How did I avoid paying Venice’s new ‘entrance fee’? By joining the local Venezia FC fans | Venice holidays

Sunday day-trippers to Venice flashing their €5 entry ticket QR code to get through the turnstiles at the city’s main access points look bemused when football supporters simply show their match tickets instead. Attending a sporting event just happens to be one of the exemptions in the opaque regulations behind what locals see as an attempt to turn their town into a living museum.

Anyone who joins the crowds of football fans making their way through the streets to the Sant’Elena neighbourhood, in the east of the city just beyond the Biennale Gardens, will discover that this city is a long way from being a museum, and that buying a ticket to watch Venezia FC affords the opportunity to enjoy a slice of local life. Where else in the world can you arrive at a football stadium by vaporetto (waterbus)? It costs just €15 to sit up in the Curva Sud stand surrounded by friendly cheering, singing Venetians, and watch a match against the backdrop of Venice’s lagoon.

For the last home game of the season, against lowly Feralpisalò from Lombardy, I jump on the vaporetto outside Venice Santa Lucia station headed for the Stadio Pier Luigi Penzo. Built in 1910, it is Italy’s second-oldest football ground, with a capacity of just 11,500. There are always plans afoot to build a modern stadium on the mainland, but for now it remains the unique venue where all of Venice – kids, mums and dads, bar staff, butchers, bank clerks and gondoliers – forget about the daily invasion of tourists and come together to support the local team. And that team is verging on promotion to the giddy heights of Serie A under American owners who have realised the global potential of a Venice football team.

The Penzo stadium is in the east of Venice, heading towards the Lido

Sitting next to me on the vaporetto, wearing the team’s distinctive green, orange and black, are local builder Thomas Blascovich and his son Nicolas. “Though I was born on the mainland, my parents come from Venice itself and I attended matches with my papà from the age of seven,” says Thomas. “I consider myself Venetian even though I live on the terraferma. And, though it may sound strange, the moment the bus crosses the Ponte della Libertà and I get on the vaporetto, well, I feel I am at home again.”

With tickets to the match almost sold out, I grab a seat early, high up in the rickety Curva Sud, home of the most passionate home supporters. Here I meet Nicholas Pettenello, an 18-year-old Venetian student. “All my friends at school support the team and it is a ritual for us to meet up and see the match on Sundays,” he says. “It is a great experience, win, lose or draw, with everyone singing and cheering for 90 minutes. It’s one of those rare moments when we are all Venetians together, standing united, forgetting all the tourists that take over the town.”

Match days always follow the same pattern, he says. “We meet at Sant’Elena for a beer and a panino at Vincent Bar en route to the stadium, and after the game we head for Via Garibaldi in the Castello district, where osterie like Strani and Alle Colonnette are favourites among supporters, and then on to Piazza San Marco. Pretty much a perfect day for a Venetian, so long as we win.”

One person I do not expect to see in the Curva is Duncan Niederauer, Venezia FC’s American owner and former CEO of the New York Stock Exchange. But there he is, proudly wearing his team’s shirt. He is welcomed like a saviour by the tifosi, and stays for the raucous celebrations after Venezia win 2-1. It is certainly not the kind of welcome the Glazers could expect if they ventured into the stands at Manchester United.

Happy Venezia supporters after the game

The 93rd-minute winning goal gives Venezia an outside chance of automatic promotion to Serie A on the last day of the season on Friday night. (The nail-biting playoffs are a more likely outcome, though, and may go on until 2 June.) After the match, I walk with the singing supporters to Via Garibaldi, where for once it is the cruise ship groups who look shocked as we cram over bridges into narrow streets.

In Trattoria alla Rivetta, a famed hangout for gondoliers near St Mark’s, Alvise d’Este, 31, is on a break from taking tourists along the Grand Canal. “Whenever I can get off work on a Sunday, I will be with my friends in the Curva Sud. Today I was working, but I was getting phone notifications from the game on my gondola.”

Back home, I have a final celebratory spritz al bitter with Lorenzo Pedrocco, a sprightly 88-year-old born close to Stadio Penzo and one of the few remaining Venetians who was there when the team famously won the Coppa Italia (Italian cup final) in 1941. “Sadly I cannot get to see matches any more,” he says. “But I am as proud of our team, of being a Venetian, so I was following the match today as always.”

Veteran fan Lorenzo Pedrocco raises a glass to his team Photograph: John Brunton

If Venezia do return to Serie A, glamorous teams such as Juventus, Inter Milan and AC Milan will be making the boat trip to the creaking Stadio Penzo next season. And tourists will see Piazza San Marco invaded by joyous tifosi belting out their favourite anthems in Venetian dialect, and traffic on the Grand Canal disrupted not by a victory parade atop a bus, but in a flotilla of gondolas.

Of course, there is always a big if with playoff matches, but even another season in Serie B will give all Venetians, those living in the historic centre and the diaspora on the mainland, the chance to celebrate their venezianità in their beloved island stadium.

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