The Ultras of Parma


Even to Italian football fanatics, a match between Parma and Empoli on a misty Sunday afternoon in late November would appear rather inconspicuous. For the clubs’ supporters, however, it was a fixture of particular importance. That both teams were locked in a relegation scrap was a contributing factor, but above all, this was the celebration of a 30-year gemellaggio (twinning) between the ultras of Parma and Empoli.

The friendship began when the two sides played in Serie B in 1984. Empoli triumphed 1-0, a fact many fans were apparently unaware due to the thick fog that had descended over the Stadio Carlo Castellini. Gracefully accepting their defeat, the thousands of travelling Parmensi felt obliged to inform their adversaries that they had actually triumphed. From then a friendship was born and on a Sunday back in November 2014 it was honoured. The two sets of fans mixed amicably, eating lunch together and exchanging messages during a match that was again won by Empoli. While the Parma players left the field to a chorus of whistles from the home support, the cordial relationship between the fans was maintained.

Parma lies in the north west of Emilia Romagna, a region contiguous with Tuscany to the south, Liguria to the west and Lombardy and the Veneto to the north. The region is bounded by the River Po and it is one of the most prosperous on the peninsula. In this wealthy city, Campanilismo (local pride) is keenly felt by the population. Indeed the Parmigiani can be somewhat supercilious at times, revelling in their affluent identity. But is it any wonder? This is a city that has given us Lamborghinis and some of the world’s finest produce, such as Prosciutto di Parma and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. The composer Giuseppe Verdi was also a Parmigiano and the Parma players often step into the Stadio Ennio Tardini to the tune of Verdi’s Marcia Trionfale. But while the city is generally renowned for its music, art and gastronomy, to a handful of its population, Parma FC represents an integral part of a Parmigiano’s identity.

During the summer of 1977, a group of youngsters formed the BOYS. United by their love for Parma FC and inspired by the ultras movement proliferating across Italy, the thinking was simple. The club colours would be defended under the aegis of this newly fledged group.

A banner was promptly designed in the city’s colours: blue and yellow with two stars on either side of the group’s name. Over the years this name has been tweaked to BOYS PARMA 1977 and they have moved to the Curva Nord, but they have stood the test of time, as they pointed out in their fanzine in 2012:

“Throughout the 1990s, groups that made history during the [ultra] movement such as the Fossa dei Leoni [AC Milan], Brigate Gialloblu [Hellas Verona], CUCS Roma disbanded for reasons that aren’t our business. However, just like us they were born back in the 1970s and thus 35 years of existence is a reason to be extremely proud.”

Supporters’ clubs were already well established at the Stadio Ennio Tardini before the BOYS were formed. Il Centro di Coordinamento del Parma represented the majority of the Crociati fanbase, and like the BOYS, the organisation still exists. However, the BOYS labelled themselves as ultras. The significance lies in the etymology of the word “ultra”, Latin for “beyond”. This is the mentality through which the BOYS differentiated themselves, going beyond the average call of duty for a supporter. Turning up to watch their team labour in Serie C and Serie B until the Ducali finally earned an historic promotion to Serie A in 1990. And between the years of 1990 and 2004 the supporters had plenty to shout about.

Bankrolled by the Tanzi family, owner of the local dairy industry giant Parmalat, Parma became one of the most successful clubs in Italy. Three Coppa Italia triumphs, two Uefa Cups, one Cup Winners’ Cup and a second-place finish in Serie A earned them the tag as one of the Sette Sorelle (Seven Sisters), the most prominent clubs in Serie A.

Gianluigi Buffon, Fabio Cannavaro, Lilian Thuram, Dino Baggio, Gianfranco Zola, Hernan Crespo and Enrico Chiesa were but of a few of the illustrious names to wear the yellow and blue jersey. This newfound success meant the supporters encountered new rivalries. Their battles with Juventus, including Parma’s famous victory in the 1995 Uefa Cup final, ensured the Vecchia Signora remains a coveted scalp. This is not to say their historic rivals were forgotten. The local derbies against Reggiana (Derby del Grana) and Bologna (Derby D’Emilia) have been the ultras’ traditional battlegrounds.

However, as the old proverb goes, “all good things must come to an end”. In 2003 a criminal investigation into Parmalat uncovered gross financial irregularities, leading to bankruptcy and its CEO, Calisto Tanzi, being imprisoned in 2006. This had a disastrous knock-on effect. In 2004 Parma were declared insolvent and this culminated in the club’s relegation from the top flight in 2008. The club bounced back, enjoying a sixth-place finish in Serie A under coach Roberto Donadoni during the 2013-14 season.

However, financial problems would come back to haunt the club and after a return to Europe was barred due to the late payment of a tax bill, the sheer scale of the clubs debts became apparent during the 2014-15 season. Club President Tommaso Ghirardi had accumulated a total debt of more than $200m and in December 2014, he sold Parma for one euro to a Russian-Cypriot conglomerate. The situation left the Parmensi humiliated and culminated in the clubs bankruptcy and relegation to Italy’s fourth tier. Under the guise of Parma Calcio 1913, the Ducali are rebuilding in Serie D. They will do so with the staunch backing of their supporters, who broke a Serie D record for season ticket holders after just three days of tickets being on sale.

Just like the club, the ultras have not always enjoyed an easy ride. During the late 1980s the nucleus of the BOYS was decimated after a derby against Bologna turned nasty. Twenty-nine policemen were injured and, as a result, a wave of repression threatened the group’s very existence.

In March 2008 tragedy struck when one of the group’s leading members, Matteo Bagnaresi, was run over and killed on his way to a game against Juventus. The bus that hit the 27-year-old was carrying Juve fans and accounts regarding the incident differ. Some claimed it was as a result of fan-related violence, causing the driver to panic and consequently run down Bagnaresi. Others maintain that this was a simple road accident. Following Bagnaresi’s death, the Curva Nord was renamed in his honour. His loss is still keenly felt by Parma ultras and on the fifth anniversary of his passing, before a game against Pescara, the BOYS orchestrated an imposing choreography with an image of Bagnaresi and the caption “Ribelle col sorriso, Bagna vive” (“Rebel with a smile, Bagna lives”).


Despite this poignant episode, the BOYS are known across Italy for being somewhat tame. Laughable though it may be, this reputation has made them a target for mockery by rival supporters. On occasions, however, this patient demeanour is tested. Last season, following the team’s sixth defeat in seven games against Atalanta, the BOYS stayed in the stands after the final whistle and demanded answers. A face-to-face meeting was held with the players, with club captain Alessandro Lucarelli taking the brunt of the disgruntled inquiries.

While the presence and power of the ultras on the terraces has diminished, their influence in club affairs is still significant. This remains a questionable aspect of Italian football, unimaginable in England. Yet, it is hard not to sympathise with the logic behind these actions. The ultras simply expect their own commitment to be matched on the field. Indeed, for the huge sums of money supporters spend on watching their teams, there are plenty of other disgruntled fans who would welcome the opportunity to question the commitment of some of their under-performing, yet extremely well-paid players. Regardless, Parma’s ultras will continue to enjoy and suffer every moment of their team’s emotional rollercoaster.


This article originally appeared on The Gentleman Ultra and The Guardian Sports Network


Ben Tornato Siena: Has The Robur’s Revival Begun?


We met in Piazza Tolomei, a quaint little square surveyed by a statue of the Capitoline Wolf. The symbol is ubiquitous in Siena, as is the Balzana, the white and black coat of arms adorning walls across the city. From Piazza Tolomei, we moseyed down towards Siena’s hub, Piazza del Campo.

It’s an impressive sight. Upon entering the square, one’s gaze is immediately drawn to the Palazzo Pubblico and its imposing tower, the Torre del Mangia. Viewed from the tower’s peak, the square’s architectural ingenuity is revealed. Its shell-shaped design is encircled by a number of trendy restaurants and bars, some of which boast balconies looking out on the square. One such bar is La Costarella.

“Shall we grab a coffee here?” Marco asked. Having come across my research on the Ultras of his club, he was keen to talk football. We were at the start of October, the late summer air was sultry and Robur Siena’s 2014-15 Serie D season was underway. Marco is a regular on the Curva at Siena’s Stadio Artemio Franchi, however watching his club compete in a non-professional category was a new experience.

Just a few months earlier, AC Siena went bankrupt. It was hardly surprising after the financial bailout of Monte dei Paschi in 2013. The oldest bank in the world is the beating heart of Siena’s economy and its patronage is crucial to the city’s prosperity. Bereft of their patron, the club was drowning. In July 2014, after president Massimo Mezzaroma resigned, nothing could keep them afloat.

But under the guise of Robur, translated as strength and used by supporters to distinguish the club from their basketball cousins, Siena were reborn. Their new title was apt, for while 110-years of history had been preserved, rebuilding from Serie D would require sheer strength of will.

The Toils of Serie D

“We can’t lose to a team like them,” Marco muttered, flicking through the pink pages of the Gazzetta dello Sport. “Playing against Siena at the Franchi is like playing in the Champions League final for their fans, it would be an embarrassment if we lost.”

That Saturday afternoon, the Bianconeri (White and blacks) were hosting Poggibonsi, a team from a small town located just 30 kilometres north of Siena. It was a derby, but of an unfamiliar kind. Just two years before, they had been living the visceral passion of games against virulent rivals Fiorentina in Serie A. But the Robur’s revival had to start somewhere.

As Marco predicted, for Poggibonsi fans the game held particular prestige. Huddled in the Curva Ospiti, a few hundred yellow and red bodies swayed, bounced and chanted during what was a humdrum 0-0 draw. On occasions, the Poggibonsesi attempted to rile their illustrious hosts with chants of ‘Siena Siena Vaffanculo’. But the Senesi in the Curva Robur didn’t deign to respond, instead choosing to insult their historic and ‘worthy’ rivals, Fiorentina.

In reality though, the upstarts from Poggibonsi proved difficult to shrug. They challenged Siena for the Group E, Serie D, title to the bitter end. However the Robur prevailed, securing promotion and the title with a final day victory at Massese. Speaking to Marco immediately afterwards, his relief was palpable. One year on from bankruptcy, Siena had returned to the football that counts.”

But Serie D had its perks. “In comparison to Serie B and Serie A, the division allowed supporters a lot more freedom. It was like getting to know a new world” Marco reflected.

“It was more spontaneous. There were huge away days with hundreds of supporters, sometimes thousands. Every Sunday was an invasion, a party for us and for the small towns that hosted La Robur as we packed their restaurants and bars. Amazing support, with drums and flairs. Tickets bought last minute outside the away section. It was a dive into football from the past.”

Yet as the Bianconeri prepare for life in Lega Pro, is it really a case of ben tornato (welcome back) Siena?

Siena, a World of its Own


Piazza del Campo’s Palazzo Pubblico

The balconies of those trendy bars in Piazza del Campo offer the best view of the oldest horse race in the world, the Palio di Siena. Albeit it would likely cost you in excess of €350.

Palio è vita” (Palio is life) runs the local phrase. Held twice a year in July and August, this medieval tradition sees ten jockeys race bareback, completing three laps of the Piazza del Campo’s treacherous course. The competitors represent the various Contrade (City Disricts) and the event is both a celebration of the Siena’s rich culture and history, as well as its abiding intra-civic rivalry.

The Senesi live and breathe this event. The passion is raw, as exhibited during the most recent Palio in which a fist fight broke out in the square between two rival Contrade, Torre and Onda.

Unfortunately for Marco, his Contrada La Chiocciola (The Snail) – did not win the city’s bragging rights. “La Chiocciola had a weak horse and never stood a chance” he lamented, “Selva won. There was a lot of tension in the square which resulted in the fights, but the race itself was a little uneventful.”

Football has hardly been given a moment’s thought. But once the dust on the track has settled, and the drama has subsided, rival Contrade put their differences to one side. Observing Siena’s relationship with the Palio, renowned Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini, concluded: “You people of Siena have a precious thing, and its unique how in the conflict between your districts lies your union.” And what better place to express this unity than the football stadium?

A Long Road Back for La Robur

“The final whistle at Massa [Massese] was a huge relief” Marco confessed. “Promotion [from Serie D] was not easy, but in the end, the joy of winning a championship is always enormous.”

As the squad’s coach pulled into the city, hundreds of exultant Senesi were present to greet them. As is tradition, the team then joined supporters for their triumphant procession through the city centre, the capi ultrá orchestrating proceedings and leading the chants.

“Of course none of this [success] would have been possible without a group of great players and a great Mister [coach] like Massimo Morgia” Marco admitted, “This man, frank and genuine, was able to create a feel good factor within the city and the supporters.”

Having arrived at the Bianconeri a year ago, Morgia engineered their promotion from Serie D. His passion, old-school philosophy and grounded personality immediately struck a chord with the fans, with whom he conversed on a regular basis. Yet having seemingly put Siena on the road to recovery, Morgia’s contract has not been renewed. This has been exacerbated by the departure of key players, including top scorers Lorenzo Crocetti and Simone Minincleri. The situation left Marco and many Senesi questioning president Antonio Ponte. “The failure to renew Morgia’s contract and that of key players was a move I didn’t like in the slightest. It seems like Antonio Ponte takes things day by day.”

Siena fans have reason to be sceptical, especially when it comes to trusting their owners. The wounds of bankruptcy are yet to fully heal and they cannot forget the guilty parties involved in their demise. At games, insulting chants are still directed at former president Massimo Mezzaroma and Alessandro Profumo, one-time CEO of bank Monte dei Paschi who is now on trial for a tax evasion scheme. It’s a subject on which Marco speaks passionately.

“For outsiders, it’s difficult to understand how things work in Siena. The vast sums of money injected into the city by the bank were never used to build a solid sport infrastructure. Just think that Siena have never had a proper training ground, forcing them to use alternative facilities. Instead a ludicrous amount of money (around €10m a year) was channelled into backhanded payments and personal favours within the system. Over the years, Siena’s supporters have been a prominent voice of opposition and denunciation. Following bankruptcy, some hoped this voice would disappear however this hasn’t been the case.”

Lega Pro: Back To The Present While Reliving The Past


While Serie D may have been a dive into the past, Lega Pro will certainly haul the Senesi back to the present. The controversial supporter’s ID card (La Tessera del Tifoso) will once again be required if the fans wish to travel to away games. Furthermore, regulations regarding the use of paraphernalia for choreographies are far more stringent.

“The Tessera is a measure that serves only to distance people from Calcio.” Marco’s view is one mirrored by many supporters across Italy, and the Tessera is often maligned for reducing ticket sales while failing to tackle football-related disorder. “The absence of drums, flares and other materials detracts from the atmosphere however the numbers we take to away games will also depend on the team’s results.”

Enthusiasm will certainly not be lacking when Siena meet the likes of Pisa and Arezzo. These games transcend the average local rivalry, largely due to their historical back-drop. “In Italy, Campanilismo is fierce, perhaps more so in Tuscany than any other region” Marco opined. He is part of Siena’s younger generation and thus has become accustomed to the rivalry with Fiorentina, also known as the Guelph-Ghibelline derby.

“In Siena we have a strong link with our past, which is still very much alive today. The rivalry with Florence dates back centuries, to the battles and wars fought between the cities from 1200 to the mid-1500s for the supremacy of Tuscany.” This Campanilismo or local pride endures and often reaches its peak within the stadium. “A football match, in this case, represents the means by which you relive the conflicts of the past within the present” Marco poetically affirmed. And he is expecting equally volatile affairs in Lega Pro. “For me, the most fascinating match will be against Pisa, a team with a great history and large fan base. Let’s just hope we have a team worthy of the occasion.”

Hope of a Robur Renaissance Springs Eternal

Recent developments and transfer activity at Siena has fuelled more optimism among the supporters. Fresh faces have arrived while the team has performed well in a number of pre-season friendlies. Fresh off the back of two uninspiring seasons at Reggina, new coach Gianluca Atzori has a point to prove. The tactician is assembling a competitive squad, including a blend of experienced Serie A veterans such as former Reggina forward Emiliano Bonazzoli and Siena stalwart Daniele Portanova, as well as a number of young loanees.

“In terms of talents to watch out for, 17-year-old defender Daniele Guglielmi has a bright future while in attack we have loaned 18-year-old Kevin Arthur Yamga from Chievo and tre-quartista Marco Piredda from Cagliari.” Marco believes these are all players who could help Siena make the jump in quality. Young goalkeeper Tommaso Biagiotti also has the Senesi excited. Hailing from Siena, the 17-year-old is a boyhood fan of the club and towards the end of last season he saved a crucial penalty, further endearing him to the Artemio Franchi faithful.

During that season, the same faithful would often chant “I dilettanti non ci fa paura, ritorneremo presto in Serie A” (Playing in non-league football doesn’t faze us, we’ll soon return to Serie A). Of course that is La Robur’s long term goal however Marco is not getting ahead of himself.

“That [Serie A] is what we must be aiming for. Our support is as passionate as any. However to return to Serie B or Serie A, and even better, remain there, we need capable owners and investment.” For Marco, the priority lies with creating a sound infrastructure and investing in the future. Siena need to establish a stable base from which to continue their ascent, however there remain doubts as to whether these goals are achievable under the aegis of the current president.

“The priorities have to be a state of the art training ground, a strong youth section and a new stadium, preferably one that we own. At the moment these are all dreams” Marco sighed. “We must take inspiration from clubs like Udinese, Atalanta, Empoli and Carpi. It doesn’t matter how many years it takes, if there was a serious project at work, I’d be happy to accept fewer victories.”

With the Lega Pro season due to kick-off on September 6, anticipation is building around the city. The Robur’s revival has got off to the perfect start yet Marco’s expectations remain modest. “I hope we survive comfortably and perhaps win against the likes of Arezzo, Ascoli, Pisa, Ancona, Lucchese and Reggiana. These will be passionate affairs and I hope our team is up to the task.”

Robur Siena are awakening as they prepare to confront historic foes. But they have plenty of battles ahead if they wish to re-establish dominance within Tuscany. For at this present time, returning to Serie A appears anything but black and white.

Grazie Mille to Marco for all his expertise and help during my time in Siena, he is a true Senese! 



The Ultras of Palermo


Palermo fans celebrating their return to Serie A in 2014

A guide to the Ultra groups in Italy: Palermo

City: Palermo

Key Ultra groupsCommandos Aquile, Warriors Ultras Palermo 1980, Ultras Palermo 1900, Brigate Rosanero.

In April 2014, a young Palermo fan called Jose sat in the Stadio Renzo Barbera’s Curva Nord Inferiore for the first time. While many young Italians dream of hearing their name chanted in the stadium, Jose’s ambition was to be part of the comradery formed on the terraces. The ultras embraced him as one of their own, sitting him next to the lancicori, the leader of the chants, and giving him the responsibility of beating the drum.

This is no small task. Incessantly hammering a drum, waving a huge flag or screaming over a microphone for 90 minutes leaves little time to enjoy the aesthetics on the field. However, these roles are central to the spectacle created by these groups. That this young Palermo fan has Down’s Syndrome serves to illustrate some inherent contradictions in the Italian ultras. Throughout this series, altruism is not a word that has come to be associated with the fangroups. All too often, incidents of violence, coercion and discrimination have cast a dark shadow over the more positive aspects of these fanatical supporters. Yet, although their world and attitudes can bewilder, it is not all chants, flares, fireworks and violence.

The city of Palermo offers myriad styles and flavours, from exotic Arabic cupolas and exuberant baroque facades to archaic crumbling palazzi. The architecture speaks for the cultural diversity of Sicily’s regional capital. This is in large part due to Palermo’s quilted history, and its strategic position at the heart of the Mediterranean has brought wave upon wave of invaders, including the Carthaginians, Greeks, Romans, Saracen Arabs, French and Spanish.

As such, there is no homogenous style in Palermo; there never has been and there never will be. However, in this urban melting pot, there is one outlet that provides a source of collective identity: U.S. Città di Palermo. Support for the Rosanero often comes hand in hand with a sense of belonging to Sicily, hence the regular appearance of Sicilian flags in the stands.


Palermo’s pioneering ultra group were formed in 1977 and adopted the name Commandos Aquile after drawing inspiration from Roma’s Commando Ultra Curva Sud. As usual in Italian ultra culture, Commandos Aquile did not separate football from politics. Throughout their existence they maintained a strong affiliation to the left. With the formation of new groups, however, this political ideology would shift drastically.

1980 saw the birth of Brigate Rosanero and Warriors Ultras Palermo, two groups that became the vanguard of the club’s organised support. Brigate were founded by a group of youngsters from the Olivella zone in Palermo and they immediately concerned themselves with creating a more vibrant support. Warriors became notorious for their far-right political sympathies, which would eventually cause Commandos Aquile to disband.

Palermo have struggled to cement a place among the elite clubs in Italian football, oscillating between the country’s top three leagues. The journey of their ultras has mirrored the team’s; as results have improved, the numbers on the Curva have burgeoned. That said, even when the club were expelled to Serie C2 in 1987 due to financial irregularities, the ultras never abandoned their boys in pink.

Since the early 2000s, under the tenure of their capricious owner Maurizio Zamparini, also known as Mangia allenatori (manager eater), the supporters have tasted ample success. This has included European football, a fifth-place finish in Serie A and a run to the Coppa Italia final. Throughout this more prosperous period, both the Brigate and Warriors became renowned for their substantial presence during away games, despite the often gruelling journeys they were forced to travel across the mainland.

Such was the Warriors’ popularity that new sections of the group were created by Palermitani in other regions of Italy, including Lombardy, Emiglia Romagna and Lazio. Historically, Palermo’s Curva Nord has been the flag bearer of their ultras movement, but in recent years a small group of supporters have taken up residence in the Curva Sud, renowned as the “silent” section of the ground. This season, riding the wave of success following the club’s return to Serie A, the Stadio Renzo Barbera has seen a re-styling of support. In an attempt to provide a more cohesive and united front, groups from both the upper and lower sections of the Curva Nord fused to create Ultras Palermo 1900.

Curiously, Palermo ultras are said to have a close friendship with Padova fans. For those educated in Italy’s political landscape this might come as a surprise. Especially given that the Veneto region in which Padova is located has a reputation for being a hotbed of anti-southern sentiment (the regionalist party Lega Nord gained 60.2% of the local vote in 2010). Indeed the motto of the fans’ twinning acknowledges this North-South schism: “Nessuna secessione potrà fermare la nostra unione!” (“No secession can break our union”).

It is said this friendship was born in the early 1980s after a group of Padovani who were on holiday in Sicily found themselves in gregarious conversation with Palermo ultras. Friendly exchanges were continued during the teams’ next meeting in 1983 and this nascent alliance was reinforced further by their shared right-wing ideology. Despite the distance that separates them, the ultras have maintained their twinning to this day and they have been known to attend each other’s games.

Palermo’s biggest rivals are their Sicilian counterparts, Catania. The animosity that surrounds the Derby di Sicilia is vehement and poisonous. Graffiti reading “Forza Etna” can often be seen sprawled across walls in Palermo, a grotesque plea to the volcano to eviscerate Catania, which lies mercilessly in its shadows. John Foot, author of Calcio: A History of Italian Football has described the rivalry between Sicily’s two biggest clubs as a “political battle” in which the two cities are left “fighting for resources in one of Italy’s poorest and most corrupt of regions.”

This antipathy was brutally exhibited back in February 2007 after violent clashes between opposition fans culminated in the death of police officer Fillippo Raciti. However, both sets of fans have more in common than their pride would allow them to admit. They both have an ardent sense of pride for their island and a large proportion feel more Sicilian than Italian.

Upon taking a photo of his son immersed in the heart of the Curva Nord Inferiore, Jose’s father remarked: “When my son is with you all he is overjoyed.” One of the Palermo ultras described the day as a “beautiful moment for the Rosanero support, one of those moments which fills you with pride.” Being a part of these groups gives thousands of Italians a sense of belonging and identity.

It’s not easy to square the circle between an altruistic gesture and the more egregious examples of mindless thuggery, but this young boy’s story illustrates that, while it is easy to fixate on the negatives, positives do exist. In a city that has been fractured by poverty, countless invasions and discrimination, Palermo offers a nexus around which the people can rally. The ultras see themselves as defenders of this tradition.


First published on The Guardian and The Gentleman Ultra


Verona – Vicenza: One of Italy’s Forgotten Rivalries.

Vicenza CUrva

On a Friday night back in April, Davide Di Gennaro calmly dispatched a 92nd minute penalty to earn Vicenza a 1-0 victory away to Cittadella. The travelling Vicentini erupted. It was another invaluable victory in their quest for promotion to Serie A and one made all the sweeter by the fact that Cittadella are local rivals.

The two cities are separated by just 25-kilometres and Vicenza fans undoubtedly enjoyed a moment of schadenfreude as their victory ensured Cittadella slipped further into the Serie B relegation mire. However as the away contingent burst into song, their vocals were directed at one local rival in particular – Hellas Verona.

“Chi non salta è veronese, ooooo, ooooo, ooooo, o, o, o.”

‘Who doesn’t jump is a Verona fan’ bellowed the chant as a morass of red and white bounced to the tune of the famous partisan anthem ‘Bella Ciao’. For while every derby game matters, in the Veneto region there is none more fervent than that between Vicenza and Verona.

 The two rivals were formed just one-year apart, Vicenza in 1902 and Hellas Verona in 1903. Since then, they have played the role of provincial upstarts, both experiencing spells of transient success in which they challenged Italian football’s elite.

 In 1953, after Vicenza were saved from their economic woes by woollen firm Lanerossi, under the guise of their new proprietors, they became a Serie A regular throughout the 1960s and most of the 1970s. This period culminated in the Biancorossi’s most successful season to date after the goals of legendary Italian forward Paolo Rossi steered them to second place in the 1977-78 Serie A season.

 Verona would go one better just seven years later when, under the tenure of Coach Osvaldo Bagnoli, they won the Scudetto in 1985. Inspired by the attacking prowess of Preben Elkjær, Pietro Fanna, Antonio Di Gennaro and Giuseppe Galderisi, the triumph remains Hellas’s only Serie A title.

 However more often than not, Vicenza and Verona have been perennial strugglers, something which has only helped strengthen their rivalry. Separated by no more than an hour’s car journey, it was a rivalry that started in 1906 after the pair met for the first time in a regional tournament. Vicenza won 2-1 and since that day the rivalry has only intensified. But there is much more to the Derby del Veneto than just football.

The Veneto boasts some of Northern Italy’s most idyllic locations, from the floating city of Venice to Verona’s Casa di Giulietta. It’s a region that takes pride in its culture and traditions, whose people are often keen to distinguish themselves not only from the rest of Italy, but from those living just down the road.


Venice: The Floating City

The main avenue through which the Veneti express this local patriotism, or Campanilismo, is through their language. While often referred to as a vernacular, Venetian is actually a Western Romance Language. The accent is instantly recognisable by its guttural yet rhythmic sound, perhaps owing to the regions history, during which it experienced Spanish and Austro-Hungarian rule. As a result, the dialects and accents vary from town to town, each with their own intricacies and tweaks.  For example, Hellas fans refer to each other as butei, Veronese dialect for ragazzi (boys) while in Vicentino, ragazzi becomes tosi. Understanding the Vicenza –Verona rivalry, requires a certain grasp of Italian history.

There is an old Veneto saying:

Veneziani gran signori,

Padovani gran dottori,

Vicentini magnagati,

Veronesi tutti mati.

Venetians lords and earls,

Paduans learned doctors,

Vicentini cat eaters,

Veronesi are all mad.

The saying has its roots in the past. Venice was renowned for its commerce and merchant classes whilst Padua was – and is – famous for its university and medical school. The Vicentini’s rather more unflattering tag is thought to have originated from an era in which Vicenza – and the Veneto as a whole – suffered crippling poverty, leading to rumours that the people of Vicenza resorted to eating cats. The epithet has stuck. As for the Veronesi, the presence of two psychiatric hospitals in the city (San Giacomo and Marzana) combined with the fresh air of the Monte Baldo mountain range is alleged to have inspired their ‘mad’ moniker. Indeed, someone with an eccentric character is said to have ‘Spirito Montebaldino’ – the spirit of Monte Baldo.

 The adage also reflects the regions civic rivalries. During the middle ages the Scaligeri (Scala) family made Verona one of the most powerful city’s in northern Italy, bringing the territories of Padua, Treviso and Vicenza under their dominion. Vicenza remained under Scaligeri rule until the Doge’s republic of Venice eventually broke Verona’s autonomy in 1405. But the antipathy between the cities has endured.

 In the absence of warring lords and despotic families, sport, namely Calcio, has in the words of eminent psychologist William James, offered the cities a “moral equivalent of war.” In his book ‘A Season with Verona’, Hellas fan and author Tim Parks offered the quintessential summary when recalling the clubs first ever victory against Vicenza.

 “That day in 1912 the Veronese crowd, unarmed, discovered a new way of expressing their antique rivalry with their neighbours. For the first time they could take pleasure, unarmed, in their neighbours discomfort… You beat the neighbouring town at football and a collective dream is born.”

Verona curva

 “The derby with Vicenza is probably more than a game of football.” Charles Ducksbury tells me, “Even Veronesi with no interest in the game hate Vicenza.” Charles should know. He has been following Hellas since he was 9-years-old and his passion for the club and the city is undiminished.

Charles has lived the derby, both home and away. He has had objects hurled at him, inhaled the smoke of the flares and sung his vocal chords dry. “The hostility can be intense. When they [Vicenza] beat us in our promotion season [from Serie B], the Vicentini were kept inside the Stadio Bentegodi for almost three hours because of the Butei outside waiting for them.”

His last Derby del Veneto involved a trip to Vicenza’s Stadio Romeo Menti back in September 2012. Verona won 3-2 thanks to a Domenico Maietta goal, something of a collector’s item given the defender has only scored three times throughout his 15-year career. Not that Charles had the pleasure of seeing this rare strike.

 “My impression of that game is that I hardly saw any of it. Behind the goal is some huge netting to stop people throwing things on the pitch. So the Butei hung their flags on it, and from where I was stood, most of the pitch was covered up.”

 Back then the sides met in Serie B, a season in which Hellas won promotion while their red and white counterparts slipped down to Lega Pro. But in truth, the last decade has seen both clubs struggle, on and off the field. At the Scaligeri’s nadir in 2009, the club flirted with relegation to the bottom tier of Calcio’s professional pyramid. Even more recently, the future of Vicenza was in doubt after their financial malaise triggered talks of a merger with their city bedfellows, Real Vicenza V.S.

Back in 2012, Charles observed that the hostilities between the two sets of fans might be easing, which he attributes to more stringent policing.

 “To be honest, I think that particular derby I attended was tame compared to others I’ve read about. Inside (the stadium), we sang all game of course, and the Vicenza ultras had a couple of good choreo’s, but I wouldn’t say it was as hostile as normal. It was too hot. There have been many violent incidents in the past, but recent years it has seen less violence around the stadium, though this is more to do with police presence than the will of the fans.”

But other factors may have also contributed. Both clubs travails mean it has been 14-years since the Gialloblu met the Biancorossi in Serie A. Furthermore, the rise in prominence of Chievo Verona, haughtily dismissed by Hellas fans for their miniscule fan base, has seen the intra-city rivalry intensify.

 “It is a complex relationship. For years they [Chievo] were a second team of many Hellas fans, but now of course they’re not. It’s an important game now, because of the history of them using our colours, symbol, stadium etc. But to consider this rivalry above all others is laughable.” Charles retorted.

It is Verona against Vicenza that really makes the blood boil and for Tim Parks no game compares. “…in the end it always comes back to this old game with the magnagati, our cuginastri (nasty cousins). The one no one wants to lose, the one that will attract the most away supporters. No distinction is more urgent or more arduous than that between ourselves and those who most resemble us, the guys down the road.”

Were Vicenza to make a return to Serie A, the flame would undoubtedly be reignited. After losing out to Pescara in the 2014-15 Serie B semi-final play-offs, the Vicentini will hope that they can use this experience as a platform from which to propel themselves into Serie A next season. The Veronesi undoubtedly revelled in their rivals failure, however they would have equally relished the chance to relive this historic rivalry on Italy’s grandest stage.

Outside the Veneto region, the Verona-Vicenza derby has been somewhat forgotten. But for the aficionados, it is one of the peninsula’s most fascinating rivalries. It’s a matter of history and pride. It’s the butei against the tosi, the mati against the magnagati. It’s an antique clash and one to decide the rulers of the Veneto. For those involved, the stakes couldn’t be higher.

With thanks to Veronese, Charles Ducksbury, and Vicentino, Marcello Casarotti, for their help and insight. Images courtesy of Marcello.

Originally published on The Gentleman Ultra



“They Always Say Time Changes Things…?” Is It Really Goodbye To Blatter’s FIFA?


“Blatter has demonstrated his intransigence knows no bounds. The man himself said he intends to “leave through the front door and leave with a clean house.” After four terms in office, he is not about to relinquish power, at least not without a long fight.”

They say a lot can change in just 10 minutes of football, well try 24-hours. Sepp Blatter saved his greatest act of chicanery till last. Having duped us into believing he would unabashedly continue his 17-year reign as Fifa president, at an official Fifa press conference on Tuesday, Blatter announced he would resign. Jaws dropped unanimously. Not many could have predicted this latest twist in the Fifa saga.

Last week, the arrest of seven Fifa officials on bribery and corruption charges plunged Fifa into crisis. Calls for Blatter to resign were vociferous. Yet, he was his usual ebullient and obstinate self, vowing to restore trust and “find a way to fix things.” But as new evidence placed Blatter’s top deputy, Jérôme Valcke, at the centre of this storm, the 79-year-old’s position became increasingly  precarious. Then came his shock press conference.

“It is my deep care for Fifa and its interests, which I hold very dear, that has led me to take this decision” a weary looking Blatter told the world.

There has been much speculation surrounding Blatter’s sudden U-turn. The pressure heaped upon Fifa by its sponsors may well have been a factor, with Visa, Coke and MCDonald’s all welcoming Blatter’s decision to resign. But perhaps more significantly, reports in the US media just hours after Blatter’s announcement alleged that he was also the subject of a corruption inquiry by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The news of his departure has been greeted with rapture, at least within the West. England’s Football Association chairman, Greg Dyke, triumphed that Blatter’s decision is “brilliant for world football” while potential Fifa president candidate, Luis Figo, said “Change is finally coming. Let’s find a solution to start a new era of transparency and democracy in Fifa.”

In reality however, the fight to clean up Fifa has just begun. First of all, Blatter hasn’t actually officially resigned yet.

“While I have a mandate from the membership of Fifa, I do not feel that I have a mandate from the entire world of football” Blatter continued, “Therefore, I have decided to lay down my mandate at an extraordinary elective Congress. I will continue to exercise my functions as Fifa President until that election.”

While the Swiss football administrator has been duplicitous before, it’s unthinkable that he would renege on this pledge. That is not to say that Blatter won’t go without resistance and exerting influence. The very fact he has resigned, rather than allowing himself to be ignominiously toppled, demonstrates his desire to cling to power for as long as humanly possible. The next Fifa congress at which a new president will be elected is expected to take place between December 2015 and March 2016. Blatter will still posses considerable clout, particularly when it comes to influencing the next Fifa election. His support in continents such as Africa and Asia will not dissipate and as such, one begins to realise just how long and arduous the road to reforming Fifa could prove.

Blatter was the face of Fifa’s corruption but he wasn’t the body and soul. Deceit and avarice have been engrained in Fifa over years, cementing a culture of corruption and patronage in which Fifa’s hegemony stand to profit. Fifa is a Machiavellian type organisation, one built upon the premise that deviance is the most effective means through which to cling onto power. Sociologist, Ellis Cashmore, explained this phenomenon by citing a fellow academic, an Italian scholar named Vilfredo Pareto. Responding to the question of whether a change in Fifa leadership would make a difference, Cashmore replied:

“There are always cliques that rise to the top and engineer ways of staying there. He [Pareto] called it the Circulation of Elites. If he were around today, he’d probably conclude that, in a largscale organization like Fifa, which has reserves of about $15 billion, it really doesn’t matter who’s in charge: the people in positions of power will try to feather their own nest — make money for themselves.”

Another interesting facet of Blatter’s resignation is the significant pressure it will heap on Qatar’s highly scrutinised 2022 World Cup bid. While it has been mooted that the Russian World Cup could also be moved, these calls often carry more than a whiff of political posturing, especially in the UK and the US. However, from an ethical standpoint, the humanitarian grounds for boycotting Qatar are well founded. Were the allegations of a corrupt bidding process to be corroborated, the case for a boycott would be compelling.

Undoubtedly, Blatter’s imminent resignation is a step in the right direction, however this is neither a time for triumphalism nor complacency. The first step will be ensuring that the candidates for the next Fifa election are batting on a level playing field.

As renowned and controversial artist, Andy Warhol, once said: “They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.”


World Cup Boycott: “It Doesn’t Smell Good”


“I am not certain, but it doesn’t smell good,” Sepp Blatter opined.

It was a particularly astute observation. Only, Blatter wasn’t referring to the skulduggery that has landed Fifa in the eye of its most turbulent storm during his 17-year tenure as president. Instead, he was questioning the timing of the arrest of seven Fifa officials on the eve of the federations congress in Zurich. The arrests were part of an indictment led by the United States Department of Justice in which 14 individuals are under investigation for allegedly accepting bribes and kickbacks estimated at more than $150m over a 24-year period. Swiss federal prosecutors have also launched a criminal investigation into the awards of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments to Russia and Qatar.

Blatter told Swiss television station, RTS, that he suspected the arrests were an attempt to “interfere with the congress” at which he had been re-elected for a fifth term as Fifa president.

“No one is going to tell me that it was a simple coincidence, this American attack two days before the elections of Fifa,”

The 79-year-old continued “Why would I step down? That would mean I recognise that I did wrong. I fought for the last three or four years against all the corruption.”

US attorney general, Loretta Lynch, had said corruption in football was “rampant, systemic and deep-rooted”, yet in spite of this damming assessment, and widespread calls for Blatter’s resignation, his chutzpah was unwavering. “I am the president of everybody, I am the president of the whole Fifa” he triumphed, as obdurate in victory as he was in the face of adversity.

It is worth remembering plenty were happy to see the Swiss football administrator return to office. Blatter holds a strong base of support within many Football Associations outside Europe and North America. As this Bloomberg report details, his work directing power and funds away from Europe to the smaller and poorer countries, has ensured that while Blatter is regarded by many in the West as a cartoon villain, to the rest of the footballing world he is a saint.

Nevertheless, to those calling for reform and hoping that the arrests in Zurich would pave the way for the dawn of a new Blatter-free era, the 79-year-old’s re-election was disheartening. Particularly for FIFA’s most vocal critic, UEFA. Before the election, UEFA president Michel Platini had urged Blatter to resign, refusing to rule out the possibility of European teams boycotting the World Cup.

UEFA’s pre-election gambit aimed at swaying votes in favour of Blatter’s opponent, Prince Ali Bin al-Hussein, has led them into a cul de sac, and Platini has since made it clear that he does not want a World Cup Boycott. That said, he remains under pressure, with calls for such an action having strengthened since Blatter’s re-election. England’s Football Association chairman, Greg Dyke, has been particularity vocal in pledging enthusiastic support, claiming that a boycott would need to involve “10 large countries” to have an impact.


Dyke (left) said Platini (right) must unite Europe in a boycott 

Speaking on BBC Radio 5 live’s sport week, Dyke said “There would certainly be us, there would certainly be the Dutch, there would certainly be the Germans who have been demanding change. The FA chairman also believes that most South American countries opposed Blatter in the election, but admitted “They [Fifa] would only take serious action if there’s enough [opposition willing to act].”

Danish Uefa ExCo member Allan Hansen is also said to be of a similar mindset and has proposed to stage a new competition featuring sides from Europe and South America. In reality however, there are no guarantees a boycott would achieve any tangible reform in a hurry.

Blatter has demonstrated his intransigence knows no bounds. The man himself said he intends to “leave through the front door and leave with a clean house.” After four terms in office, he is not about to relinquish power, at least not without a long fight.

In addition, Fifa’s World Cup qualifying draw is due to be held on July 25 in St. Petersburg, Russia. Despite the fulminations of Dyke and British politicians, it is hard to envisage circumstances in which significant numbers agree to withdraw their participation from the qualifying draw, especially in a time-scale of just under two months. Then of course their is the risk of missing out on the financial windfall that competing in the World Cup and its associated sponsorship brings.

On Saturday June 6, UEFA will meet in Berlin to discuss their next step. Talks of a boycott will be high on the agenda however it will not be a united ship. Spain, France and of course Russia are three of the 18 European countries who were said to have opposed UEFA’s reform mandate, voting for Sepp Blatter.

Minus the backing of UEFA president Michel Platini and with no guarantees that Europe’s pro-reformers can rely on the support of the South American contingent, the boycott campaign could be derailed before it’s even truly in motion. For example, could England rely on the backing of Argentina given the history of fraught diplomatic relations between the two? And that is where the real problem lies – in geo-politics.

With so many stakeholders involved, what is the true purpose of this boycott?

On face value, a UEFA-led protest against FIFA does not appear to be grounded in political pragmatism but rather moral objection. It would be propagated as a boycott against the unscrupulous and corruptive malpractices of Fifa. A means of enacting much needed change and jettisoning Sepp Blatter. However, would such a protest also be based upon the supposition that Russia are a guilty party in the chicanery of the bidding process. It could be a diplomatic minefield.

Some circles have described a World Cup boycott as “Soccer’s nuclear option”, a sure fire way to foment political tensions. Following the arrest of Fifa officials, Russian president Vladimir Putin was quick to wade into the debate, accusing the US of meddling outside its jurisdiction.

“It’s another clear attempt by the USA to spread its jurisdiction to other states. And I have no doubt – it’s a clear attempt not to allow Mr Blatter to be re-elected as president of Fifa, which is a great violation of the operating principles of international organisations.” 

Since his re-election, Sepp Blatter has also launched diatribes at his detractors. The Fifa president highlighted that both England and the US had lost their bids for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar respectively, claiming that, the attempt to unseat him was led by a spiteful media campaign in both countries.


Both are examples of the shrewd defence adopted by Putin and Blatter. In effect they are playing the role of spin doctors. It is no secret that political relations between Russia and the West have reached their most fractious since the Cold War years. Blatter’s line portrays the US and England as vindictive and irrational, willing to use all manner of subterfuge to prevent Russia and Qatar from holding a World Cup, in turn wresting the event for themselves. Putin is beating a similar drum. Ratcheting up an anti-imperialist rhetoric, suggesting that these attempts to destabilise Fifa and the World Cup are political revanchism, hidden under the guise of anti-corruption.

To some, his line of arguement will resonate. Especially given that calls to boycott the 2018 Russian world cup — as a means of protest against their role in the Ukrainian conflict — have already circulated within Western media and politicians. Only recently, 13 bipartisan US senators wrote to Blatter encouraging him to pull the plug on Russia 2018. Last year, the former deputy Prime Minister of Britain, Nick Clegg, affirmed that a boycott would be a “very potent political and symbolic action”, words that undoubtedly contributed to his inclusion on Russia’s blacklist.

The dangers of a politically charged boycott against Russia are well documented and UEFA will be anxious to distance themselves from such allegations. Unfortunately for Dyke and UEFA however, any withdrawal from the 2018 Russian World Cup would invariably be framed as such. In fact, the significant contribution of British and American politicians in particular, might prove detrimental to the legitimacy of a ‘moral’ boycott or the creation of a ‘Clean Cup’ – a separate competition designed for boycotting nations.

Let us, just for a minute, remove ourselves from our Western bubble. Were the 2018 and 2022 World Cup due to be held in England and the US, would there be the same level of public outrage regarding Fifa’s latest shenanigans? Would we be calling for reform with the same rancour? It all appears a little disingenuous.

Of course, many will argue that the corruption and opacity that we seek to expunge are the only reason the World Cups went to Russia and Qatar. Indeed, a boycott of the Qatari World Cup on humanitarian grounds is well founded given the tragic death of around 1,200 migrant workers, and the continuation of the oppressive Khafala employment system.

There is no doubt Fifa has become a kleptocracy in desperate need of radical rehabilitation. But the problem is, until the Swiss and US prosecutors place key figures behind bars and provide concrete evidence of bribery and corruption, the ground upon which an ‘ethical’ boycott of Russia 2018 would stand, remains shaky.

Admittedly, the indictments and investigations will likely take years to bear fruit. And in this instance, the phrase innocent until proven guilty might be worth heeding. Without robust evidence of Russian wrongdoing in the bidding process, a World Cup boycott could have far-reaching, geo-political consequences. The move would certainly scupper any progress that has been made in reaching a détente with Russia. In terms of the footballing community, it would also create disillusion and frustration among the players and fans of boycotting countries.

Therefore, such talks are neither prudent nor timely. Fifa needs a makeover, but at this moment in time, a boycott would cause more problems than it would solve.



The Ultras of Napoli

Napoli vs Juventus

A guide to the Ultra groups in Serie A: Napoli

City: Naples

Key ultra groups: CUCB (Commando Ultras Curva B), Ultras Napoli, Fedayn.

Other groups: Masseria, Blue Tiger, Nucleo, Old Clan 91, South Boys, Cobra, Wanted, La Iene, Mastiffs, Teste Matte, Vecchi Lions, Brigata Carolina, Ultra Girls, Ladies Napoli.

On the afternoon of 10 May 1987, a deathly quiet fell over the city of Naples. The streets were desolate, prompting Italian anthropologist Amalia Signorelli to write: “The world had changed, the noisiest, most crowded and most chaotic city in Europe was deserted.”

But on occasion, murmurings could be heard. They were the cheers and jeers of the Stadio San Paolo. The world may not have changed, but SSC Napoli were on the brink of winning their first Serie A title in 61 years. A 1-1 draw with Fiorentina secured Napoli’s triumph. The city erupted. Exultant Neapolitans poured on to the streets. Days of partying began. Fans danced on rooftops, fireworks exploded, cars and buildings were draped in sky blue.

In his book Calcio, John Foot observed that: “During the celebrations, Napoli fans displayed all the classic traits of what has become known as the Neapolitan ‘character’: irony, parody and a sense of the macabre, obscenity and blasphemy.” On the walls of the city’s graveyard, graffiti appeared in vernacular “Guagliu! E che ve sit pers!” (“Guys! You don’t know what you are missing”). Satirical funerals were arranged for Juventus. The supporters paid homage to their heroes and one man stood above all others as the saviour of Naples: Diego Armando Maradona.

The use of religiously infused language here is no coincidence. To this day, Maradona is awarded godlike status in the city. During his spell at the club, they won their only two Scudetti as well as a Uefa Cup in 1989. This prompted cultlike adoration. Thousands of babies were named Diego or even Diega, while streets and neighbourhoods also took the revered name. Murals were made comparing him to the city’s patron saint San Gennaro. One even depicted him in the arms of the saint himself.

His humble background and rebellious nature struck a chord with the Napoletani. His passion, volatility and footballing genius reflected Neapolitan character. In a sense, Maradona became an adopted son of Naples.


But perhaps more importantly, he helped Napoli break the overwhelming dominance established by the affluent Northern trio of Juventus, Milan and Internazionale. At a time when the hostile, anti-southern politics of northern regionalist parties such as Lega Nord were taking hold in the terraces of northern clubs, Maradona restored pride to the city of Naples. The Napoletani now had a riposte to the anti-Neapolitan rhetoric. It was smug and simple: “May 1987, the other Italy has been defeated, a new empire is born.” Napoli’s fanatical supporters still revel in the memories of a time when the giants of the north were humbled by a resurgent Naples.

The Partenopei are the fourth-best supported club in Italy and their following also extends to various corners of the globe. According to Italian sports journalist Domenico Carratelli, Napoli is a club that “brings people together from all walks of life – rich and poor alike. It is the people’s team.”

Surprisingly, outside of their transient success in the late 1980s, there is a paucity of major honours. This has rarely detracted from the devotion of their support. Even after the club went bankrupt and were relegated to Serie C1 back in 2004, they broke divisional records for attendance, with numbers in excess of 50,000. One urban myth claims that the roar of the crowd celebrating a Napoli goal at the San Paolo has occasionally been registered on the seismographs at the city’s university.

The story of Napoli’s ultras is perhaps best summarised as a tale of two curvas: Curva A (the north bend) and Curva B (the south). Over time, the Curva A has assumed a more prominent role and has been home to a variety of groups including: Mastiffs, Vecchi Lions, Teste Matte and Brigata Carolina. Yet, a divide has always characterised the relationship between Curva A and B, with the former being notoriously riotous and the latter more tranquil. This, however, only serves to rouse one of the most charged atmospheres in Serie A.

The first ultra group to create match-day choreographies were the Commandos Ultras Curva B (CUCB). Founded in 1972 by Gennaro “Palummella” Montuori, the group quickly established themselves by creating their own newspaper and television programme. During their existence, CUCB allegedly denounced violence, a sentiment reflected in a banner they unveiled back in the 1980s: “Violence divides us, our passion unites us.” This period also saw the inception of women’s Ultra groups, including Ultra Girls and Ladies Napoli, the latter formed by university lecturers.

Unsurprisingly, the CUCB glory days came during the Scudetto-winning years. The archaic San Paolo would bounce to the rhythm of Porompompero, while the ultras’ ubiquitous presence at away games would ensure that a pocket of an Italian stadium would be transformed into a mini-Naples for the afternoon.


However the departure of Palummella, supposedly due to the death of his brother, caused CUCB to disband. As a result, Fedayn (1979) and Ultras Napoli monopolised the Curva B. The two have lived an uncomfortable coexistence, with both refusing to chant in tandem. Fedayn’s more belligerent reputation saw them receive an invitation to join the Curva A, their slogan “Estranei alla Massa” (Outside the Norm) encapsulating their intransigence. Indeed the Fedayn’s reputation makes the Curva B’s more serene tag somewhat risible.

While Napoli’s ultras have often declared themselves apolitical, the historic and cultural divide between north and south has dictated some of their fiercest rivalries. Historian Nicholas Doumanis has argued that the northern and southern halves of Italy are like two different countries, with their own social, cultural and economic situations. Parties such as Lega Nord have even advocated secession from the south altogether. The Napoletani are frequently subjected to territorial insults, which range from chants about the city being destroyed by their neighbouring volcano Vesuvius to the people being dirty and carrying cholera. Fixtures against Juventus, Hellas Verona, Milan and Internazionale are particularly explosive.

That said, irony is not lost on the Neapolitans. When there is a chance to decry the Italian authorities, regional rivalries can always be put to one side. When supporters of their northern foes were hit with stadium bans for territorial discrimination during the 2013-14 Serie A season, the Partenopei faithful mocked the Italian football federation’s decisions with a banner reading: “[We are] Naples’ cholera-sufferers. Now close our curva!”

For all this bravado, these rivalries also reveal the more sinister elements of Italian football. Napoli’s ultras have been involved in some deplorable violence. On 3 May 2014, people tuned into the Coppa Italia final between Napoli and Fiorentina to witness scenes of anarchy and chaos. Violent clashes between opposing fans had delayed the kick-off. Three Napoli fans were hospitalised. One, Ciro Esposito, would die from gunshot wounds after weeks in a critical condition.

It later emerged that the Napoletani had clashed with Roma fans, despite the Giallorossi not even participating in the final. A Roma ultra, Daniele De Santis, was later charged with the death of Esposito. There is no love lost between Napoli and Roma, a rivalry that is made especially hostile because it is not based on the regional divide but is solely concentrated on football.

The other enduring image was that of Gennaro De Tommaso, the Napoli fan who took it upon himself to speak to Napoli captain, Marek Hamsik, about having the game postponed as rumours swept the stadium that Esposito had died. The game went ahead and Rome’s police commissioner later denied that there had been any negotiation, saying the police had merely asked Hamsik to inform the fans of Esposito’s condition.

Having already been banned from attending stadiums for five years, De Tommaso was arrested in September along with four other ultras for their involvement in the Coppa Italia final, with charges including “throwing hazardous materials and invasion of a pitch at a sporting event”. The incident was chilling and people like De Tommaso bring shame upon Il Calcio.

While Napoli’s ultras cannot be held accountable for the actions of mindless individuals, their violent reputation is not fabricated. Thus one is left at odds. On the one hand there is no place for such criminal behaviour, let alone in football. On the other, without the ultras we wouldn’t enjoy the moments that make spines tingle and hairs stand on end. Moments such as the famed repetition of “Gonzalooo Higuaín” nine times while the decrepit walls of the Stadio San Paolo shudder.

The famous expression “See Naples and die” portrays the beauty and excitement of this city. After playing in the Stadio San Paolo for Manchester City, Yaya Touré observed that the relationship between Napoli’s fans and their team was visceral, comparable to the love shown between a mother and her son. It is this passion that produces one of the most awe-inspiring yet intimidating atmospheres in European football.


First published on The Guardian and The Gentleman Ultra


The Mlambe Project: Using Football to Help Build Futures in Malawi

Mlambe Project

The belief that football can be an effective vehicle in enacting social change is often underpinned by an aggressive optimism. It is widely coined the global game, a sport that can transcend conflict, breaching barriers while offering hope to those living in the most austere of circumstances.

But football contains many paradoxes and Criminologist Victor Jupp’s analysis of sport reflects the nature of the game. “On the one hand sport is the context for that which is bad in us and society – sleaze, corruption, fraud, violence and aggression – and at the same time is a model for that which is good and the panacea of social ills”

Although the road to eradicating football’s aforementioned ills remains long, when used in the correct manner, there is no doubt it has a social and humanitarian role to play. There are a myriad of examples. The Football4Peace project was created to facilitate peaceful integration within several neighbouring Jewish and Arab societies while football has also been used in the volatile political environments of Northern Ireland and South Africa. During his research on the possibilities football offered various demographics in the reconstruction of post-conflict Liberia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, academic Gary Armstrong, asserted that football gives people reason to visit and better understand the “people over the hill”

However much of the work being conducted by organisations across the globe often slips under the radar. Thanks to the blogging and ‘tweetosphere’, I was lucky enough to come across the work of Football Beyond Borders, the charity kind enough to provide a platform for this article and one that uses football “to inspire young people to achieve their goals and to tackle inequality and discrimination.”

The fact that Arsenal midfielder, Santi Carzola, just became the charities new patron speaks volumes for their progress and it was their altruistic work that inspired me to write an article on an initiative in which my friend is involved.

While sharing a drink with this friend (Saalim), he told me about the work he was doing for a charity called the Mlambe Project. The project – created by a group of Physic students at the University of Manchester – is based out in the African country of Malawi. Its overarching mantra is to aid the Malawian people in their struggle against poverty through the provision of sustainable livelihoods and a proper education. Sourced from their website, they aim to achieve this via two primary objectives:

  1. To promote the use of earthbag building across Malawi
  2. To develop and implement new educational technologies and methods in a responsible and sustainable manner.

Intrigued, I enquired further about why they chose Malawi. “Malawi was chosen as one of our co-founders Jamie [Proctor] travelled through the country, he was immediately drawn in by the amazing Malawian people and the amount of inspiring projects which already exist, something which myself and Brad [Vanstone] felt. So, I guess Malawi chose us!” Saalim told me.

Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world and while one organisation can’t solve this, their work within the Mlambe community is already making a significant difference.

“We have created jobs by teaching local builders the new skill of building with earth bags, providing a new revenue stream into the village.” Using this technique a new school block, toilets and a head teacher’s office (with computers) have all been built.

“This has helped improve school-life at Mlambe for both teachers and students who can now study indoors as opposed to underneath trees – a lesson underneath a tree doesn’t sound too bad for those of us who went to UK schools where an outdoor lesson was the most exciting part of the day – but it really is a tough ask when attempting to teach a 100-student class with the wind swirling and the incredible heat. I gave it a go and it was not easy!”

As head of educational development at the Mlambe Project, Saalim’s role is primarily concerned with developing educational initiatives. Shortly after speaking to him, he travelled back to Malawi to work on his latest initiative in which he is hoping to provide an alternative means of education for those children who can’t afford the school fees to attend secondary school, which he emphasised, was an alarming number.

As we continued to chat, the conversation’s focus invariably turned towards football, at which point Saalim began to tell me about how the game had become integral to both the charities work and the Mlambe community. Their ventures have included building a football pitch, creating a team in Mlambe and organising the village’s first football match. Fascinated, I asked Saalim if we could conduct an interview. “Sure” he said, “but the person you really want to be speaking to is Brad Vanstone [Head of New Development Opportunities], the football pitch was his project.” I interviewed both and here is what they had to say.

As you know I am primarily concerned with the role football can play within society both positive and negative and it’s great to see the Mlambe project utilising the sport, but is there a strong footballing culture in Malawi?

(Saalim) “Malawians are football-mad! There is something quite special about being in a room which would comfortably house five people with about 10 times that crowded round a tiny T.V. watching a game; you can’t really beat that atmosphere! Everywhere you go people are wearing football shirts, predominantly English Premier League teams but I did also run into a Bolton Wanderers fan on my travels! The kids are nurtured with football as one of the few hobbies available to them; and their resourcefulness in creating footballs out of nothing was nothing short of mind-blowing. They usually collected rubbish that had been left lying around and with a few plastic bags and some string managed to create a perfectly crafted ball that would last at least a month- and once it reached the end of its recycled life they proceeded to make another one with just as much ease. I sat and watched a few kids create balls and tried to make one myself, it’s definitely not as easy as they make out. It’s one of the best examples I’ve seen of people reacting against their poor situations, not just accepting them.”

 Brad, I saw one of your notable ventures was building a football pitch in the village, how was the pitch built?

The whole area needed to be hoed up and the organic matter removed before being ‘ploughed’, flattened and raked. Thanks to the help of the local community, and with the use of some alternative ploughing techniques which were not previously referred to in the risk assessment, we were able to finish this project in 5 days!

(Brad helping assemble the goals)

What did the pitch bring to the Mlambe community?

(Brad) The football pitch is at the heart of Mlambe and has created a real hub for the whole community. Outside of the school and church, the community and particularly the children had no focal point from which to gather. The pitch has given the village a real centre point that is now the height of activity, constantly bustling with people.

An inaugural match was played between Mlambe and local team Nanthomba, do you have any specific memories from the day?

(Brad) The opening game was played between Mlambe and local rivals Nanthomba (where NGO ‘HELP! Malawi’ have done some incredible work). My lasting memory was of a 40 strong parade of woman and children circling the pitch continuously chanting and signing for the entirety of the second half. Mlambe won 2-1 and the scenes of sheer jubilation at the final whistle were also very special.

Have there been other matches since and has the creation of a football pitch seen sport included in the educational programme at the Mlambe School?

(Saalim) There is now a Mlambe men’s team which we are proud to say is one of the best in the district. They play matches once or twice a week and their matches attract crowds of pretty much the whole village, around 200 people! Again, it’s a brilliant atmosphere with women dancing by the pitch, kids acting as very able ball boys, and pretty much everyone trying to manage the team from the side-lines.

(Mlambe celebrating a famous victory versus Nanthomba)

Are any of the volunteers football coaches and if not could you see football coaching used in future Mlambe Project initiatives?

(Saalim) The football team is fully run by locals from the community. Therefore the two coaches who run the team live in the village, if any of our volunteers are ever skilled in football coaching then we’d love them to take some training sessions for the team and share their knowledge. But we try to push ideas of sustainability and the main way of doing this would be for volunteers to spend most of their time with the football coaches themselves.

In your opinion, what are the connections – if any – between your building initiatives and football?

(Brad) The newly erected school buildings have given the community a real sense of pride. That pride is now personified by the Mlambe team during every fixture they play. Training sessions are serious affairs, with the younger children watching their idles, dreaming that they one day might represent the community. Playing for Mlambe bestows upon each player a great sense of responsibility. You are representing yourself, you are representing your school and most importantly you are representing your community.

Developing and promoting education is paramount to the charities initiatives, how do you feel football can and has contributed to this?

(Saalim) The benefits football can have on individuals and society are vast. Some of the best footballers in the world came from upbringings of abject poverty, we hope this inspires some of our younger talents at Mlambe school to go on to greatness! Obviously sport teaches individuals fantastic ethics of teamwork, leadership and notions of belonging. It’s a great outlet and opportunity to forget about the sometimes terrible things local people see day-by-day and we hope it continues this way. Education is not and should not be viewed simply as time spent in the classroom, though this time is obviously important. Extra-curricular options are key to exercising different parts of the brain and sports is great at enabling this.

How do you think football has aided your project as a whole?

(Brad) Football was played at Mlambe long before the project began. We’ve given the community a more spacious, flatter and all round superior surface where they can spend their free time. Although we primarily promote the benefits of a solid education, we also understand the importance of balancing a child’s mental development with their physical development. 

I see the young footballers of Mlambe are keen on Chelsea FC, have you made any attempts to try and contact CFC to see if they will get involved?

(Brad) I was blown away by the number of Chelsea shirts I saw in Malawi, witnessing at first hand the impact of players such as Didier Drogba and Michael Essien. I contacted Chelsea FC earlier this year to try to see if they would be willing to donate any old kit to the project. They sadly declined as they are already supporting Right to Play in Africa.

Will football have an ongoing role in the Mlambe project?

(Brad) Absolutely. Whilst the primary functions of the charity will be based around providing a sustainable education for the children of Mlambe and beyond, we appreciate the importance of football in a child’s development. FIFA is forever highlighting football’s ability to unite, inspire and break down barriers. At Mlambe, and indeed across Malawi, their rhetoric is for once true. Football does just that.

This year the Mlambe football team may have the opportunity to represent their community in a festival called the Pamodzi Cup, an event with the intention of mobilising local resources and staff working in the field of HIV aids. To borrow from the anti-apartheid icon and philanthropist Nelson Mandela, “Sport has the power to inspire…it can create hope where once there was only despair.” Through football, the Mlambe project is embracing this ethos.

With thanks to Saalim Koomar and Brad Vanstone. You can find out more about the charity by visiting their website The Mlambe Project or following them on twitter @mlambeproject



The Ultras of AC Milan


A guide to the Ultra groups in Serie A: AC Milan

City: Milan

Key ultra groups: Fossa Dei Leoni, Commandos Tigre, Brigate Rossonere, Alternativa Rossonera, Guerrieri Ultras Curva Sud Milano, Avanguardia Rossanera, Curva Sud Milano.

Other groups: Gruppo Veleno, Estremi Rimedi, Vecchia Maniera, Ultras 1976, Panthers, Boys Assatanati, Il Gruppo Nervus, Il Gruppo the Bull Dog, Il Gruppo Avanguardia, Il Gruppo Barbera, Il Gruppo Zava, Pitbulls, Gruppo Comodo, Gruppo Caramello, Area 207, Armata Rossonera, Bad Boys, Acid Group, Banda Casciavit, Herbert Kilpin Firm, Banda Scalino, Barone Rossonero, Baschi Rossoneri, Black Sheep Group, Bomber Group, Brigate Venete, Brothers, Brutti Dentro, Cani Sciolti, Celtic Devils, Clan, Convinti, Dannati, Devils 1978, Diavoli di Como, Drunk Company Veneto Alcool, Eagles, Fanatic, Fedelissimi Milan, Feroci, Fronte Rossonero, Hooligans, I Diavolacci, Indyans, Kaos, Legionari Tigre, Inferno Rossonero, Mazzo Group, Mods, Nobilita Rossonera, Nucleo Tifosi Rossoneri, Out Laws, Panthers 1976, Ragazzi del 99 ACM 1899, Sconvolts, Settembre Rossonero, Skunkati, Stars, Teste Matte, Tigers, Torcida Rossonera, Ubriachi di Milan, Vecchi Teschi, Villani, Warriors, Gioventu Rossonera.

While it is never pleasant to see footballers on the end of scathing criticism, when Milan ultras castigated left-back Kévin Constant through the unfurling of a banner during their 1-1 draw with Genoa back in 2013, their exasperation was understandable. “Constant, instead of clowning around and being arrogant, respect those who watch your embarrassing performances,” read the rebuke.

Not only were his performances questionable, but his off-field frivolities – including tweeting pictures from a nightclub on the Friday before Milan’s weekend clash with Genoa – suggested he was less than committed to honouring the iconic red and black shirt. But while there was some justification behind this protest, the criticism reserved for Paolo Maldini during his 900th and last appearance for Milan against Roma in 2009 was baffling.

It goes without saying that Maldini is a club legend. A product of the Milan Primavera, their youth team, Maldini won five European Cups and seven Scudetti over the course of his 25-year career. Yet, after his final match at the San Siro, his lap of honour was soured by a pocket of ultras who expressed their dissent.522685-22732500-1600-900“Thanks captain. On the pitch you were an undying champion but you had no respect for those who made you rich,” read one of the banners. “For your 25 years of glorious service you have the thanks of those who you called mercenaries and misers,” opined another.

The ill feelings are said to have stemmed from an angry exchange between Maldini and a group of ultras who had awaited the team’s return at the Milan airport following their loss to Liverpool in the 2005 Champions League final. The banners were accompanied by a giant shirt emblazoned with the number six, which was unveiled to the backdrop of the chant: “There’s only one captain, Baresi.”

Giancarlo Capelli, an ultras leader, later remarked: “It was not a protest. We just wanted to make it clear what we thought about some of his comments and behaviour over the past years.” Throughout his career, Maldini had not shied from condemning the ultras when they had failed to support some of his team-mates, and his defence of Silvio Berlusconi’s transfer policy also irritated fans.

For observers on the outside, it is hard to accept that a club legend would be subjected to such treatment, albeit from a minority of supporters. However, the intensity of this incident reveals the visceral relationship between ultras and their club. At times it feels like the macho response of a domineering spouse or spurned lover who feels they haven’t been awarded their due respect. While these actions are highly questionable and a flagrant offence to many a football purist, this behaviour is part of the ultras’ fabric.

That Milan’s ultras hold their players to such lofty standards is perhaps born out of the club’s success and prestige. Founded in 1899 as Milan Cricket and Football Club by English expatriates Alfred Edwards and Herbert Kilpin, the Milanisti take great pride in the knowledge that their team is the oldest in the city and one of the most decorated in Europe – facts they are keen to flaunt when they play their city rivals, Internazionale.

To honour their roots, Milan have retained the English spelling of the city’s name and this history is also celebrated by the supporters, most notably when the ultras choreographed a gigantic banner of Kilpin in his archaic red and black shirt during their match against Barcelona in 2013. The display was accompanied by the date 1899 and the message “La Storia Siamo Noi” (“We are the history”). The supporters may also have Kilpin to thank for the club’s iconic red and black colours and as a consequence their nickname, Il Diavolo (the Devil).

phoca_thumb_l_milan barcellona 2012-2013 10

The Englishman is said to have arrived at this choice of colours after saying: “We are a team of devils. Our colours are red as fire, and black to invoke fear in our opponents.” Indeed, the San Siro can be one of the most daunting arenas in European football and the ultras of the Curva Sud thrive off their menacing moniker. Unsurprisingly, Milan’s status means they have a plethora of ultra groups, none more renowned than the historic Fossa dei Leoni (Lion’s Den).

The group were formed in 1968 and are said to be the first modern ultra organisation in Italy. As such they played something of a pioneering role in the nascent years of the movement. Although Fossa dei Leoni originally resided on Ramp 18 of the Settori Popolari of the San Siro, in 1972 the group shifted to the Curva Sud and became the heartbeat of the Diavolo support. Accompanied by the Brigate Rossonere (Red and Black Brigade), founded in 1975, and Commandos Tigre (Tiger Commandos) who joined Brigate and Fossa on the Curva Sud in 1985, they formed a triumvirate that made the Rossoneri’s support one of the most eclectic on the peninsula.

To emphasise Fossa’s cult nature, the group had their own song, Leoni Armati (Armed Lions), inspired by the Italian film L’armata Brancaleone. In 1982 they featured in the Italian film Eccezzziunale… veramente, in which actor Diego Abatantuono played the role of the group’s leader, Donato “Ras della Fossa”.

The Italian ultra movement was inextricably linked with the political activism of the era but, curiously, Fossa never adopted a clear political identity. It is said that some of their members veered towards the left, with images of Che Guevara visible in the San Siro during the group’s early years, but many of the ultras on the Curva Sud have avoided political affiliation. While occasional rifts arose between Commandos, Brigate and Fossa, the groups led the Curva for 20 years in relative harmony, until Fossa disbanded in 2005.

The reason behind Fossa’s dissolution once again beggars belief. The story goes – and there are numerous accounts – that during a game between Milan and Juventus in 2005, the group managed to steal a banner from a Juve ultra group known as Viking. Fossa proceeded to unfurl this banner in the Curva Sud as a trophy of their conquest, but it later emerged that rather than stealing the banner, the Milanisti had obtained it senza onore (without honour). The fans hadn’t physically fought to steal the banner and this went against the unwritten rules of the ultras. The Juventini wanted revenge and a few days later a Fossa banner was stolen by Viking and posted on the group’s fanzine. The following Sunday the banners were back in the possession of their owners. Rumours spread that the swap had been organised in agreement with the police, a heinous crime in the world of the ultras and shocking news to the other groups in the Curva Sud.

Fossa ceased to exist, but the conflict in the Curva Sud went on. Internecine warfare ensued. A Milan fan was shot in the legs. Monza magistrates concluded that the attack was part of an internal war among Rossoneri ultras over merchandising and tickets. Commandos and Brigate lived on, while new groups such as Guerrieri Ultras (Ultra Warriors) – formed of ex-Fossa members – were born. Their motto – “neither red nor black, just black and red” – encapsulated their apolitical stance. The peace was eventually restored and now the majority of the Curva Sud has united under the umbrella of Curva Sud Milano. Their headquarters lie in the industrial area of San Giovanni but their members are spread across the length of the peninsula.

326681_heroaThe infighting, the protests, their unabashed hubris and the revolving door in which groups form and disband is ludicrous. It is bemusing but undeniably beguiling. In the midst of all the chaos there are codes and rules that must be followed stringently. It is madness but there is a meticulous method to the ultras madness. Imagine Italian football without them. Imagine the San Siro on a Champions League night without the Curva Sud, the match devoid of incessant chanting, flares, smoke and spectacular choreographies.

In 2010, when Manchester United faced Milan in the Champions League knockout phase, Sir Alex Ferguson was left in awe. Not by the superstars on the field but by the supporters in the terraces. “The one thing that’s so amazing is that for the first 15 minutes I felt in shock, really in shock, because the atmosphere was unbelievable,” Ferguson explained. “Coupled with the noise when they scored, it unnerved me and it unnerved my players. No matter how much experience you have got, you get drawn into that cauldron of noise.” Therein lies the seductive power of these ultras.


First published on The Guardian and The Gentleman Ultra


Football and Politics: An Inseparable Couple


With the rise in nationalism and diplomatic tensions across the world, the old canard that sport and politics should be kept separate is increasingly outdated.

Russia’s 2018 World Cup has come under scrutiny due to their role in the Ukrainian conflict, with notable politicians such as British deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, calling for FIFA to axe Russia as the host. In 2014, prior to the Glasgow Commonwealth Games, several English athletes approached Team England asking for guidance on how to respond to heckling from a partisan crowd. The Scottish referendum on independence was just weeks away and there were fears that Scottish nationalists would use the games to voice animosity to the ‘Auld Enemy’.

A spokesman for the Glasgow 2014 games reassured Team England that such an event would not materialise. Indeed the English athletes received a warm welcome and the eventual referendum on September 18, 2014, saw the Scots vote against independence. The Scottish referendum was also followed with considerable interest in Catalonia, an autonomous region in Spain whose separatist movement has often been compared to that of Scotland’s. Just five days before Scotland’s independence vote, the La Liga game between Barcelona and Athletic Bilbao at the Camp Nou was another fascinating example of the Gordian Knot that is sport and politics.

For the first time in Barca’s 115-year history, the club sported the iconic yellow and red colours of Catalonia in front of their home crowd. The decision was awash with political nuances. The yellow and red strip denotes the Catalan flag, La Senyera. Furthermore, the build up to the game had been marked by the tri-centennial Diada Nacional de Catalunya (National day of Catalonia), a commemoration of the regions defeat during the War of the Spanish Succession on September 11th, 1714.

Catalonia has long harboured a strong separatist movement and Spain’s economic crisis has only served to reinforce these sentiments. Throughout Barca’s existence, the club has provided an outlet for Catalan nationalism, especially during the reign of Fascist dictator, General Franco, whose policy of ‘cultural genocide’ threatened to extinguish Catalan identity altogether. General Franco used Real Madrid as an arm of his virulent anti-Catalan policy, seeing the capital’s club as another means through which to suppress Catalonia and humiliate Barca.

Franco prohibited the flying of La Senyera at Blaugrana matches while the Catalan language was prohibited. Real Madrid versus Barcelona was no longer a football match but more a de-facto battleground between the centralist powers of Franco and the separatists of Catalonia. Referring to the clubs role during this era, renowned Spanish author Manuel Vazquez called Barcelona “the symbolic unarmed army of Catalonia.”


Despite the politically infused kit change, La Liga accepted the clubs request to wear the Senyera shirt. This was followed by a statement released by the Blaugrana denying the club mixed sport with politics.

The Senyera shirt is not being worn because of the 11 September [National Day] – we are doing it to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the fall of Barcelona at the hands of the troops of Philip V and the French in 1714.”

The move delighted followers of the Catalonia independence movement. Club defender Gerard Pique, who was born in the city, made the link explicit after he joined a march for Catalan independence and tweeted a picture of himself and his son, Milan, who was wearing the shirt. This example serves to reinforce the argument that it is nigh-on impossible to keep sport free from politics, despite the pretence of those in charge.

Thus rather than pretending there is no ‘political football’, the solution may lie in tackling the problem head on. Shaun McCarthy, ICSS Director of Research and Knowledge Gathering, has suggested that the most prudent way forward involves forging some form of convention that protects sport from corrosive aspects of politicisation. Should Barcelona have been allowed to wear a shirt that was championing the Catalan cause? That’s down to ones interpretation of what constitutes corrosive politicisation, a question with no easy answer. In this instance, Barca’s political maneuverings brought neither the security nor integrity of football into disrepute and as such, perhaps unwittingly, La Liga followed Shaun McCarthy’s advice and decided that the kit change was not a ‘corrosive aspect of politicisation.’

As recently as November 2014, 80% of people in Catalonia backed independence for the region in an informal, non-binding vote. The ballot went ahead despite fierce opposition from the Spanish government. The game between Barcelona and Real Madrid this weekend will be the first played at the Camp Nou since Catalonia’s unofficial referendum vote. This will only foment the antagonism surrounding the fixture and undoubtedly inspire yet more gestures of political defiance.

As the clock hits 17:14,  chants of ‘Independencia’ will bellow down from the stands of the camp nou. It is and always has been a politically infused chant remembering the date Catalonia lost it’s independence. So let’s stop pretending we can keep sport free from politics and rather focus on how we can harness a positive relationship between the two.


Part of this article was originally published on These Football Times