Derby della capitale
By The Colonel
Roma V Lazio, 6th January 2005…
The furore of Paulo Di Canio’s appointment as Sunderland manager (ages ago) reminded me of a trip to Rome I made in January 2005 to see one of the world’s great derbies, the Derby della Capitale.
The Drunken Ship in Campo Dè Fiori has not been too welcoming to English football fans in recent years with supporters of Middlesbrough and Tottenham stabbed by Ultras when their clubs visited the city. We found it much more hospitable, with a two-hour drink-all-you can for 20 euros deal a great find in a city that can be pricey for a pint.
It was also a good opportunity to mix with locals and get some information about tickets and what to expect at the game. We met mostly Roma fans which was good as that is who we had decided to support. Roma fans claim to be the true Roman team as Lazio’s supporters tend to live outside the city in the country – ‘they milk the cow’ was how one Roma fan described it to us.
Tickets for the Curva Sud were secured the next morning from a tout outside the Olympic Stadium for 50 Euros. After that we spent the rest of the day visiting the Vatican, the Coliseum, the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain and some of the many historic attractions that Rome has to offer. (I lie, I spent most of the day throwing up over Rome’s tourist attractions to be honest).
On match day we headed to the ground early. We wanted to get an idea of the atmosphere first by checking out a few local bars and having a walk round the ground. We found a bar which was part of the Foro Italico complex.
It a good place to visit as it is pretty unchanged from when it was conceived in the late 1920s by the Fascist architect Enrico Del Debbio. There is a marble obelisk, 36m (120ft) high, with the words ‘Mussolini Dux’ carved on it and the avenue leading west of the obelisk is paved with black-and-white mosaics of good Fascists doing Fascist things – flying warplanes, saluting il Duce and working out.
When planning a football trip to the Rome Derby or any big game in Italy it’s important to remember that the Curvas fill up hours before kick-off.
Despite being an hour before kick-off it was very quiet outside the ground with lots of police around to try and keep the peace. The last Derby della Capitale had been abandoned at the start of the second half at the request of the Roma Ultras who believed a young fan had been killed by police outside the ground. The riot that followed led to 170 police being injured and multiple arrests. It was clear to us that everyone was already inside so we headed in as well.
As we’d arrived late the Curva Sud was packed and we struggled to get a place on the packed terrace. One of our group noticed an empty block of seats behind us and suggested moving there. I’m glad we didn’t as this block had been saved for one of the Ultra groups and I don’t think they would have been pleased with six English guys taking their seats.
They weren’t in the best of moods as it was. Shortly after they arrived to fill up their section a young Roma fan came into the ground covered in blood, apparently caused by the police outside. This was the cue for the Ultras to leave their seats and riot with the police outside.
We couldn’t really see what was happening and didn’t know if it was Lazio fans trying to get onto the Curva so it was pretty unnerving to be stood at the top of the stairs close to the entrance. If they were coming it was going to be us on the front line. The fighting with the police lasted half an hour, only ending a few minutes before kick-off.
Whilst we had been subjected to some pretty stringent searches, the Roma Ultras managed to walk through carrying large cardboard boxes full of flares and fireworks. Standing so close to the entrance gate was again not ideal as this was where the Roma fans dropped their ‘bangers’ so every five or so minutes you were shocked by a huge bang.
The display of the Roma fans and the noise was amazing as the teams walked out, exactly what we had come for. We had thought wrongly that the Roma fans were quite left wing so the racism coming from the Curva Sud was unexpected.
Paulo Di Canio was abused as a ‘Napolitano’ as the southern city’s inhabitants are considered “gypsies” by our Roman neighbours. Whilst Lazio are well known for their right wing fans, people often assume that Roma must be the opposite. This is not the case unfortunately and Roma have more than their share of racist ultra groups.
Only the Fedayn group of Ultras can be considered left wing and even they are mostly apolitical. Most recently Roma were forced to close the Curva Sud for the opening game of the season after a game against Napoli was stopped in May 2013 due to racist chanting aimed at Mario Balotelli.
We had been quickly sussed as English arriving on the terrace and we got plenty of strange looks. Fortunately by joining in with most of the Roma chants and throwing out a few ‘Lazio Van Fanculo’s we were eventually warmly welcomed with hip flasks and handshakes offered and gratefully accepted.
It was hard to concentrate on what was happening on the pitch as so much was happening in the stands. To our right Roma and Lazio fans were throwing flares, fireworks and anything else they could find across the game dividing the North and South of the ground.
Both fans had impressive displays of banners and flags and sang continuously during the game. Lazio eventually got the better of things on the pitch with Di Canio scoring the opening goal in front of our end. As if the atmosphere was not tense enough Di Canio responded to the Roma taunts by giving a Nazi/Roman salute in front of our Curva.
Cassano equalised in the second half but goals from Ceasar and Rocchi in the last 15 minutes gave Lazio the victory.
We stayed in the ground long after the game had finished and most of the Curva had emptied. The atmosphere had been everything we expected and despite its darker side it was an amazing experience.
As a footnote my next visit to Roma with United in 2007 also brought me in close contact with their Ultras. It was bike chains, knives, sticks and stepladders being offered this time instead of handshakes and hip flasks unfortunately.
This article appeared in issue 11 of AFL. To buy it, or other issues, please visit our online stall: capitalism gone mad