Fashion centre Milan has always been a glamorous football metropolis. Built on its two great clubs – AC Milan and Internazionale – the capital of Lombardy has been at the forefront of the Italian game for a century or more.
The venue they have shared for half that time is one of the world’s great football arenas, the San Siro. Host of the Champions League Final in 2016, it is home to one of the game’s most enduring and notable cross-city clashes, Il Derby della Madonnina.
AC Milan’s plan to leave the San Siro for a new-build arena in Portello, near the club’s gleaming Casa Milan retail complex, is currently on hold. Inter aren’t looking to move either. These familiar bedfellows will remain in place for a fair while yet.
Behind the scenes, Chinese money is taking over these venerable institutions. In 2016, Nanjing-based Suning Holdings bought 70% of Internazionale for €270 million. In 2017, former Italian Prime Minister and long-term owner Silvio Berlusconi sold AC Milan to Rossoneri Sport Investment Luxembourg, under Chinese entrepreneur Li Yonghong, for €740 million. Li is now also chairman.
On the pitch, the two Milanese giants have been sleeping for far too long. Internazionale (‘Inter’) enjoyed a revival under José Mourinho, winning the Champions League in 2010 on the back of five straight titles as Juventus floundered – but have since fallen back. AC Milan (‘Milan’) last won Serie A in 2011. Derbies are as fiery as ever and average attendances are up, from 40,000-plus in 2016-17 to 50,000-plus in 2017-18.
The San Siro remains as intimate now as the day it was planned in 1925. It was officially renamed the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza after the great pre-war striker who starred for both clubs. The gesture was a rare show of solidarity in a century of enmity.
Englishman Alfred Edwards founded Milan Cricket & Football Club in 1899, for expats and well-to-do Milanese who would meet over cocktails at the American Bar. On 9 March 1908, fed up with the British influence at Milan FC, Italian and Swiss members met in the back room of Milan’s Orologio restaurant. The breakaway club they formed echoed their multi-national composition: Internazionale.
Thus was born one of football’s great cross-city rivalries, between Inter (never Inter Milan) and Milan FC, later AC Milan. In time, it would be Inter who attracted the upper crust, Milan the working class, the pendulum swinging after later Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi bought Milan in 1986.
His long-term counterpart at Inter, Massimo Moratti, had been taken as a boy to the San Siro, and one of the greatest derbies in living memory – the legendary 6-5 game of 1949. In the early 1960s, the San Siro was in its pomp. With oil millionaire Angelo Moratti, Massimo’s father, as president and mercurial coach Helenio Herrera at the helm, Inter matched Milan’s European Cup win of 1963. The Inter icon was Sandro Mazzola, Milan’s Gianna Rivera, and high society gathered for all the big matches.
In 1989, with Ruud Gullit and key Dutch stars winning European Cups for Berlusconi’s Milan, and Lothar Matthäus turning out for title-winning Inter, Milan was the centre of the football universe, confirmed by its hosting of the curtain-raiser for Italia ’90.
Milan has two airports. Malpensa is 48km (30 miles) north-west of town, a 45-minute journey to Centrale (€10) main train station on the half-hourly Malpensa Express. Taxi OK (+39 02 9828 2247) has a fixed fare of €90. Linate is 8km (five miles) south-east of town, connected to M1 San Babila by regular city bus 73 or X73 (€1.50, tickets from the Hudson News kiosk at the airport), journey time about 30 minutes. A taxi (+39 02 4040) to town should cost €20-€25 but agree a price first.
Many budgets use Bergamo’s Orio al Serio 45km (28 miles) from Milan, connected with Milano Centrale by bus every 30-60 mins, journey time 50 mins. Tickets are €10, €5 online. The taxi fare to Milan is around €60, Radiotaxi (+39 035 451 9090) recommended by the airport.
Milan’s city transport comprises three metro lines, buses, trams and trolleybuses. A single ticket is €1.50, a daily (biglietto giornaliero) €4.50.
Around the city centre, RadioTaxi 02-6969 (+39 02 6969) is as good as any.
Bizarrely, the Milan Tourist Office not only has not room-booking service but no hotel information at all.
There are a number of hotels near the San Siro that also serve the nearby trade fairs. The closest is B&B Hotel Milano San Siro, part of the pan-European hostel-hotel hybrid, that literally overlooks the stadium on via Achille. Also nearby and equally new is the Meliá Milano, in the Spanish chain, high-design with its own spa area and cocktail bar. Both have sprung from Milan’s staging of the nearby Expo in 2015.
Long in place and also convenient are the four-star Montebianco and two three-stars close to each other, the Hotel Oro Blu Milano and Hotel Lido. Close to Gerusalemme metro station, seven from San Siro, UNA Scandinavia is a swish, business-friendly hotel, part of a developing Italy-wide chain, with a gym and sauna.
Also in the west of town, refined four-star Ariosto offers a pricy but comfortable stay.
By Stazione Centrale, on the same side as the post office and cheap buses to the airports in Milan and Bergamo, is a cluster of convenient mid-range and business-friendly hotels. Starhotels have two properties, four-star Anderson and E.c.ho.. Nearby are the old-school Hotel Bristol and Florida, and the more modern Michelangelo. Global chains the Hilton Milan and the Four Points by Sheraton Milan Center are also within easy reach.
Recommended is the excellent 442 Sports Pub at via Procaccini 61, near Gerusalemme metro station, seven stops from San Siro. With an interior of themed tabletops, rows of football scarves and several TV screens, it’s run by the Italian editorial team of the UK football magazine. Also close to Gerusalemme metro, the Offside Sports Pub is worth a visit, with a wall of pennants, a large screen and terrace.
Near Wagner metro station, Hall Of Fame calls itself a ‘sport bistro’, more diner than pub, with tasteful sporting decor, lunches, dinners, cocktails and happy hours.
Walking distance from Duomo, the Football English Pub is on narrow via Valpetrosa, off via Torino. Among the English and Italian football paraphernalia are Hurst-era West Ham programmes, Panini stickers of old AC and Inter stars, and the splash from ‘The Football Echo & Sports Gazette’ dated 1959. Pizzas, salads and pancakes are named Rimet, Matthäus, Nottingham, and so on.
Closer to Repubblica, The Friends Pub Milano is one of the better of several of its type in town, putting the focus on food and football – it’s also open daytimes. Upstairs at Milan Centrale, the Roadhouse offers TV football before you get on your train.
Around the canals, le Navigli, south of the city centre, US-style Rookies has replaced the classy Italian bistrot Osteria del Pallone at viale Gorizia 30. More pub-like places in the same vicinity include Murphy’s Law, the Old Fox and the King’s Pub. Note, though, that the Nottingham Forest is not a Clough-adorned tavern but a very upscale cocktail bar in a smart part of town.
Opened in 2011, the Gazzetta Store is the shop window for Italy’s biggest sports daily, Milan-based ‘Gazzetta dello Sport’. Note the mugs with classic Gazzetta splashes, (‘SOLO INTER!’). It’s in a downtown shopping arcade opposite the Milan Megastore. Behind the Duomo, you’ll find shirts and souvenirs at Football Team and, at central Orefici 5, at the International Football Centre.
The oldest arena in the world to have staged first-class football is… the Arena in Milan. Now named after the doyen of Italian football writers, Gianna Brera, this Napoleonic-era living monument stands in the Parco Sempione, close to Lanza and Muscova metro stops, on the old tram No.2 line. There’s a Bar della Arena at piazza Lega Lombarda, with a black-and-white image of the Arena in its heyday. It staged Italy’s first ever international, with France, in May 1910, then a handful more either side of World War I.
Today it’s an athletics stadium and home to Brera FC formed by football writer Alessandro Aleotti in 2000. This club of enthusiasts actually made Serie C2 a few years later but now play in the local league.