Calcio capital reclaims prime status in Serie A

Teams, tales and tips – a guide to the local game

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, has been pushed to one side. Inter aren’t looking to move either. These familiar bedfellows will remain in place for a fair while yet. 

Each club has agreed to the plans put forward by Populous (Wembley, Emirates, Tottenham Hotspur Stadium), due to be implemented after the Winter Olympics here in 2026 – the opening ceremony will be San Siro’s swansong. La Cattedrale will then be built on the same site, capacity 65,000, surrounded by parkland.

Although its days are limited, 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. Around this time, the Arena in Milan staged Italy’s first international, against France in 1910. See below What to see. After club president, tyre magnate Piero Pirelli, built the San Siro with his own money in 1925, Inter, until then as nomadic as their city rivals, moved into the Arena.

In time, it was Inter who attracted the upper crust, Milan the working class, both clubs sharing the San Siro from 1947. Massimo Moratti would recall being taken as a boy by his father to one of the greatest derbies of all time, the legendary 6-5 game of 1949, surrounded by the city elite in the VIP seats.  Oil tycoon Angelo Moratti then turned the club he owned into the Grande Inter, his son carrying on the family firm and later the football dynasty.

In the early 1960s, the San Siro was in its pomp. With mercurial coach Helenio Herrera at the helm, Inter matched Milan’s European Cup win of 1963 a year later. The Inter icon was Sandro Mazzola, Milan’s Gianna Rivera, and high society gathered for all the big matches. 

The pendulum would swing the other way decades later when later Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi bought Milan in 1986. The media mogul required entertaining football to dominate the larger screens in the new TV era – Arrigo Sacchi’s high-scoring outfit duly delivered.

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.

The era would last well into the 2000s, the two Milan clubs meeting in the semi-final of the Champions League in 2003, and quarter-final two years later, the second leg abandoned after Inter fans threw flares at time-wasting Milan keeper Dida.

For all the controversy and gamesmanship – doubt will always surround refereeing decisions during Inter’s golden years – for half a century or more, the Milan duo attracted the world’s best players. For AC Milan, this stopped after the Calciopoli match-fixing scandal of 2006. Inter duly benefitted, accepting the league title by default that year then winning for four more years while the traditional giants recovered. From 2012, as Moratti slowly pulled out, having poured millions into the club, Inter’s form sank. 

Almost inconceivably, for a number of seasons in the mid-2010s until the Asian buy-outs, neither Milan club even qualified for Europe.

Bursts of investment allowed the two Milanese giants to regain their former status. Nanjing-based Suning Holdings bought nearly 70% of Inter for €270 million in 2016 while in 2017, Berlusconi sold AC Milan to Chinese entrepreneur Li Yonghong for €740 million. The stars returned, derbies caught fire once more. Average attendances shot up, from 40,000-plus in 2016-17 to nearer 60,000 in the last pre-pandemic season of 2018-19, easily the highest in Serie A.

It wasn’t long before the Chinese money lost its lustre. After defaulting on his debt in 2018, Li Yonghong was forced to cede Milan ownership to US investment company Elliott Management. A resurgence then saw Milan win the league in 2022 after a long decade bereft of silverware. 

As for Inter, although the Nerazzurri reached a European final in 2020 and won a long-awaited title in 2021, the expense of doing so saw the swift departures of triumphant coach Antonio Conte and top goalscorer Romelu Lukaku. Suning Holdings had significant losses to shore up. 

The city rivals then met in the semi-final of the Champions League in 2023, Inter’s relatively easy passage setting up a mismatch against Manchester City, the game closer than many had expected.

Without the huge global TV and marketing revenue of the Premier League or the petrodollars pumped into Paris Saint-Germain, the Milan giants may challenge for the Scudetto at home but won’t be able to challenge on a level playing field until there’s a sea change in the way the global game is run. 

The San Siro, however, remains one of football’s great arenas, its name redolent of so many golden names and eras. It won’t be an easy act for La Cattedrale to follow. 

Getting Around

Arriving in town, local transport and timings

Milan has two airportsMalpensa is 48km (30 miles) north-west of town, a 45-minute journey to Centrale (€10) main train station on the half-hourly Malpensa ExpressTaxi 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 30mins. 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.

Where to Drink

The best pubs and bars for football fans

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, rebranded HOF, calls itself a ‘sport bistro’, more diner than pub, with tasteful sporting decor, lunches, dinners, cocktails and happy hours.

Walking distance from the 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.

By the trendy canal district, le Navigli, south of the city centre, the King’s Pub shows games in relaxed surroundings, with 14 sought-after beers on tap, seven on rotation. Other nearby football pubs include Murphy’s Law, whose furniture, even floor stones, were transported from Cork, and the Old Fox, by S Agostini metro, dates back to 1979, and has welcomed Eric Clapton no few times when passing through on tour.

Speaking of 1979, the Nottingham Forest is not a Clough-adorned tavern but a very upscale cocktail bar in a smart part of town, overseen by famed mixologist Dario Comini.

Where to stay

The best hotels for the stadium and city centre

Yes Milano has a hotel database and booking function.

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 sprang from Milan’s staging of the nearby Expo in 2015.

Long in place and also convenient are the four-star Montebianco Mokinba and two three-stars close to each other, the Hotel Oro Blu Milano and Hotel Lido. The first two have been given contemporary makeovers. Another B&B, the Milano Portello, sits between the San Siro and the Casa Milan, convenient for both. To stay in the hood in style, the NH Collection Milano CityLife is a four-star conversion of a historic church, featuring a rooftop pool.

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. A short walk from Casa Milan, the three-star Hotel Berlino provides a comfortable and convenient stay.

By Stazione Centrale, on the same side of the building 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. Florentine luxury-hotel group Starhotels run the chic four-star Anderson and contemporary E.c.h.o. for discerning visitors, both a short walk from the station. 

Right on the station square, the B&B Hotel Milano Aosta offers economy singles, as well as affordable doubles and triples.

Also close to Centrale stands the old-school Hotel Bristol, in the same family for half a century. Global chains the Hilton Milan and the Four Points by Sheraton Milan Center are also within easy reach. Near Repubblica, the 100-room Windsor is also a notch above.

where to shop

Shirts, kits, gifts and merchandise

Behind the Duomo, you’ll find shirts and souvenirs at Football Team, including replica tops as worn at by Italy at Euro 2020, with the date of the final sewn into the badge. Both the main downtown outlets of Inter and AC Milan are nearby.

what to see

The best football attractions in town

The oldest arena in the world to have staged first-class football is… the Arena in Milan. Once also 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 2 line. It staged Italy’s first ever international, with France, in May 1910, then a handful more either side of World War I. 

You’ll find a Bar dell’Arena nearby at piazza Lega Lombarda, with a black-and-white image of the Arena in its heyday. 

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. For a while, former international goalkeeper Walter Zenga was coach.

In 2019, the club opened Brera Village beside Linate airport, a football complex for youth teams. Junior sides also train at the Velodromo Vigorello, a cycling stadium and football pitch where the Beatles played in 1965. The seniors, the Neroverdi, moved back into the historic Arena Civica, as it is now referred to, in 2020-21.