Let us begin this piece with the cliché to end all cliché’s, that is practice makes perfect. No matter what level of sport you play at this phrase has no doubt at some point in time been drummed into you.
And why not, even if perfection cannot be achieved there is a degree of logic in the fact that the more you practice at something the better at it you will become. There is however a vast difference in perfecting your skill in the back garden or in conditioned matches of training to actually putting it into practice in the cauldron that is the match itself.
With the baying crowd, the flash of photographer’s cameras and the ever scrutinising eye of the media upon you, suddenly the things you have spent years of your life honing abandon you in the hour that you need them most. Then it happens, a slip, a missed placed pass or even a heavy touch and the opposition are in. The crowd turn against you, their anger just weighs heavier on your back and every further touch is laced with doubt. They haven’t seen the hours you’ve put in since you were four or five years of age, but then again, they don’t have to because in the hour that mattered most to them you have failed to make the grade.
Each second feels like an eternity for the nearly 10,000 or so Livorno fans who have gathered in the by-gone era of a stadium that is the Armando Picchi. The Amaranto lead 2-1 heading into the last six minutes of the final day of the season in a match they must win to secure their Serie B status. An in swinging free kick is lofted in from the left, for a brief moment the ball seems to defy gravity as it hovers above the mass of bodies assembled in the penalty area. Confidently goalkeeper Carlo Pinsoglio comes to claim, the 25-year-old had only been on the pitch barely 20 minutes after the man who started between the sticks Matteo Ricci had been given his marching orders. Under next to no pressure the perfectly able Pinsoglio rises to gather the ball, it is something he has done countless times before all with competent ease, but this time as the ball falls out of the nights sky the keeper’s hands fail him and inexplicitly the ball slips from his grasp. In the briefest of moments everyone goes stock still until they are awoken again by a lunging Manuel Turchi who caresses the ball home with the inside of his right booth.
Now the clock that had been inching forward so slowly, speeds up until eventually time runs out altogether. Livorno are relegated into Lega Pro, while opponents Virtus Lanciano survive a stay of execution. As for Moncalieri, native Pinsoglio, he has just become public enemy number one.
Skip back a number of months and everything seems so rosy in the Amaranto garden. They are the last side remaining in Serie B with a 100% record and the doubts surrounding manager Cristian Panucci seem to have been somewhat assuaged. It is however but just a false dawn, Panucci is not the prophet he seems to be and an undercurrent of discontent is bubbling under the surface.
As the season drifts on into the cold harsh days of December and January, Livorno take up residence among the lower ranks. Hostility that had been under the surface now explodes into the light with fans turning ever more against owner Aldo Spinelli of yellow raincoat wearing fame. Panucci had been given his marching orders in November, but replacement Bortolo Mutti manages to prove somehow even more inept. With the club turning in on itself rather than fighting outside forces their descent towards relegation becomes ever more pronounced. Eventually Mutti is kicked to the curb and Panucci is brought back into the role he’d occupied at the start of the season.
Needless to say, this was a move that was never going to work, for the main reason that Panucci is to management what God is to Atheists, somewhat lacking. He would then be sacked once more and another slew of managers would follow. As for Pinsoglio despite starting the season as number one choice, a mixture of his and his sides poor form has seen him dropped to the bench in favour of the younger Matteo Ricci. Resigned to not featuring again for the remainder of the season Pinsoglio watches on as Livorno take to the field against Lanciano in the biggest game the club has had in years.
As for what happened next well that was already chronicled above, but it was the events that unfolded after the match that the keeper will never truly forget. Held in the stadium for hours afterwards by Police, who feared reprisals from irate fans the players were eventually escorted to a nearby hotel. Where on the belief that things had died down they were allowed to leave. After meeting with his parents Pinsoglio made his way back to his car to drive home. As he approached the car he heard a voice behind him and turned to see a rather disgruntled fan. Expecting a barrage of insults the keeper was instead met by the fans fist which clocked just around the eye, forcing the Pinsoglio to seek medical attention.
It was the worst end possible to the worst day of the keeper’s career not only had he been responsible for the mistake that saw his side relegated but he had now also been assaulted in front of his parents.
Yet one cannot help but think there is a certain irony to it all (Punching players is unacceptable however) for the simple reason that if that ball which floated so delicately into the box, a ball he had dealt with so many times before had simply been punched to safety rather than attempted to have been caught. Then Pinsoglio would never have been punched in the face as a result.