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

05/6/15

The Ultras of Napoli

Napoli vs Juventus

A guide to the Ultra groups in Serie A: Napoli

City: Naples

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

san-paolo-stadio-1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

@LH_Ramon25

First published on The Guardian and The Gentleman Ultra

08/22/14

The Ultras of Hellas Verona

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A guide to the Ultra groups of Serie A: Hellas Verona

City: Verona 

Key Ultra groupsBrigate Gialloblu (Yellow and Blue Brigade)

Other fan groups: Hellas Army, I 4 Fedellissimi (The Four Loyalists) Hellas Fans, Hellas AlcoolGioventù Scaligera (Scaligera Youth), Verona Front, Cani Blu 1988 (Blue Dogs 1988), Hellas Aliens, Villaggio (Village),Vecchio Inferno (Old Hell), Brigata Borghetti (Borghetti Brigade), 1 Febbraio (February 1), Butei Alti Livelli (The Top Boys), 12 Maggio 85(12 May 85, Orgoglio Scaligero (Scaligero Pride), Quartiere Roma(Roma District), Associazione Stalle Umane (Human Stable Association) and countless others.

“Shits! Thugs! Worms! Turds! Communists!” the boy yells out of the train window. The police look on unfazed. “Fascists! Slavs! Kurds! Bastards!Terroni!” He then pauses to answer his mobile phone: “Ciao mamma… no we’re still at the station in Vicenza… no we didn’t have much homework this weekend I’ve already finished.”

The train begins to pull away from the platform “Momento, Mamma” putting his hand over the microphone he leans out the window again. “Fuck off you assholes you are a disgrace to Italy”. He returns to addressing his mother “Sorry Mamma, the Butei [boys in Veronese dialect] are making a bit of a racket, anyhow we’re just leaving the station now so put the pasta on for around 6.30 and I should be back when it’s cooked.”

This anecdote is taken from Tim Park’s A Season with Verona and it recounts a teenage boy returning from a Verona match against Vicenza who alternates between yobbish football fan to Mamma’s little angel.

It is a Jekyll and Hyde moment that portrays the capricious nature of football supporters and elements of Italian life in general. One moment you are worrying about whether you will be home in time for dinner, the next you find yourself standing in the Curva Sud of the Stadio Bentegodi screaming obscenities at opposition fans, players and, of course, officials. Just ask Tim Parks.

The setting for William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Verona boasts a rich history, including Roman ruins, renaissance culture and the world’s largest open-air opera venue. Its biggest club, Hellas Verona, is an expression of Veronese identity and a symbol of civic pride.

The clue is in the club’s name and nickname. In 1903, when the Gialloblu were formed in Verona’s prestigious school, the Liceo classico Maffei, a Greek teacher coined the name Hellas – Greek for patria, homeland or country. One of their nicknames – Gli Scaligeri – also has historic connotations. It is a reference to the former Lords of Verona who brought the cities of Padua, Vicenza and Treviso under their control in the 14th century. There is a vehement local pride and the Ultras of Hellas Verona stand as defenders of their coat of arms and club colours.

When discussing the world of the Italian Ultras, let alone Verona, it would be impossible not to mention the Brigate Gialloblu, whose motto reads verbatim: “Against hypocrisy and compromise – we hate everybody.” Formed in 1971, their name has become synonymous with the tifosi (fans) of Hellas Verona and, despite their official dissolution in 1991, they remain infamous today.

Although some of the Verona Ultras have a notorious reputation for expressing far-right political views, the name Brigate Gialloblu allegedly has its origins in the left-wing student movement of the late 1960s and is a reference to the Italian red brigades. In fact a left-wing sub-group called Rude Boys coexisted peacefully with a number of right-wing factions within the Brigate, namely: Gioventù Scaligera (Scaligera Youth), Verona Front and Hellas Army. Their love for Hellas far outweighed their ideological differences.

To distinguish themselves and create a hostile atmosphere, the Brigate would stop at nothing to abuse and provoke opposition fans and players. This has seen racism plague the Curva Sud. One of the more distasteful incidents back in the 1980s involved fans throwing bananas at Cagliari’s Peruvian, Julio César Uribe, one of the first black players to play in Italy.

The Brigate Gialloblu were as fanatical, original and intransigent as any fan group in Italy. Having formed ties with Chelsea’s hooligan group The Headhunters in the mid-1970s, elements of the group adopted the mores of English supporters. This even included making business cards that read: “Congratulations you have just met the BG,” an idea inspired by the calling cards left by English hooligans on their victims after a fight.

One particular contingent, known as Associazione Stalle Umane (Human Stable Association) particularly embraced the hooligan ways, drinking beer in excess and living up to the slogan “Veronesi tutti matti” (“the Veronesi are all crazy”).

In the mid-1980s the Brigate’s reputation grew with the team’s success. Thousands travelled to support Hellas in Europe after they won their first and only Scudetto in 1985. This signalled a golden era and the eclectic Curva Sud was rarely devoid of humour. During a trip to Como, Verona Ultras turned up at the Stadio Giuseppe Sinigaglia with blow up rafts, beach mats and flippers changing the words of the Italian song “Stessa Spiaggia, Stesso Mare” (“Same beach, Same Sea”) to chant: “This year nothing changes, all to Como like the beach”. Perhaps it was satire mocking the easy nature of playing Como, or perhaps it was emphasising the sheer number of Veronesi who had flocked to watch a game played on the shores of Lake Como, however it gives you a picture of their ingenuity.

Nevertheless, a game at Brescia in 1986 demonstrated their chaotic and violent tendencies. After being provoked by some Bresciani, it is thought that around 5,000 Verona fans descended on Brescia hell-bent on causing havoc. The Veronesi proceeded to ransack Brescia, vandalising the station, damaging cars and leaving a trail of destruction in their wake.

The president of Verona at the time, Ferdinando Chiampan, called the fans criminals and threatened to withdraw the team from Serie A. The police shared this view and 12 arrests were made. The Curva Sud demonstrated their solidarity displaying a banner against Roma reading: “Not 12 but 5,000 guilty”. However, in 1991, following a tumultuous clash with Milan fans, the various parts of the Brigate Gialloblu unanimously decided to disband after some judges wanted to put the group on trial for being a “criminal organisation.”

Although they no longer officially exist, many Verona Ultras still label themselves as Brigate Gialloblu members. Verona’s return to Serie A in 2013 marked the end of one of the club’s darkest eras after having spent 11 years away from the top flight. If this wasn’t enough, the Verona faithful also had to watch their city rivals Chievo enjoy life in Serie A during their absence. However their stalwart passion has not wavered and even after their relegation to Serie C1 in 2007 an incredible 10,000 season tickets were sold in a league which averaged an attendance of around 2,500.

Their return to Italy’s elite has seen old rivalries reignited, notably with Chievo, Juventus, Milan, Atalanta and Napoli, the latter a fixture that brought the satirical best out of the Veronesi after they revealed a banner reading “Neapolitans… Sons of Juilet”. It was a humorous response to a previously unveiled Napoli banner which taunted Verona’s romantic heroine Juliet, proclaiming she was a whore.

While many presume Chievo are Hellas’s fiercest rivals, the Veneto derby that really raises the blood pressure is against Vicenza. Indeed Verona’s promotion to Serie A last season coincided with Vicenza’s slide into the lower Lega Pro league, which will have given the Veronesi untrammelled joy.

Whether they are producing spectacular choreographies, unfurling witty banners or chanting “Forza Verona Ale” to the tune of Giuseppe Verdi’sAida, the Brigate Gialloblu and Hellas supporters as a whole remain respected across Italy. Much like the story of Romeo and Juliet, the Veronesi have been embroiled in a tale of scandal, feuds and romance, the only difference being their true love never seems to die.

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.