11/8/15

The Ultras of Roma

Roma Ultras

A guide to the Ultra groups in Italy: AS Roma

City: Rome

Key Ultra groupsCommando Ultra Curva Sud (CUCS), Fedayn, Boys.

The city they call eternal needs little introduction. Like much of its history, the tale of Rome’s founding is legend; a tale of the twins Romulus and Remus, sons of the Roman god Mars who were abandoned by the River Tiber and raised by wolves. A fraternal feud drove Romulus to kill Remus and build a city in his own honour: Roma. The story is a myth but has become part of folklore. The city’s emblem – the Capitoline Wolf – is a bronze sculpture depicting the twin infants suckling from a she-wolf. The same image can also be found at the heart of AS Roma’s badge and the club’s supporters embrace the symbolism and ancient traditions of the city.

Romanisti are vehement in the belief that, far from being just a team from Rome, AS Roma is the team that truly represents the capital. This sentiment largely stems from their aversion towards city rivals S.S. Lazio. “We carry the city’s name, we carry the city’s colours and we carry the city’s symbol,” Federico affirms brusquely. He is, of course, a Romanista, hailing from Rome and studying in Siena. “How could they [S.S. Lazio] reject the city’s colours back in 1900. It’s shameful,” he pauses before delivering his conclusion: “Burini!”

Burini, perhaps best translated as “peasant”, is a term used by Romanisiti to belittle Lazio fans, suggesting they are simpletons who hail from the agricultural regions outside the city’s confines. While Federico admitted his trips to the Stadio Olimpico were sporadic, this had clearly done little to diminish his antipathy towards Lazio. His disparaging words are symptomatic of one of football’s fiercest rivalries, but they also capture the identity and history of AS Roma and its supporters.

In the 1920s, no fewer than eight football clubs represented Italy’s capital. This superfluity meant they were unable to compete with the dominant clubs of northern Italy. Unhappy with this disparity, a representative of the National Fascist Party (Italo Foschi) organised the merger of three clubs: Alba, Fortitudo and Roman and on 22 July 1927, AS Roma was born.

The only major club to resist this merger was Lazio and despite the fact the Aquile had been founded 27 years earlier, the Romanisti immediately considered their team as the peoples’ club. Why? Then, as now, there were more Roma fans, having absorbed supporters from three different clubs. In their early years, the club also settled in the heart of working-class Rome, playing their matches in the Testaccio neighbourhood. But a crucial part of the answer also lies in an issue touched on by Federico: how could Rome’s first club, Lazio, have neglected the chance to adopt the city’s colours and emblem. It’s a decision that bewilders locals and one that may have pushed many working-class Romans towards AS Roma.

The Lupi (wolves) are one of the best supported teams in Italy and a plethora of ultra groups have monopolised the curve. Their stronghold has always been the Curva Sud but some groups, marginalised for their extremity, have also occupied the Curva Nord, traditionally the domain of Lazio’s ultras. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Curva Sud had a multifaceted look. Groups were formed according to neighbourhoods and names were often inspired by military heroism such as Arditi (Daring Ones), a unit of elite soldiers during the first world war, and Guerriglieri della Curva Sud (Warriors of the South Bend).

However, in 1977 this lack of homogeneity prompted three groups to merge: Fedayn, Pantere (Panthers) and Fossa dei Lupi (The Wolf’s Den), who collectively became known as the Commando Ultras Curva Sud (CUCS). The CUCS announced their arrival during a fixture against Sampdoria, unveiling a 42-metre banner, the longest ever seen at that time. The amalgam breathed new life into Roma’s support and other groups quickly rallied under the CUCS name. “Heart in the south, metal bars in the north,” was adopted as one of the group’s mottos, a reference to their rivalry with Laziali. Their impressive choreographies, high numbers and willingness to go “behind enemy lines” earned them notoriety across the peninsula, but their obstinate nature would also contribute to their demise a decade later

In 1987 the Roma president, Dino Viola, sold team captain Carlo Ancelotti to AC Milan and replaced him with former Lazio player, Lionello Manfredonia. Manfredonia was despised for insulting the Roma fans during a derby game. His arrival caused a schism between CUCS members, some of whom were willing to forget the insult and some of whom were not. This saw the birth of the splinter group CUCS-GAM (Group Against Manfredonia) whose focused on honouring the city and its imperious past. “Roma e Gloria” (“Rome and Glory”) became their slogan and it was around this period that the political ideology on the Curva Sud shifted drastically.

It is important to note that Roma’s hardcore support have traditionally been associated with left-wing politics. Fedayn were overtly communist and their leader Roberto Rulli a renowned idealist, while CUCS also had left-wing sympathies. However, the Italian capital and right-wing politics, namely fascism, have a longstanding history. The word’s etymology is traced back to ancient Rome; a fascis was a rod of birch carried by Lictos (comparable to a police force). Individual fascis were used for disciplinary purposes, but, when tied together they became physically stronger but also a symbol of power. Rome underwent something of a renaissance during Benito Mussolini’s rule, becoming one of the hubs of the fascist regime. Reminders of this period remain scattered across the city, exemplified by the imposing Obelisk emblazoned with Mussolini’s name, dominating the landscape of the Stadio Olimpico.

The book Football, Fascism and Fandom by Alberto Testa and Gary Armstrong provides crucial insight. It explores the relationship between fascism and football support in Rome, following two ultras groups, the Irriducibili of SS Lazio and the Boys of AS Roma. Formed in 1972, the Boys were originally on the periphery due to their neo-fascist ideology. However as the CUCS’s influence dwindled, the Boys rose to prominence along with like-minded groups such as Opposta Fazione(Opposite Faction).

As Testa and Armstrong state: “From the late 1980s … political ideology became more evident among the hardcore AS Roma supporters, an important step in the emergence of the first true ultras.” The academics differentiate the Boys Roma and other groups such as Irriducibili and Internazionale’s Boys-San because their right-wing political ideology is at the nexus of their existence. “Right from the start, [Boys Roma] displayed a neo-fascist ideology in the language, actions and methods of support for their team.” This identity manifests inside and out the stadium and thus the authors coined the term “UltraS”.

Violence is also part of this extreme ideology and, unfortunately, AS Roma ultras have been involved in some particularly abhorrent incidents. During the infamous Derby della Capitale of 2004, Romanisti entered the pitch and had the game abandoned after false rumours were spread that a young boy had been killed by police. This year’s Coppa Italia final in Rome – a game in which AS Roma were not involved – was also marred by violence after Roma and Napoli ultras clashed resulting in the death of Neapolitan, Ciro Esposito. In some quarters, Rome is known as “Stab City”, due to a host of incidents in which travelling supporters have suffered at the hands of a “knife culture” dating back to Ancient Rome.

Many may argue documenting these contemptible behaviours only serves to give these groups the oxygen of publicity but, as Testa and Armstrong argue, understanding such phenomena can help create solutions. It is also important to remember that these elements are not representative of the club’s fanbase as a whole. In fact, Romanisiti are often appreciated as some of the most passionate fans in the world, capable of producing awe-inspiring atmospheres. Despite being starved of genuine success (the club have won just three Serie A titles) in the words of their famous anthem “Roma Roma Roma”, Lupi fans consider the club as their “city’s heart and only true love”.

Supporters deploy giant portraits of Roma's former captains and stars before the Italian Serie A football match AS Roma vs Lazio on January 11, 2015 at Rome's Olympic stadium.    AFP PHOTO / TIZIANA FABI        (Photo credit should read TIZIANA FABI/AFP/Getty Images)

Supporters deploy giant portraits of Roma’s former captains and stars before the Italian Serie A football match AS Roma vs Lazio on January 11, 2015 at Rome’s Olympic stadium. AFP PHOTO / TIZIANA FABI (Photo credit should read TIZIANA FABI/AFP/Getty Images). Photo retrieved from Forza27.com

Their relationship with the city’s history makes their story all the more intriguing. Their owner, James Pallotta, plans to solidify this patrimony by financing a new stadium, its design evoking memories of the Colosseum. It will be in this setting that AS Roma’s modern day gladiators do battle. And no one personifies the spirit of the club more than captain Francesco Totti, a man who has dedicated his career to AS Roma during an age of footballing mercantilism. He too, more than anyone appreciates the contribution the Romanisti have made to the club and this year, on his 38th birthday, he made the point of saying a special thank you to the supporters.

“On my birthday there are so many people I would like to thank… But I would like to say one special thank you to the heart of AS Roma – to our wonderful supporters. For the motivation they give us, their passion and unconditional love. It’s difficult to find words to describe what this means to me. Then, as now, you have always made me feel special. You are unique and simply fantastic.”

@LH_Ramon25

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

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