Three Substitutions and Five ‘Injuries’ Later.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





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.”


(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.