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

01/9/14

“Nothing Against the State”: European Football and Fascism

I was slightly perplexed when I heard Nicholas Anelka had been lambasted by the French Sports Minister, Valerie Fourneyron, for what at first sight, appeared nothing more than an inconspicuous goal celebration. ‘La quenelle’ – a reverse Nazi salute?  Even Arsenal’s French manager, the studied and renowned Arsène Wenger, expressed his bewilderment:

“Nobody knows in France what it means. Some make it an anti-system movement; some make it an anti-Semitic movement. I think personally I don’t know, I have never seen this movement.”

After scoring the first of his two goals in West Brom’s 3-3 draw with West Ham back in December the French striker, who it must be said is no stranger to controversy (just ask Raymond Domenech), celebrated with what has been described as a pseudo-Nazi salute with anti-Semitic connotations.

dieudonne-anelka-quenelle

Anelka and his comedian friend Dieudonné – the quenelle (Photo from http://www.spi0n.com/)

Quenelle’ – loosely translated as a spice dumpling in French is the word used to describe Anelka’s gesture. Its appearance strongly resembles a downward facing Nazi Salute, with the non-saluting arm placed upon the other to symbolize it being held down, as a regular Nazi salute is of course not acceptable. Patented by the French comedian Dieudonné M’bala M’bala (who goes by Dieudonné), Anelka’s actions prompted widespread condemnation from both political and sporting circles.

Anelka responded to this furore by claiming that the celebration was “just a special dedication to my comedian friend Dieudonné” and that he is “neither a racist nor an anti-semite”. Dieudonné asserts the quenelle is anti-establishment rather than anti-Semitic. But this is a man who has been fined on a number of occasions for inciting racial hatred and whose humour consists of saying “When I hear Patrick Cohen speak, I think to myself: ‘Gas chambers … too bad [they no longer exist].”

With the FA investigating his controversial gesture, Anelka could face a lengthy ban of 5-10 games. The former French international has pledged not to repeat this action, yet whether his plea of blissful ignorance holds any weight is another question. The fact he dedicated the celebration to Dieudonné, a man who openly voices some deplorable views, makes it hard to sympathise with Anelka. At a time when anti-Semitism in football has found voice in whispers, the FA must act swiftly to make an example of this particular incident.

Stan Collymore, ex-professional and now football pundit responded to the incident, saying he didn’t believe politics should mix with sport and that footballers should leave such issues to the politicians. Maybe but we must remember footballers are voting people just like the rest of us and as long as they are not voicing, tweeting , gesturing, or communicating views which disseminate political extremism and/or messages that incite racial hatred then I believe they have a right to a political opinion. However that is neither here nor there. My main point is, as Sid Lowe explores in his book Fear and Loathing in La Liga “Like it or not, sport and politics do mix, no match is so infused with politics as the Clasico”.

Political expressions during El Clasico are common place.

Political expressions during El Clasico are common place.

Indeed the history of this fixture highlights the purpose of this article. The political backdrop to El Clasico owes much to the Spanish Civil War and the Fascist dictator General Francisco Franco’s oppression of Catalonia. For the Catalan people, Real Madrid, a team based in the Spanish capital, became something of a standard bearer for the Franco regime. It was a regime which the majority in Catalonia virulently opposed and was a continuation of the regions ongoing struggle for autonomy. Franco ruthlessly manipulated the passion of Spain’s bitterly divided football supporters and made the sport an arm of his Fascist policy. Consequently FC Barcelona became a symbol of Catalan defiance. This is just one example in which fascism is interwoven in football’s history.

So without getting bogged down in the minutiae of the Anelka saga I would like to raise a wider issue. The quenelle incident is just the latest chapter in an ongoing narrative which has seen far right, fascist sentiments take hold within European football.

Football and its Fascist past.

“It’s only a game but behind the image of football lies a history of coercion, corruption and manipulation by the three most powerful fascists of the 20th century.”

This is one of the opening statements in the BBC’s documentary Football and Fascism. Benito Mussolini, General Franco and Adolf Hitler all exploited the popular culture of football for the benefit of their regimes. Mussolini used Italy’s triumph in the 1934 World Cup (hosted by the Italians) as an opportunity to gain International prestige and mold a national identity for Fascist Italy while under Hitler, the Nazi’s intimidated, threatened and murdered footballers who refused to bend to their will.

Italian team line up for the 1934 World Cup saluting Benito Mussolini.

Italian team line up for the 1934 World Cup – Fascist salutes.

On the face of it the nature of a sport like football to an oligarchy like Fascism is quite obvious. It is a sport which teaches values of discipline, adherence to rules, cohesion as well as stalwart passion for one’s team. International sporting success can also be extrapolated to wider contexts such as asserting and showcasing a nation’s superiority and dominance, something which was a leitmotif in all three of the aforementioned Fascist regimes. Nonetheless with the extinction of these dictators and their totalitarian states one might think Fascism’s place in football died with them – not quite.

Benito Mussolini or Il Duce as he was known said “Fascism is a religion. The twentieth century will be known in history as the century of Fascism.” Unfortunately it would appear such ideologies have managed to inexorably slither into the 21st century too.

Football Supporters and Fascism

For a while now it has been well documented that some sets of supporters across the Europe harbour fascist views.

Back in 2012 a group of Zenit St Petersburg fans called for non-white and gay players to be excluded from their team (Photo from the Telegraph).

Back in 2012 a group of Zenit St Petersburg fans called for non-white and gay players to be excluded from their team (Photo from the Telegraph).

Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Italy, Spain and Holland are just a number of countries among many others which have seen incidents of racism and utterances of fascism plague their football. Extreme cases have even seen hard core fan groups like those at Zenit St Petersburg openly voice their displeasure at seeing non-whites play for their club.

In England the situation has vastly improved and gone are the days where far right parties like the National Front held sway in the terraces and monkey chants were regularly hurled at black and ethnic players. However even British football, which did so much to nullify the hooliganism and racism which bedevilled the game in the 1970’s and 80’s, has seen right-wing views appear through those cracks left unsealed.

Granted the gas chamber hissing noises directed at Tottenham and monkey gestures directed at players might not be full-blown fascist salutes but they open up a Pandora’s box of all those atrocities and iniquitous values that millions died fighting against. An equally worrying facet of this, is the manifestation of Fascist sentiments among football players themselves.

Footballers and Fascism.

In the aftermath of Croatia’s World Cup play-off victory against Iceland back in November 2013 in Zagreb, Croatian defender Josep Simunic picked up a microphone to address the jubilant crowd.  “For the homeland” Simunic shouts.  “READY” the crowd responds. Simunic was subsequently hit with a 10 match ban after being found guilty of chanting a pro-Nazi slogan. The war call is a vestige of a slogan used by Ustashas, the pro-Nazi Croatian regime that ruled the state during the Second World War. The same chant has been coupled with the Nazi salute by Croatian fans in the past. FIFA have set a precedent by banning the Australian born Croatian who will miss the World Cup as a result.

Giorgos Katidis 'celebrates'  his goal with Nazi salute. (Photo from Reuters).

Giorgos Katidis ‘celebrates’ his goal with a Nazi salute. (Photo from Reuters).

However this is not an isolated incident. In March last year Greek footballer Giorgos Katidis was banned for life from playing for the national team after his goal celebration was accompanied by a Nazi salute. The AEK Athens player took to twitter to say “I am not a fascist and would not have done it if I had known what it meant”. Yet in a country which has seen the birth of the neo-fascist political party Golden Dawn, who I might add received 7% of the popular vote during the 2012 national Greek elections, it is hard to believe Katidis was completely naive to the meaning of his salute.

Of course Paolo Di Canio’s infamous Roman salute to the fans of S.S Lazio (their more extreme groups professing to hold far right sentiments) following their triumph in the Rome derby in 2005 provides more fuel to the burning fire. The salute harks back to the hegemony of Mussolini and Di Canio himself has admitted to being intrigued by Italy’s far right history and once stated “I’m a fascist not a racist”.

It is a fascination shared among other Italian footballers. In the book Football, Fascism and Fandom (Gary Armstrong and Alberto Testa) a number of prominent Italian players are mentioned in connection with far-right politics. These include AC Milan’s Christian Abbiati, revealed in 2008 as an associate of the Milan based neo-Fascist gathering Black Heart, and Fabio Cannavaro who once held aloft an Italian flag bearing a fascist symbol while playing in Madrid as well as others have been tarred with this brush.

Football and Fascism: why the re-emergence?

What has caused this ignominious spread of fascist sentiments in football? One must remember that football has always been known as the people’s game. It is the most popular sport in the world and plays a modern-day role akin to that of the Roman gladiatorial games, bread and circuses, assuaging discontent and occupying the masses. Football is a microcosm of society, and the stadiums have become a place where public opinion or more recently grumbles of disaffection have become more profound.

The worst recession the world has experienced since the 1930’s has given rise to extremist politics and it is the far right which has undergone somewhat of a renaissance. Mass unemployment, wretched living conditions and widespread immigration has allowed parties that once trod with caution to regurgitate the trite old prejudices of ‘race’ and ‘national identity’.

Notably far right parties such as the French National Front, The Danish People’s Party and the Flemish Vlaams Belang, among others are increasingly gaining popular support. While they remain careful not to align themselves with openly neo-Fascist parties such as Golden Dawn and Hungary’s Jobbik, Europe is veering dangerously towards an environment which saw Fascism take hold in the 1930’s. Although it is unacceptable to espouse such views in day-to-day society, football remains a ready vehicle for extreme ideologies to mobilise support.

Unfortunately this tars the image of a game we hold dear. FIFA and other governing bodies must do their utmost to quash these overt displays and although football has made an example of players like Simunic and Katidis, we must ask ourselves is this enough to deter such expressions from re-occurring.

With Nicholas Anelka currently under investigation for his quenelle gesture it will be interesting to discover what the FA feels is appropriate retribution. It may seem severe but a draconian crackdown is in order, by taking the attitude of its just and ‘few’ and its only ‘ a game’ we slip into the dangerous trap of letting history repeat itself. After all it was football which proved integral to the regimes of some of Fascism’s most infamous dictators.