04/3/15

The Ultras of AC Milan

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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).

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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.

@LH_Ramon25

First published on The Guardian and The Gentleman Ultra

03/19/15

The Ultras of Livorno

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A guide to the Ultra groups in Serie A: Livorno

City: Livorno

Key Ultra Groups:  Brigate Autonome Livornese (Autonomous Livorno Brigade)

Other Ultra Groups: Visitors 1312, Livornesi, Livorno 1915, Doia Dè, Exarchia Club, Ultras Livorno 1976, Fossa 1977, Magenta, Fedayn, Sbanditi, Gruppo Autonomo, Norh Kaos.

It was the first game of the 2004/05 Serie A season and newly promoted Livorno travelled to the San Siro to face AC Milan. The Tuscan’s earned a surprise 2-2 draw but for many Livorno fans, the result was trivial. The fixture transcended the average footballing rivalry. AC Milan were an economic juggernaut backed by media tycoon and then Italian president, Silvio Berlusconi. Livorno – a bastion of left-wing ideology –seized the opportunity to mock their ‘betters’, especially a certain signor Berlusconi.

During the summer of 2004, Berlusconi had been pictured wearing a bandana while entertaining English Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and his wife Cherie in Sardinia. The Italian media claimed the bandana was disguising a hair transplant and the photo soon went viral.

Roughly 10, 000 Livornesi turned up at the San Siro, 4,000 of whom wore white and maroon coloured bandanas with the inscription ‘Silvio we are coming’. The bating continued as they unveiled a banner reading“Berlusconi: Brocchi, chi ti vota.” The statement was a play on words. Christian Brocchi was an ex-Milan midfielder but colloquially the word Brocchi also signifies someone who is useless in a sporting context. Thus roughly translated the banner read “Berlusconi voters are useless.” Unsurprisingly Berlusconi took umbrage and Livorno were regularly fined for such flagrance. This never proved a deterrent and for every Berlusconi peccadillo; the Livorno fans have been on-hand to deride the politician.

Formed in 1915, A.S. Livorno are not renowned as one of Calcio’sheavyweights. Since enjoying a prosperous yet transient spell in the 1940’s – in which they maintained their Serie A status for seven years including a 2nd place finish behind Il Grande Torino in 1943 – Livorno have been perennial strugglers. But their Ultras have a unique identity, one rooted in their left-wing political ideology and strong affinity to their city (otherwise known as Campanilismo)

The history of this quintessential port town reveals how the Livornesi came to embrace this distinct identity. During the 15th century, the ruling Medici family of Florence constructed a port at Livorno and passed a range of laws, known as the Leggi Livornine, allowing merchants of any nation to colonise the republic. Jews, Turks, Moors, Armenians, Persians and others arrived creating a cosmopolitan city. Industrialisation and Italy’s Risorgimento(unification) added to the melting pot, with growing political activism among the city’s workers. In 1921, the formation of the Italian Communist Party in Livorno cemented the city’s left-wing tradition. This cultural and political history has proved immutable and since the inception of the Ultras Livorno in 1976, the Curva Nord of the Stadio Armando Picchi has been a constant outlet for Livornese identity.

Before the formation of the famed Brigate Autonome Livornese (BAL) (Autonomous Livorno Brigade) in 1999, the Curva Nord was divided and disorganised. This was due to schisms between groups including Magenta , Fedayn, Sbandati and Gruppo Autonomo. However an amalgamation of the aforementioned quartet led to the inception of the BAL, who brought structure to the Livorno support, underpinned by their leftist ideology.

Communist symbols such as the ‘red star’ or the ‘hammer and sickle’ have been a leitmotif. Images of socialist icon Che Guevara adorn flags, scarves and t-shirts while a banner dedicated to the birthday of former Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin, has also been unveiled on the Curva Nord. Green, guerrilla styled military jackets and army styled caps – made famous by global revolutionaries like Cuba’s Fidel Castro – are often worn and the chanting of Communist anthems including Bandiera Rossa (The Red Flag) and Bella Ciao (a popular Partisan song during World War Two) act as further markers of the Livornesi’s politics.The BAL played a pivotal role in manifesting this ideology and in 2004; they celebrated the clubs return to Serie A after 55-years by organising a spectacular choreography.

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The Curva Nord shimmered under red placards, while a large image depicting a hammer and sickle placed within a shining sun was the centre-piece of the display. Underneath, a banner read ‘A long night is disappearing…at the horizon, our sun is rising’.  Dr Mark Doidge, a sport sociologist who has written extensively on Livorno’s supporters and their politics, recognised that the choreography not only referred to a new beginning for the club, but also embodied Livornese identity through the use of Communist symbolism.

This left-wing identity means the Ultras also seek to demonstrate solidarity with those less fortunate. In the past this has included the display of Palestinian flags, notably in a UEFA cup game against Israeli team Maccabi Haifa. Similar sympathy has been shown to the nationalist Irish cause and the IRA. The Armando Picchi has also been the setting for various fundraising projects, including collections for the Earthquakes that devastated the Italian city of L’Aquila in 2009 and a year later, Haiti.

It is impossible to document Livorno’s Ultras without mentioning Cristiano Lucarelli. The Amaranto No.99 (chosen in honour of the BAL’s formation date) famously said “Some players buy themselves a Ferrari or yacht with a billion lire; I just bought myself a Livorno shirt.”

Cristiano Lucarelli symbolises the ‘typical Livornese’. Gregarious, amicable and openly political, Lucarelli reflects the young masculine fans on the terrace,” – Dr. Doidge

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The Livorno born forward was a former member of the BAL and shared their political ideals. He often saluted the Ultras with the Communist ‘clenched fist’ and back in 1997, during an Italy U21 match in Livorno, he celebrated his goal by taking off his shirt to reveal an image of Che Guevara. The Italian media have drawn parallels between Lucarelli and Lazio icon, Paolo Di Canio, a player notorious for sharing the fascist ideals upheld by some of the Biancocelesti’s Ultras. In fact when Livorno faced Lazio back in 2006, the satirical television show La Iene broadcast a simultaneous interview with the two club icons. Both were quizzed on their political allegiances and the love for their respective clubs.

Unsurprisingly Lazio and Hellas Verona are two of Livorno’s fiercest rivals due to the far-right contingent within their support. Indeed these fixtures are marked as high risk by Italian authorities and can often lead to violent clashes between opposition fans or with the police. Local and historic rivals, Pisa, are hated with equal verve. The Livornesi are twinned with the left-wing supporters of Greek side, AEK Athens, and French club, Olympique Marseille, in a friendship known as the ‘triangle brotherhood’.

Although the BAL were the vanguard of the Livorno support it is said they coexisted with another group called ‘Norh Kaos’. Some speculated that there was friction between the two due to Norh Kaos’s affiliation to the far-right. Yet it appears this wasn’t the case and the duo had an amicable relationship, inside and out of the stadium.

DASPOS (banning orders) curtailed the numbers of the BAL and this eventually proved to be a factor in their dissolution. It is also said one of their former leaders, Lenny Bottai, altered his focus to pursue boxing (he’s reportedly doing quite well). Although their pseudonym allegedly survived until 2007, the Curva Nord lost some of its effervescence. Having spoken to Mark Doidge, he stated that three groups – Livornesi, Visitors and 1312 were preeminent on the Curva after the BAL disbanded. The latter two merged to form Visitors 1312. 1312 is the numerical code for ACAB – the acronym for ‘All Cops Are Bastards.’ This is a new aspect to ultras identity across Europe, uniting them in opposition to the police.

The dogmas of the Livornesi set them apart in the landscape of the Italian Ultras, especially given the resurgence of far-right sentiments within Italian Stadia in recent years. Their club may continually struggle but their supporter’s spirits are never dampened and Mark Doidge mirrored this sentiment.

“Too many people visit Italy for the sights, the food, the art or whatever. Spending time with the Livornesi made me realise that people are the most important thing. They embody their history and continue with a warm and generous spirit to this day.”

With thanks to Mark Doidge for providing his insight and expertise. Mark is a doctor in the sociology of sport at Brighton University and spent six months in Livorno with official supporters clubs and the ultras.

@LH_Ramon25

First published here on @Gentleman_Ultra

01/22/14

Can Seedorf Prove the Doubters Wrong in More Ways Than One?

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It was a striking image. A pointed finger and a clenched fist, Clarence Seedorf and Mario Balotelli kindling a spark that AC Milan fans will hope is just the beginning of an enduring flame.

It was not the effusive eruption of relief one might have expected following Balotelli’s 82nd minute winner against Hellas Verona but then again that wouldn’t be Seedorf’s style, nor the volatile Italian’s. It was a gesture of solidarity. A moment of mutual appreciation that portrayed respect between two men who might just hold the key to each others success. Yet with all the recent speculation surrounding the Dutchman’s lack of coaching experience and his suitability for the job, his appointment arguably raises a more pertinent issue. Seedorf is the first black coach to take the helm at AC Milan. But does this appointment signify a step forward for Italian football?

Seedorf is nicknamed Il Professore (The Professor) and it is an epithet he thoroughly deserves. In addition to a decorated playing career (which includes three Champion’s League winners medals with three different teams), he is fluent in five languages and has proved himself to be an accomplished pundit and entrepreneur. As Gabriele Marcotti points out, he is simply not like other footballers and to repeat his words verbatim “you’re left with one of the cleverest men in the game right now.” In a recent press conference the former Champions League winner alluded to the connotations of his appointment beyond football.

“Of course racism still exists in the World but once again AC Milan has shown itself to be an innovative, brave and forward-looking club.”

Seedorf will be battling on many fronts. He has to negotiate an intransigent hierarchy who continue to pull in competing directions, appease a combustible set of Ultras who are currently staging their own coup and mold a group of players who collectively are a shadow of the Milan Seedorf used to know. This would be enough to unsettle the most phlegmatic of personalities but more importantly, the Professor will have to carve his own path and identity. For he confronts a history which offers little in the way of reassurance.

Photo from telegraphRacism has often reared its ugly head in Italian football, Mario BalotelliKevin Prince BoatengSamuel Eto’o are a few of the star names who have had to endure such taunts. But what Seedorf confronts is something completely different. Not overt racism but the unspoken, possibly unconscious attitudes some still hold in positions of power.

In 1991, the Crystal Palace chairman Ron Noades said:
“The black players at this club lend the side a lot of skill and flair, but you also need white players in there to balance things up and give the team some brains and some commonsense”

This quote epitomises attitudes of yesteryear, ones which are no longer held by the majority. But this does not mean their vestiges have simply disappeared.

While the number of black players have steadily risen in Italy’s top flight, their presence in head coaching roles is virtually non-existent. The numbers speak for themselves. Many articles suggest Seedorf is the second black coach in Serie A history, citing Brazilian born Jarbas Faustinho Cané as the first after he took the reins at Napoli from 1994-1995. However some (myself included) would perceive Seedorf as the third.

Born in Rome after his mother had moved to Italy from Somalia, Fabio Liverani was the first black player to represent Italy during a friendly against South Africa in 2001. Having played for a number of Serie A clubs including Perugia, Lazio, Fiorentina and Palermo he experienced racial discrimination first hand. This did not stymie his ambition.

Liverani was once quoted as saying “I want to be the Carlton Myers of football.” Myers was an Italian basketball player of Afro-British descent and a symbol of ethnic diversity in Italy after he became the country’s first black Olympic flag bearer in 2000. It is safe to say Liverani became an equally iconic figure and 12-years after becoming the first black player to represent Italy, he took charge of the head coaching role at Genoa. Thus without getting embroiled in classifications of race, not acknowledging him as one of the only three black coaches in Serie A history would be doing him a grave disservice.

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Liverani was sacked by Genoa after amassing 4 points in 6 league games.

Unfortunately for Liverani his tenure at Genoa was short-lived and after just six games in charge of the Rossoblu he was sacked in September 2013. Although the former Lazio midfielder only managed one league win at the Genovese club, six games is hardly enough time to judge a man’s credentials. Genoa president Enrico Preziosi is not renowned for his patient demeanor however some might question whether another man would have been jettisoned after such a brief spell.

Former England international John Barnes has suggested that black managers are given less slack and a shorter time period in which to succeed as a head coach.

In Clarke Carlisle’s BBC documentary ‘Is Football Racist?’ Barnes is asked ‘Do you believe that a white manager would have to wait so long for his next appointment? (a question in relation to Barnes’s eight year wait for another managerial job after he was sacked by Celtic back in 2000).’ This was his response.

“Well first of all I think that white managers are given longer when you get a job, longer to fail…Its almost as if they don’t really believe in you in the first place…and then when you’re not successful straight away its like, well that’s what we thought anyway.”

Indeed the landscape for black coaches looks no greener in England, nor in any of Europe’s top leagues for that matter. Just recently Paul Ince was sacked after less than a year in charge of Blackpool leaving only two black managers across the English football leagues.

It would be banal to attribute this to simple racism and as the issue is of such complexity, it goes well beyond the remit of this article. Listening to Radio 4 just this morning a similar question was broached when Gary Beadle (an English black actor) was asked if racism is holding back black, Asian and other minorities from a career in the arts?

His response articulates the issues as well as any explanation I could give.

“I wouldn’t call it racism… I’d say its institutionalised attitudes that just hold people back , whether its their gender or cultural background, it’s a problem that we seem to suffer from.”

Seedorf in the spotlight during his first game against Verona. (Photo from the Telegraph)

Seedorf in the spotlight during his first game against Verona. (Photo from the Telegraph)

So returning to football, it’s not that Seedorf is confronting direct racism, although it will be interesting to observe whether he suffers racial abuse from the stands even as a coach. He is confronting a range of expectations, whether they be the white hegemony expecting him to fail, or quite possibly produce a miracle, or black people hoping he can become a successful trailblazer for those aspiring to coach in the future. Quite simply he is not just managing a European giant he is managing millions of projections across the world.

Having addressed the question of whether Seedorf was ready to take charge at AC Milan, Gabriele Marcotti concluded his ESPN piece perfectly

“Is he ready? Heck, like he says, he was born ready. If he fails, it won’t be because he’s not ready. It will be because he’s not a good coach”

He is spot on, Seedorf should be judged solely on his performance at AC Milan, not on his suitability, not on his previous and/or lack of experience and certainly not because he is black. And that’s when it dawned on me. Seedorf’s race should at no point come into the equation. It shouldn’t be comment worthy. So am I contradicting my argument by writing this very article? Perhaps, however the day we feel no need to say “he is only the ‘second’ or ‘third’ black coach in Serie A history” and I feel no need to share my musings, will be the day real progress has been made.

Take Paul Ince for example. His record suggests he was dismissed simply because he is not quite good enough however the fact there remains a shortage of black coaches leads people to suggest otherwise.

So to answer the original question of whether Seedorf’s appointment constitutes a step forward for Italian football? Yes, its a step forward for football in general. Because when the next black manager is appointed perhaps we won’t feel the need to point out that he is the umpteenth black coach in that league.

We can only hope that Seedorf exceeds all expectations as he will not only restore AC Milan’s fortunes, but like all great professors he will also re-write history.

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.