Today is International Pro Vercelli Day.
Or was that yesterday? Or maybe it’s at 3am next Saturday morning. It’s so hard to keep up with the International Sporting Calendar these days.
Either way, at some point in the recent past, present or future – someone somewhere will be toasting the success of Pro Vercelli. The cheers will ring out for another Scudetto to add to the seven previous successes. Maybe this time it will be Champions League glory that brings the players triumphantly on to the stage in Piazza Cavour; singing with the tifosi as the beer of local brewery, Birrificio Sant’Andrea flows freely.
Does that seem a little farfetched? Well it should.
What signifies the arrival of International Pro Vercelli Day is the release of the latest version of the game, Football Manager. A lot has been written on the latest version, most of which appears to have been penned by FM veteran Iain Macintosh. What will continue to be written, long beyond this day of days, are the Twitter timeline and Facebook status updates. People from all over the world, irrespective of their ties with Italy or Calcio, will take up the challenge of lifting Pro Vercelli from the depths of Lega Pro Prima Divisione Girone A (breathe) to the summit of Serie A and beyond.
It’s not always clear what brings them to the virtual Stadio Silvio Piola. American writer Brian Phillips gave this explanation as he embarked on his popular Run of Play updates on his season with I Leoni. I won’t ruin the outcome for you – let’s just say, well, Forza Pro!
Phillips is just one of many to tread this path. I chose a different path. I chose, not to play a computer game but to take an interest in the real Pro. The bricks and mortar; blood, sweat and – for the season I wrote a blog about – very few tears, Pro. There was a hook – I love Northern Italy. There was an interest – an understanding of their historical achievements, thanks to Calcio by John Foot. There was even a belief that I would get out to see them. I did. A glorious day where I lost my mind to the game and a toe nail to trench foot brought on by five hours of continuous rain.
I stopped writing the blog as it became clear that my attempts to promote the club in my own little way, were overshadowed by their presence in Serie B. Fans and passers by now had access to decent coverage of the club in papers, online and in highlight reels. I was a phoney. My 300 words on a match or player move were lifted from Italian language sources that had English versions available. My part in their story had been written out.
So what does the club do about the likes of me or Phillips or the hundreds of others that will pop up on twitter in the coming months? Well, very little unfortunately. When the club rose to the heights of Serie B last season, I expected to see the opportunity to buy an official shirt or tickets online. It never happened. When the club launched an official Twitter account I tried to engage – albeit in a foreign language – but nothing happened. I could find out about training schedules, tickets or local events, but there was nothing to say “You, there, over in England. Why don’t you join in the fun?” No, the club had remodelled the stadium, it had put in more seats, it had more ways to buy tickets in Vercelli – but if you live outside of the city boundary, good luck in trying to find out how to buy them. Maybe I expected too much from this once great club?
So I went rogue. I joined facebook pages and website forums. I asked fan club members for information – I got a ticket from a brilliant group called Ghigni Bianchi. I drank beer, I got soaked, but I got to the game. I’ve kept in touch. I had a great time and it pains me that I haven’t been back since. I will do before the season is out. I will, hopefully, see the club rise to Serie B once again.
If you’ve ever picked up a copy of Football Manager and been unsure which team to choose, read Brian Phillips’ reason and follow suit. Just don’t stop there. Look at the fixture list for Lega Pro this season. Look on travel or airline websites and find out if you can get out to Vercelli this season (it’s just between Milan and Turin if that helps). Join facebook pages devoted to the club. Don’t just wait for a reaction from the virtual fans, engage with the real ones; fans who can really tell you what it’s like to support a team where glory requires an entry in their history books.
Most importantly of all, let the club know. Hashtag your twitter updates with #ForzaPro. We may not be able to emulate the success of Sid Lowe and Oviedo in generating global interest, but if enough gamers and avid football fans start to raise their voices loud enough, the club may even start to appreciate that there is a world beyond Novara (Merda), Alessandria, Turin and Milan.
You are all just a click away from starting a new life with this once great club.
Well, what are you waiting for?
Photo: Andrea Cherchi