Fan's Eye View: Fear and loathing at Milan

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PEOPLE think it must be easy, supporting a glamour club like the Italian champions. In many ways it is. The team win a lot. Of the club's many Adonis-like athletes, most can open a tin of sardines with their weaker foot. Milanisti enjoy one of the world's safest, most elegant stadiums. Then there's the home end. Experience the dramatic rake, the inspired hysteria and adrenaline rush of the Curva Nord in full cry, and nothing less will suffice. It makes the various Ends, Kops, and North Banks all look a bit sad and, well, English.

But it takes some nerve to align yourself with a good foreign team. Follow any British club, no matter how desperate their tactics, how sluggish and graceless their players, how aesthetically challenged their away strip, and at worst you are a mug, a misguided rival. Follow a big team overseas, and you must be a pretentious prat; your sexuality, patriotism and parenthood are called into question; in fact, you probably don't really like football at all. Success means you don't even enjoy the patronising sympathy afforded the underdog.

I just couldn't help it. My allegiance to Spurs faltered in 1988, after watching a videotape of Sacchi's rampant side containing Gullit, Van Basten and Rijkaard. It had been years since I'd seen a club team attack with such skill and vision. On a bitter, foggy Sunday in February 1989, I stood in the Curva Nord for the first time and saw the Dutch triumvirate score all the goals in the 4-0 crushing of Como.

It was like discovering some wonderful new drug. The side were practically invincible, handing out 4-0 and 5-0 thrashings to all but the sternest opposition. Championship, followed by European Cup, Super Cup, and yet another scudetto (title trophy).

Pilgrimages to the San Siro became more frequent. My conscience was clear: I hadn't betrayed my London roots, I had simply matured into a jet-setting Euroman, equally at home in either city. After all, I was merely anticipating a Europe sans frontieres and all that. Friends would react to my sojourns with a 50-50 mixture of admiration and pity.

Now, though, the political ambition of Milan's owner and president, Silvio Berlusconi, is making me and many Italians feel uneasy about supporting Milan.

In the wake of a corruption scandal, a resurgent, post-Communist left had looked sure to win this weekend's Italian general election. High on their agenda is the tightening of the lax laws governing cross-media ownership. Since he owns three of Italy's six national TV channels, as well Europe's second biggest newspaper and book publishing company, Berlusconi feared his vast media empire would come under threat. So, with the right wing in disarray, he decided to take matters into his own well-manicured hands.

Berlusconi is standing for office as the nation's self-styled saviour. With a campaign devised by his own advertising company (Italy's largest, of course), he promises a 'new Italian miracle'.

This slick entrepreneur has formed an alliance called Forza Italia, echoing the milanista chant of Forza Milan. He has wooed the centrist Popular Party (the remnants of the Christian Democrats), the neo-fascist National Alliance (which calls for apartheid and repatriation), and the Northern League, which wants anti-female legislation and national division: it regards southern Italians as 'leeches' on the prosperous north.

So far, he has refrained from direct use of the team to advance his cause. Maybe he does not need their endorsement: a recent poll showed he was more popular with Italian schoolchildren than the Pope.

People think it's easy supporting Milan. I beg to differ. It was bad enough on 13 March, watching Ruud Gullit play at the San Siro in a blue Sampdoria shirt. But if Berlusconi uses his awesome power to steer Italy away from left-wing democracy this week, I won't be able to stand in the Curva Nord and convince myself that it's only a game. It will be arrivederci, Milan.