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September 30 2020 3.34am

The Italian job

July 1 2001

Crystal Palace

Crystal Palace

The HOL team won a trip to Italy as prize for having the best independent football website by the Guardian newspaper.

ColiseumThe next day, we tried to blag our way past security into the Olympic Stadium, saying we had made a big pilgrimage, but the security guards would not have any of it.

After a couple of days in Rome, we headed up to Turin for the final leg of the trip. We nearly missed the train again after a confrontation with the police.

Steve nearly got bitten by one of their dogs as we were trying to explain in Italian that Hywel was drunk and he was really sorry that he had a slash against the wall and we had a train to catch.

I don't think the England songs in the station went down very well either. We finally arrived in Turin and Pete arrived from London. I asked the lady at reception if there were many English staying at the hotel watching the big game tomorrow.

To all our surprises, she said that the Lazio team was staying here and would be arriving at some point this afternoon. Oh my God, Lazio and Attilio Lombardo!! When we came down to lunch, the players were all in the bar having a quiet drink.

International stars such as Ravanelli, Veron, Boksic, Inzaghi, Lombardo, Couto , Mihajlovic and Sven Goran Eriksson, quality unmatched anywhere in the world, were all happily relaxing in the bar chatting to guests and talking on their mobile phones.

It was the perfect opportunity to chat with the stars and get a few pictures taken. I spoke to one of the coaches, which I later found out to be current England assistant manager Tord Grip, about football and Palace.

He said he liked Nicky Rizzo and could not understand why he was not getting many games for Palace. Ravanelli seemed eluctant to pose for a picture, he knew we were English not too keen on us since his unhappy time in England.

RavanelliMy Italian wasn't that bad for me to work out he called us "English w@nkers or words to that effect", but at least I got the picture!

I saw Lombardo and was biding my time to go over and talk to him. But without any warning, he was gone and the team was called up to the restaurant.

Oh no, I thought I missed my chance to speak to my hero! We had a couple more drinks and the boys wanted to go out on the town. I told them we were not going anywhere until I see Lombardo.

Eventually he finished his meal and I spoke to him. When asked if he would come back to South London even if we paid him a lot of cash, he just said nothing and laughed out loud. Never mind.

He seemed a really top bloke and surprised to see a Palace fan out there. I asked him if he would go in a picture with me and everyone else jumped in. I had to push them away and told them that I wanted a separate picture as I was the one who wanted to see him, not them. As I loudly told them all to go away, Lombardo was getting very embarrassed.

LombardoHe must have thought I fancied him or something. Then the others had a picture with him too.

My brief encounter with Lombardo made the whole holiday for me. Meeting an Italian great who had played for Sampdoria, Juventus, the national team and Palace was amazing.

I was happy now and ready for the night out where we even had time to throw Hywel into the fountain opposite the hotel as we had an old score to settle - very amusing.

The next day, I kept on bumping into Lombardo around the hotel and he must have thought I was stalking him.

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