Six years ago, Inter Milan were winning Serie A, the Champions League and Italian Cup while Southampton languished in League One after nearly going bust and being in administration.
So what a thrill it was for Saints fans (including myself) to travel to the San Siro and see them outplay the European giants in the Europa League. If only we hadn’t lost…
Qualifying for Europe adds something special to a season, and a rare chance to watch your team take on the one of the game’s biggest names is something not to be missed.
So when my friends invited on a four-night trip to Milan it was definitely something I had to do – albeit as cheaply as possible.
The first thing needed was a cheap flight, and Ryanair flies to Milan Bergamo, about an hour outside the city. Then came tracking down the most budget accommodation that central Milan had to offer – Queen’s Hostel.
Arriving at Stansted to travel out the day before the game, it was surprising to see so many Southampton shirts at the airport – but then I guess everyone had the same idea of looking for bargain flights.
The sense of excitement among the fans was already evident, and made the usual boring slog through security and passport control less of a chore.
The flight itself was packed with Saints supporters, some of who spent the whole journey singing songs whilst the beers kept coming.
This wasn’t your average away trip to Stoke or West Brom – we were heading to Milan to cheer our team on in one of Europe’s most famous stadiums.
The following day, the visiting supporters tended to group around either the San Siro or the clubs and bars of Navigli in the build-up to the game.
The city centre, where there are some spectacular sights such as the Duomo di Milano, is definitely worth a gander but it’s a bit of a tourist trap and better suited to those with budgets slightly bigger than mine.
Of course, as English football fans looking for home comforts, many of the Saints supporters located an English-style pub screening Sky Sports.
Unfortunately, trouble there a few days before meant it was closed to them in the run-up to that evening’s game.
It didn’t dampen spirits too much, however, as 7,500 away fans – around 13 percent of Southampton’s population – generated a real buzz in Milan’s bars and restaurants.
Arriving at the San Siro, it felt like a home game at St Mary’s in some respects as everywhere you looked there was Saints fans.
Inter, who have been overshadowed by Juventus in recent years, were in poor form going into the match and struggling to get decent crowds.
The English contingent made up over a quarter of the evening’s overall attendance, and created plenty of noise in the two-thirds empty stadium as Saints dominated the game.
However, the Premier League outfit were left to rue several missed chances as Antonio Candreva popped up with a 67th-minute strike against the run of play.
The hosts hung on for the win, despite the late dismissal of Marcelo Brozovic, and Southampton and their travelling army of fans were left distinctly deflated by the defeat.
But the disappointment was eased by the fact that we had outplayed our illustrious opponents on their own ground, and the night was still young.
Unfortunately, many of the bars we tried were pretty unaffordable while others had closed early to avoid any rowdiness, so the day ended in anti-climax.
For the remainder of our stay, we explored the city, soaked up some local culture and, of course, sampled the food which was of the highest quality.
You can actually eat pretty cheaply in Milan if you look hard enough, and for just €9 you can get a pizza so large it won’t even fit on your plate.
This is one of my favourite parts of an away trip – the opportunity to check out a new city, to experience adventures and do things that you might not have ever done without football taking you there in the first place.
The trip ended on an uncomfortable note, sleeping in the airport as we waited for out flight home at an ungodly hour. I guess it just shows what you’ll put up with to go and support your team.
If you can afford it – and it can be done on a tight budget – I really recommend trip like ours.
Experiencing the delights and sights of a new city with your mates while indulging your love of football is something you won’t forget.