Having just graduated in the summer of 2019, and part-inspired by Pete Davies’ One Night in Turin, Sam Robinson set off on an Italian odyssey from Milan to Palermo. By the time they had arrived in Bologna, he'd just about mustered the courage to ask his girlfriend the big question: ‘do you reckon we could go and watch England U21s in Cesena tomorrow?’
The next morning we set off with a plastic bag full of cans and my OM10 camera.
Following the familiar misery of a lacklustre tournament defeat to France, this England team were chasing a win to revive any hopes they had of progressing further. Romania were a lively side, but Aidy Boothroyd had the likes of Foden, Mount, Calvert-Lewin, Maddison and Tammy Abraham at his disposal. Surely, they’d have enough. With the ‘real’ Euros still a year away, this was the perfect chance for the next Golden Generation to throw down the gauntlet.
As the sweltering haze of late afternoon drifted into a sultry Italian midsummer evening, vast swathes of yellow began seeping in to the Stadio Dino Manuzzi. Romanians make up the largest diaspora community in Italy, and an astonishing 10,000 fans had travelled to Cesena for this game.
Their unadulterated intensity transformed what was ostensibly a half-empty stadium into a bubbling cauldron. And it had an effect on the pitch. Ianis Hagi, son of Romanian legend Gheorghe, burst into life from the outset, darting about with incisive joy as his dad watched on from the stands. Although it took a good 75 minutes, Romania picked the English defence apart to score 4 in the remaining 18 minutes and leave the sun-scorched English faithful even more red-faced. Those in yellow, meanwhile, bounced up and down the concourses elated – beer flowing and flying in equal measure.
A welcome abundance of stalls offering watery pints at extortionate prices gave the atmosphere a suitably inebriated edge, and the Romanians were in absolute ecstasy. As the sun went down over the west stand, the pyro got up and running. Hagi Senior’s presence didn’t go unnoticed, either, as he made his way home through Cesena like Maradona in Naples.
While it wasn’t the real Euros, this remains the last opportunity we had to witness our national side fail emphatically at an international tournament. But its oddly comforting to know that the culprits now make up a sizeable portion of the senior squad. Just like a batting collapse or rainy bank holiday, it’s good to experience that unique sense of Englishness at the earliest opportunity.
But none of England’s eternal incompetence mattered, just for that one evening in Cesena. And while it wasn’t quite One Night in Turin, the Romanian cacophony of yellow, red, and blue more than made up for all that.
Follow Sam Robinson on Instagram: @dogdelashite