrated. I learned to respect and appreciate my opponents. Of course there will always be a place in the game for rivalry, but I’m just saying: don’t let it take over you.
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It’s been a long road for Juventus leading up to 2011-12, and last season has been well overdue. The year’s successes expose different feelings from groups of Juventini. For those diehard 90s fans, it’s started to bring back memories of the past and that tingling feeling in their bones again. For us, the younger generation of Juve fans, it is something relatively new. We’ve unfortunately been exposed to more bad than good from the Bianconeri, but thankfully 2011-12 has always offered up something new and great.
With the greatest gift of them all at season’s end!