11/25/13

The Ultras of Atalanta

Choreography dell'supporters atalanta

flags, smoke, flares

blog.foxsoccer.com

A guide to the Ultra groups in Serie A: ATALANTA

City: Bergamo

Key Ultra Groups: ‘dell’Atalanta Supporters’ & Forever Atalanta.

Former Ultra Groups: Brigate Neroazzure Atalanta (Black and Blues Brigade Atalanta),  Nuova Gurdia (New Guard), WildKaos Atalanta & Nomadi (Nomads).

It is July and the Ultras of Atalanta are partying at their pre-season festival. A tank – yes a TANK is in the process of crushing both Brescia and Roma. Well not literally, the tank is actually crushing two cars, one painted white and blue (Brescia) and the other painted red and yellow (Roma). Fans, family and players alike have come to join this annual celebration dedicated to their football club known as La Festa della Dea (Festival of the Goddess). On board the tank among a number of Atalanta supporters is new signing Giulio Migliacco who later claimed he was “inadvertently the protagonist” in what one might, at first glance, mistake for a tribal celebration of a goddess of war! Actually La Dea is Atalanta B.C and its tribes are the Ultras!

Bergamo which lies in the shadow of the Alps is a city of two parts, Upper Bergamo and Lower Bergamo, or in local dialect Berghem de Sura e Berghem de Sota. It’s famous for its musical history and enchanting medieval ambience, yet take a trip down to Lo Stadio Atleti Azzurri d’Italia, and the Ultras of Atalanta compose music of an altogether different pulse.

CurvaNordBergamo black & blue flag & che guevaraAtalanta Ultras have long been associated with left wing politics and images of socialist icon Che Guevara could often be seen in the Curva Nord (or Curva Pisani). Their first group, Brigate Neroazzure – black and blue brigade (BNA) came to being in 1976. It was from the BNA that sub-groups formed such as Wild Kaos Atalanta (WKA), Nomadi (Nomads) and Nuova Guardia (New Guard). Over the years these Ultras earned themselves a fierce reputation and were renowned for using only ‘fists’ and ‘boots’. In 1995 following the death of Genoa fan Vincenzo Spagnolo, stabbed by AC Milan Ultras, the Atalantini issued a statement entitled “basta lame basta infami” – cut out the knives, cut out the infamy.

In 1998, under the leadership of Claudio “Il Bocia” Galimberti members from Nuova Guardia, BNA, WKA and later the whole of Nomadi came together to form ‘dell’Atalanta  Supporters’ (or Curva Nord Atalanta). This group is now largely apolitical. Il Bocia is well known within the Ultra circle, infamous for his fearless and violent past. Despite this he is held in great respect for his work within the Atalanta and Bergamo community. As a ‘Capo Famiglia’ figure, he organises fundraising and family events like the aforementioned La Festa Della Dea. And the respect does not stop in Bergamo. In 2005 the Ultras of Brescia, Atalanta’s local and fiercest rival issued a statement regarding Il Bocia’s stadium ban.Nemico leale, Boci non mollare!” – Bocia our loyal enemy, don’t give up!

However there is one small group who have resisted the call to unite. When the BNA disbanded due to internal conflict regarding ideology and territory on the Curva some members decided to form Forever Atalanta. These Ultras reside in the Curva Sud (or Curva Morosini) and their members are thought to be predominately leftist.

In recent years the Atalantini have been involved in significant riots and protests. On November 11, 2007 prior to Atalanta’s game against AC Milan, news travelled to Bergamo that Lazio fan Gabriele Sandri had been shot by police. After 7 minutes a pocket of the Curva Nord tried to break down a glass perimeter fence. Players on both sides attempted to calm fans but they were warned the violence would continue if the game was not abandoned. 2009 saw two notable protests. The first concerned their club and Captain (Cristiano Doni) in a match fixing scandal, the second was a protest in Rome opposing La Tessera Del Tifoso (Supports Id Card). It is worth noting that neither ‘Curva Nord’ nor Forever Atalanta have accepted La Tessera, thus are unable to follow Atalanta on the road.

The Ultras of Atalanta have few friends and many enemies, a fact they thrive on. Ci stanno sul cazzo tutti – we hate everybody as Il Bocia aptly puts it. An incident in 2006 which saw 3 Atalantini stabbed by Roma fans, makes A.S. Roma a particularly hated rival. The few ‘friends’ they have include Ternana and Eintracht Frankfurt (based on old political affinities).

Come match days the Curva Pisani is a concoction of flares, smoke, flags and banners or on special occasions is engulfed by a huge blue and black flag. The infamous standing of the Atalanta Ultras lives on and although their reputation has been earned through many a bloody battle they are also admired for upholding ‘Ultra’ values and their close relationship to the Bergamo community. In a poetic peroration, using the words of Il Bocia himself

“What Ultras do is bring the city together. It is our duty to preserve the real values of this sport and while we are around, we will carry that passion forward till the bitter end”.

Find below video of Curva Nord vs. Inter 29/10/13

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dyXCQko0th0

Atalanta vs. Hellas Verona 04/05 – Curva Nord

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cRWBs6hTDgE

You can also find this article on Richard Hall’s website – The Gentleman Ultra http://thegentlemanultra.tumblr.com/

11/19/13

‘They Work Football and We Play Football’: England’s Conundrum

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There is a certain omnipotence which surrounds this German national side, even when facing their second string. This is what England will be up against on Tuesday night, the fringe players, the rearguard of Joachim Löw’s side. But this counts for nothing when you consider the abundance of talent at Löw’s disposal. Roman Weidenfeller, Marcel Schmelzer, Marco Reus and Sven Bender are four of the expected changes, players who were part of a spellbinding and dazzling Dortmund side who lost in last years Champions League final. Then there is Julian Draxler,  another of Germany’s bright young stars in their golden generation. And it was Mr. Draxler who was speaking to the BBC ahead of Tuesday’s clash at Wembley.

What is the difference between the styles of Germany and England he was asked. After a brief description of Germany’s playing style his conclusion was succinct:

“…they work football and we play football”.

He may have hit the nail on the head. England’s style can be workman like, at times arduous on the eye and joyless. The best teams in the world always look like they are having fun. Draxler’s analogy reminds me of comments made by one of England’s young talents – Jack Wilshere.

It was around the time of the Adnan Januzaj saga, “Only English people should play for England”, should we naturalise players who have come here solely for footballing purposes? Who qualifies as ‘English’? Et cetera et cetera. Perhaps without realising the Arsenal young gun had conflated a number of contemporary issues in society. But it was one comment in particular which instantly grabbed my attention.

“We have great characters. You think of Spain and you think technical but you think of England and you think they are brave and they tackle hard”.  

My immediate thoughts were why on earth are you endorsing such archaic attitudes . Then I reassessed. In a week where England had two crucial World Cup qualifiers they were being attacked left, right and centre. Gregg Dyke had announced the new FA commission tasked with improving the fortunes of the England team. His comments regarding England’s chances at the world cup (or lack of) and the failure of young English players in domestic football were necessary yet untimely. Wilshere’s comments were a valiant defence of both the current national side and English traditions. It was a statement with jingoistic sentiments.

Being brave, having character and tackling hard are all useful traits for a footballer, however these traits alone aren’t going to win you European and World Cup medals. Lest we forget it is the Xavi’s and Iniesta’s of this world that have been picking up the International honours of late – two players certainly not renowned for their hard tackling and tough demeanor. And this is where England’s quandary lies. But what is the solution? I am neither talking about a whole sale importation of a foreign style nor a whole sale rejection of existing traditions but a fusion of anglo-continental styles.

Wayne Rooney is a case in point; he has combined English grit and ruggedness with ingenuity and class. A balance needs to be struck and this doesn’t just come down to harping on about improving technique (as important as it is). In an article by Didi Hamann for The Independent, he spoke of the desire in England to find the new Gascoigne, the new Rooney, the new hero that can reignite England’s dream of success. It is a culture that hinders the overall cohesion of the team.

Hamann recently mocked the English hysteria surrounding Andros Townsend and he makes a valid point. Indeed his sudden rise to prominence has seen him become England’s next hero ‘pulling the sword out the stone’.  If the hopes of a team are projected onto one or two individuals then the team will struggle to take collective responsibility and will inevitably suffer as a consequence. The individual is perpetually the hero or villain of the piece. Thus the future not only lies in  ‘technique’ but also in the sculpting of attitudes. But this is a job for the future and Wilshere was talking about the here and now.

The team won’t change over night and Brazil is edging ever closer. England will play a German team at Wembley who have combined talent, passion and intensity with a technically entertaining brand of football. It is a model to which the English aspire. England have characters on the pitch who tackle hard and work hard, they always have done. This is the root of Draxler’s comment. As we all know England have a number of talented individuals and collectively they still have the potential to perform. It is the first time in a while England will approach a world cup with scant expectation of success. I say embrace this. In the words of Julian Draxler England need to go to Brazil and “play football”.

 

11/11/13

Three Substitutions and Five ‘Injuries’ Later.

Given that a large proportion of my last post was centered on the influence of the Ultras and I tifosi within Il Calcio I felt compelled to discuss the events that occurred in Salerno this weekend.

The world of Il Calcio never ceases to amaze and if you thought you’d seen it all, this week may have just thrown you another curve ball. In Turin, Sunday night brought us two outcomes which were in all honesty entirely predictable. One, Juve blew their early season critics out of the water with a 3-0 win over Scudetto rivals Napoli and two, chants of territorial discrimination were there for all to hear – loud and clear. Over to you FIGC.

Yet it was events which transpired on Sunday afternoon which sent shock waves across the Calcio world, and I’m not talking about Domenico Berardi’s 94th minute equaliser which earned Sassuolo yet another unexpected point, this time at table toppers Roma. No the real drama unfolded 167 miles south of Rome in Salerno.

Nocerina make 3 substitutions on the first 2 minutes. (Photo from forzanocerina.it)

Nocerina make 3 substitutions on the first 2 minutes. (Photo from forzanocerina.it)

The match was Salernitana vs. Nocerina, a local derby between two teams in the Lega Pro Prima Divisione, Girone B – the third tier of Italian football. With the game initially delayed by 40 minutes what followed was nothing short of bizarre. After just 20 minutes a mysterious string of events culminated in the referee being left with no choice but to suspend the game. It began with Nocerina using all 3 of their substitutes in the opening 2 minutes followed by 5 Nocerina players ‘limping’ off injured.

I doubt that even a local Sunday league team, who have conceded an average of 6 goals a game (yes there is always one),and who are playing a side they previously lost to 11-0 would go to these lengths to get a game cancelled. So whats the story?

For reasons of public order the local authorities had banned Nocerina fans from attending the game in Salerno. The antipathy between these two sets of fans is such that it was feared the game would become too hard to police. It was a decision that the Ultras of Nocerina could not take lying down. Prior to Sunday’s game approximately 200 Nocerina Ultras turned up at the team training ground  issuing them with death threats if they decided to go ahead and play. To reinforce this message the Nocerina players bus was reportedly attacked en route to the Stadio Arechi. Needless to say the Nocerina players were less than keen to step off the bus, and even less keen to play 90 minutes of football.

Following the game the entire board of Nocerina directors resigned and the players were ordered not to speak to the media. Salernitana coach Carlo Perrone later said “This is a terrible page in the history of football”. He is right, it is another black mark on an already blemished reputation. As scandalous as this episode is, it is not as extraordinary as one might think. Italian Ultras have never been shy of flexing their muscles and exerting their substantial influence, not just on Il Calcio but also on Italian society.

Roma captain Francesco Totti is surrounded by Ultras during the 2004 Rome  derby.

Roma captain Francesco Totti is surrounded by Ultras during the 2004 Rome derby. (Photo from www.postmatch.org)

In 2004 the Rome derby was called off after Roma Ultras entered the pitch and spoke to Roma captain Francesco Totti, demanding the game be abandoned due to rumours circulating that a child had been killed by the police outside the stadium. Three years later, the death of Lazio fan Gabriele Sandri led to widespread rioting by Ultras across the country, to the extent that eternal rivals Lazio and Roma united to attack a police barracks in Rome. Last year a small group of Genoa fans halted their home game against Siena for 45 minutes to voice their displeasure at their teams performance. Suffice it to say what happened in Salerno is not altogether an anomaly.

So without launching into a lengthy missive condemning the Nocerina Ultras (of which plenty has already been written) the point I want to make is this. I have spoken about Il Calcio’s power within Italian society, and its power to unite and divide and I believe Sunday’s incident is another facet of this.

Italian sociologist Franco Ferrarotti has claimed that Italy is a republic based on football. It is a crucial part of identity. Gli AzzurriCatenaccio, Quattro Stelle (four stars, four world cups) and so on. So while the exploits of Paolo Rossi and the images of Marco Tardelli and Fabio Grosso move mountains to unite a country fraught by internal divisions, incidents such as Sunday’s debacle stain the reputation of Il Calcio and in turn damage that sense of Italian identity.

La Gazzetta Dello Sport ran the headline “Una Domenica Bestiale” – A beastly Sunday – while another read Derby Della Vergogna – Derby of Shame. I don’t mean to sound like a broken record but  episodes such as Salerno-Nocerina reveal a dark under belly which further exposes divisions within society. For all that the media and commentators have been united in their condemnation, a small group of people were allowed to make a mockery of a professional football fixture. Its a form of subversion. Once again the phenomenon that is Il Calcio can prove to be as disruptive as it is cohesive!

Below you will find a link to the highlights of Salernitana vs Nocerina (predominantly 3 substitutions & players feigning injuries)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WD7_PZlPn_g#t=222

 

 

11/9/13

Il Calcio: Uniting and Dividing Italy

On Sunday evening 3rd place Juventus will host 2nd place Napoli in what is the most eye-catching game in this round of Serie A fixtures. With both sides tied on 28 points, sitting just three behind a rejuvenated Roma it is an opportunity for either to stake a claim for the Serie A title.

However the fixture is not solely a meeting of two title contenders. It is a meeting of the North and the South. Another illustration of the regional divide that exists in Italy. Just like the Renaissance era – when civic states battled for supremacy on the peninsula – these two bastions of Turin and Naples will renew a territorial rivalry which has its roots in Italian history.

Campanilismo is an Italian word perhaps best translated as fervent local patriotism. It symbolises a sense of identity, a sense of pride and belonging to your place of birth. A feeling which can often be much stronger than any sense of national identity. When introducing their place of origin I have often heard Italians say Sono Vicentino (I’m from Vicenza), Sono Napoletano (I am from Naples) before saying Sono Italiano (I am Italian).

Napoli fans expressing their loyalty to their city. Interestingly the fans have spelled Neapolitan - Napulitan...a mistake the editor puts down to spelling. However it is perhaps a reference to the Italian word Pulire - To Clean. If so it is another example of Napoli fans subversively mocking the discriminatory chants used against them which describe Neapolitan's as people who are dirty and smell . (Photo from http://www.theguardian.com/ taken by Tom Jenkins).

Interestingly the fans have spelled Neapolitan – Napulitan…a misspelling or subversive irony? Pulire is Italian – To Clean. Another example of Napoli fans mocking the discriminatory chants describing them as dirty?? (Photo from http://www.theguardian.com/ taken by Tom Jenkins).

Why?? Just under three years ago Italy celebrated its 150th anniversary of its Risorgimento and its birth as a nation. Compared to England  a unified nation for over a 1000 years  this is no time at all. Like a jigsaw puzzle where the remaining pieces do not quite fit, Italian national identity remains an enigma.

While King Henry VIII waged war on the continent under the English banner, the Italian peninsula was fragmented. Any sense of collective identity was defined by civic pride. Italy as a nation did not exist. Fast forward and some of these underlying divisions remain.

This is exemplified by the North-South divide. So much so that Nicholas Doumanis (author of Inventing the Nation: Italy) claimed that the northern and southern halves of the peninsula appear in social, cultural and economic terms to be two very different countries. To give this context  the regional stereotypes that exist in Italy are to a degree comparable to those in England, albeit in Italy the north is viewed as the ‘prosperous’ half. The comparison stops here, for in England, as far as I am aware, no political party has ever challenged the idea of  a collective English identity.

Lega Nord or Northern League is a regionalist political party which has often attacked the idea of Italian unity by claiming that the south is a burden on the nation. The party’s political programme advocates greater regional autonomy, especially for the North and at times secession of the North altogether.

A Lega Nord slogan: Yes to Polenta (a traditional cuisine from the Veneto area) No to cous cous (a staple food in North African cuisine)

A Lega Nord slogan: Yes to Polenta (a traditional cuisine from the Veneto area) No to cous cous (a staple food in North African cuisine)

Couple this with the view expressed by Gary Armstrong and Alberto Testa (Football Fascism and Fandom: The UltraS of Italian Football) that Il Calcio has constantly mirrored the socio-political environment in Italy and one can begin to grasp the power it possesses, both to unite and divide. It is an issue which has never been more contemporary.

This summer the Italian Football Association (FIGC) decided to apply UEFA’s stadium ban rule (aimed at tackling racist chanting) to what it calls “territorial discrimination”. Low and behold when the fans of AC Milan were found guilty of using derogatory chants, first against Napoli, which led to a closure of the Curva Sud (AC Milan Ultras stronghold), and then against Juventus, which led to the closure of the San Siro (a decision eventually suspended) it caused uproar among supporters across Italy.

Traditionally Napoli fans have been on the receiving end of chants referring to crime, poverty and cholera outbreaks in their city. The following link contains an example of a frequently used chant against Neapolitan’s – http://youtu.be/ZrowkCqT95w  

Translated the chant goes something like this:

Smell the stench, even the dogs are running
The Neapolitans are coming
Infected with cholera, earthquake victims
You have never washed yourselves with soap…
Napoli shit, Napoli cholera
You shame the whole of Italy
Work hard Neapolitan
As you have to bend over (politely put) for Maradona
Diego is shit Diego Diego is shit

However, instead of revelling in a touch of schadenfreude, some of AC Milan’s fiercest rivals, the Ultras of Inter Milan, Juventus and even Napoli voiced support for the Rossoneri’s plight.

With sardonic humor the Napoli fans unveiled a banner at their game against Livorno saying “[We are] Naples cholera-sufferers. Now close our curva!” The Ultras of Juve and Inter then made statements imploring fans across the country to join them in singing those “famous chants of territorial discrimination.”

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(Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images)

AC Milan vice-president Adriano Galliani later said strict rules aimed at tackling racism have been taken to an extreme by the Lega Serie A “I understand that racism is a big problem, a problem in the whole world, but territorial discrimination is something else.”

Long before the arrival of immigrants on Italian shores, regional slurs and stereotypes have been used as insults not just in the stadia but also in day to day Italian life.

So what does this all mean? Perhaps the irony lies in the fact that the Ultras have united in in their fight to discriminate against each other. And therein lies the power of Il Calcio, both to unite and divide elements of Italian society. Supporters across Italy are united in being opposed. Its an oxymoron but it makes perfect sense!

The FIGC introduce tougher sanctions but the supporters continue with their discriminatory chants. And they will go on chanting. For it is embedded in their history. Moreover the Ultras and many others feel it is their right to insult each other.

When another of these historic battles between North and South is enacted at the Juventus Stadium on Sunday night you will be sure to hear those ‘famous’ chants of discrimination. “Napoletani colerosi”, Neapolitan’s – cholera sufferers, Juventini “ladri” – Juventus – thieves in reference to the 2006 Calciopoli scandal.

It is all part of the rough and tumble of the football stadium and it can be viewed as good fun, part of tradition or further evidence for the existence of a fragile national identity. However from one issue arises a multitude of others.

Does the continued practice of territorial discrimination encourage the more extreme elements of Italian society to believe they have the right to actively discriminate. Does territorial discrimination constitute racism? And how is Italian national identity, or lack of, manifested within Il Calcio. These are all questions that warrant further exploration.

11/6/13

A Prologue: James Richardson, Gianfranco Zola and Broadening Horizons

Sunday afternoon, 2pm, about 16 years ago. My father would sit down at this time every Sunday to watch the television. Why?  It was time for his weekly dose of Channel 4’s Football Italia presented by James Richardson (a man who I now fondly associate with my youth). That is my first vivid memory of football.

At first this 2-3 hours of live Serie A coverage was an inconvenience to me, one which took my fathers sole attention as he sat with his eyes fixed on the unfolding action. I would soon join him. Just a couple of years later I was bought my first Chelsea shirt, Zola 25 on the back staying true to my Anglo-Italian heritage. I say shirt, it was of course the full shebang (shorts & socks), an unwritten obligation for young children attending football camps across the country.

From that point on I had unwittingly taken the imaginary vows that many a football fanatic subconsciously take. That is to rejoice and suffer through the highs and lows of the beautiful game.

Times change. Horizons broaden. No longer does my sporting world revolve around the Chelsea result on a Saturday afternoon (so I try to tell myself). No I have come to realise that winning and losing is just a sub story. A sub story in a never ending plot which encompasses the thrills and spills of a blockbuster.

This blog not only delivers news, opinions and coverage on what happens in between those four white lines but also the social and political connotations outside them. While predominately focusing on my two greatest passions English and Italian football (grazie papá) I will also cover other social issues which are often magnified under the sporting microscope.

As interesting as the pre-match gossip, mid-match drama and post-match shenanigans are, it is often the political, social and historical nuances which add that extra bit of spice to games like El Clasico, Il Derby della Capitale (The Rome Derby), The Old Firm Derby (Rangers vs. Celtic) and numerous other rivalries.

Tensions run high as Real Madrid and Barcelona clash

Tensions run high as Real Madrid and Barcelona players clash back in 2010. (Photo from http://worldfootball.dailymail.co.uk/)

The Olympic Cauldron..Roma-Lazio

The Olympic Cauldron…Smoke, Flares, Passion and Emotion – all ingredients of the Rome Derby. (Photo from http://provenquality.com/)

Divisions in Glasgow go way beyond football as tensions run high between Celtic and Rangers fans (picture from lateam.fr)

Divisions in Glasgow go way beyond football as Celtic and Rangers fans face off in Old Firm Derby (picture from lateam.fr)