NB. Waterpolo is to the Ligurians, what rounders is to a year 7 school girl. They. Love. It. Never before have I seen a face drop so dramatically as when I told M I had never seen a water polo match. I daren’t tell him I didn't know water polo was even a sport. I don't think I’ve ever felt so ashamed.
So when M invites me to a water polo match to see his nephew play a second division game, which is apparently quite a big deal, I politely accept.
We meet M’s brother (David) and his sister-in-law (Barbara) early and they drive us to Lavagna, another small village about 25 minutes drive further along the Ligurian Coast to watch the match. Unlike M, his brother is a quiet man who speaks English with caution and consideration. His wife doesn't speak English but smiles a lot and shows me videos of how to braid hair on Facebook so I love her immediately.
Once we get to the swimming pool, M’s sister-in-law Barbara goes to sit with the other mothers, to have a gossip about their sons and to dissect what they fed them before the match. G goes off to sit with the other children so I am left awkwardly tagging along with M and David. I spend a lot of time wondering when would be an acceptable moment for me to take a picture for Instagram, whether its acceptable to take photos of half naked Italian men chasing a ball, and weighing up whether its worth me getting a reputation as a creep for the sake of one picture.
David tells me that this is an important match because if they win they’ll get to go to first division to play against the big dogs in Rome. He’s sure Lavagna will win because they’re a much stronger team and also because his son is playing a key role in the Camogliese team. Seems he does not have much faith in his son.
I knew Italians were loud but two rival Italian towns in one very small enclosed space is something else. It’s all cheering, stomping, jeering, sweeping arms and drums. I was expecting the drums to stop when the game started, but, alas, no. They just keep banging them away through the whole thing. Every now and then everyone stands up and throws their arms in the air at the same time which I try to join in with, but really its very exhausting getting up and down all the time and I keep standing up when everybody else has already sat back down.
From what I can gather, the team is split into two, each half spending eight minutes in the water but also a lot of time standing poolside in little little speedos pulling in their stomachs.
Never have I felt so English.
In the end Camogli wins but David won't stop shaking his head and muttering darkly that ‘its a fix, so Lavagna don't have to pay for the team to go to the next level’
When the men get out the pool the mothers grab their faces and congratulate them. David gives his son some euro - ‘some pocket money for the disco tonight’.
His son is 25