"This is a public which is small in number and very demanding - I don't know if they deserve a great team." So said Juventus FC owner Umberto Agnelli after only 2,529 paying supporters passed through the turnstiles of the Delle Alpi stadium for Sunday's Serie A victory over Hellas-Verona FC.
That figure is slightly misleading - add 35,000-plus season-ticket holders and the attendance was close to 40,000 - but still Agnelli's comments raise questions about the viewing habits of football supporters in Italy. What puzzles the outsider is how the famous stadiums of Italy's great clubs can one week shake to the sounds of 60,000 or so fans - and the next week offer nothing but eerie silence in front of a few thousand.
Swathes of empty seating
Juventus offer a case in point. Already eliminated from the UEFA Champions League, Wednesday's Matchday Twelve encounter with Arsenal FC could be played out against large swathes of empty seating. This is nothing new. A few seasons ago Juventus attracted 3,505 for a home Champions League game against 1. FC Košice - and a month later drew nearly 50,000 for the visit of Manchester United FC.
Different reasons are cited. Some say television keeps fans in their armchairs on European nights, others that domestic action holds Italian fans in greater thrall. One certain factor with Juventus, who boast a huge following in the south, is that many of the club's supporters travel from far and wide to see their team, so getting to midweek matches is not easy. Hence Italy's best supported side have played home European ties away from Turin - they attracted a sell-out to the San Siro for one fixture.
England audiences less fickle
It is not just Juventus. Milan AC drew a crowd of 7,291 for their UEFA Cup quarter-final second leg against Roda JC, yet the following weekend the San Siro was packed tight for the Milan derby. Indeed, showpiece matches apart, attendances across 'Il bel paese' do not compare favourably with, say, England - where audience figures have risen by 60 per cent in the last ten years and where fans are possibly less fickle.
Higher than Spain and France
The average attendance in the FA Premiership after the weekend's 30th round of matches was 34,055 - a rise of 3.6 per cent on last season's 32,821. Italy's average after 20 rounds was around the 25,000 mark, down by some 4,000 on last season. The Italian average also pales next to the German (32,376), but does exceed the figures for Spain (22,045) and France (21,423).
Homes of their own
Where English stadiums, at least at top-flight level, have become increasingly fan-friendly, arguably this is less so in Italy where the supporters of both Juventus and Torino Calcio - who share the Delle Alpi, a stadium built for the 1990 FIFA World Cup on Turin's periphery and surrounded by an athletics track - often call for a return to more intimate homes of their own. For the time being, though, Juve fans will have to make do with the life at the Delle Alpi. Watching Del Piero and Co every week cannot be too bad, whatever the setting.
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