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)