08/31/15

Ben Tornato Siena: Has The Robur’s Revival Begun?

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We met in Piazza Tolomei, a quaint little square surveyed by a statue of the Capitoline Wolf. The symbol is ubiquitous in Siena, as is the Balzana, the white and black coat of arms adorning walls across the city. From Piazza Tolomei, we moseyed down towards Siena’s hub, Piazza del Campo.

It’s an impressive sight. Upon entering the square, one’s gaze is immediately drawn to the Palazzo Pubblico and its imposing tower, the Torre del Mangia. Viewed from the tower’s peak, the square’s architectural ingenuity is revealed. Its shell-shaped design is encircled by a number of trendy restaurants and bars, some of which boast balconies looking out on the square. One such bar is La Costarella.

“Shall we grab a coffee here?” Marco asked. Having come across my research on the Ultras of his club, he was keen to talk football. We were at the start of October, the late summer air was sultry and Robur Siena’s 2014-15 Serie D season was underway. Marco is a regular on the Curva at Siena’s Stadio Artemio Franchi, however watching his club compete in a non-professional category was a new experience.

Just a few months earlier, AC Siena went bankrupt. It was hardly surprising after the financial bailout of Monte dei Paschi in 2013. The oldest bank in the world is the beating heart of Siena’s economy and its patronage is crucial to the city’s prosperity. Bereft of their patron, the club was drowning. In July 2014, after president Massimo Mezzaroma resigned, nothing could keep them afloat.

But under the guise of Robur, translated as strength and used by supporters to distinguish the club from their basketball cousins, Siena were reborn. Their new title was apt, for while 110-years of history had been preserved, rebuilding from Serie D would require sheer strength of will.

The Toils of Serie D

“We can’t lose to a team like them,” Marco muttered, flicking through the pink pages of the Gazzetta dello Sport. “Playing against Siena at the Franchi is like playing in the Champions League final for their fans, it would be an embarrassment if we lost.”

That Saturday afternoon, the Bianconeri (White and blacks) were hosting Poggibonsi, a team from a small town located just 30 kilometres north of Siena. It was a derby, but of an unfamiliar kind. Just two years before, they had been living the visceral passion of games against virulent rivals Fiorentina in Serie A. But the Robur’s revival had to start somewhere.

As Marco predicted, for Poggibonsi fans the game held particular prestige. Huddled in the Curva Ospiti, a few hundred yellow and red bodies swayed, bounced and chanted during what was a humdrum 0-0 draw. On occasions, the Poggibonsesi attempted to rile their illustrious hosts with chants of ‘Siena Siena Vaffanculo’. But the Senesi in the Curva Robur didn’t deign to respond, instead choosing to insult their historic and ‘worthy’ rivals, Fiorentina.

In reality though, the upstarts from Poggibonsi proved difficult to shrug. They challenged Siena for the Group E, Serie D, title to the bitter end. However the Robur prevailed, securing promotion and the title with a final day victory at Massese. Speaking to Marco immediately afterwards, his relief was palpable. One year on from bankruptcy, Siena had returned to the football that counts.”

But Serie D had its perks. “In comparison to Serie B and Serie A, the division allowed supporters a lot more freedom. It was like getting to know a new world” Marco reflected.

“It was more spontaneous. There were huge away days with hundreds of supporters, sometimes thousands. Every Sunday was an invasion, a party for us and for the small towns that hosted La Robur as we packed their restaurants and bars. Amazing support, with drums and flairs. Tickets bought last minute outside the away section. It was a dive into football from the past.”

Yet as the Bianconeri prepare for life in Lega Pro, is it really a case of ben tornato (welcome back) Siena?

Siena, a World of its Own

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Piazza del Campo’s Palazzo Pubblico

The balconies of those trendy bars in Piazza del Campo offer the best view of the oldest horse race in the world, the Palio di Siena. Albeit it would likely cost you in excess of €350.

Palio è vita” (Palio is life) runs the local phrase. Held twice a year in July and August, this medieval tradition sees ten jockeys race bareback, completing three laps of the Piazza del Campo’s treacherous course. The competitors represent the various Contrade (City Disricts) and the event is both a celebration of the Siena’s rich culture and history, as well as its abiding intra-civic rivalry.

The Senesi live and breathe this event. The passion is raw, as exhibited during the most recent Palio in which a fist fight broke out in the square between two rival Contrade, Torre and Onda.

Unfortunately for Marco, his Contrada La Chiocciola (The Snail) – did not win the city’s bragging rights. “La Chiocciola had a weak horse and never stood a chance” he lamented, “Selva won. There was a lot of tension in the square which resulted in the fights, but the race itself was a little uneventful.”

Football has hardly been given a moment’s thought. But once the dust on the track has settled, and the drama has subsided, rival Contrade put their differences to one side. Observing Siena’s relationship with the Palio, renowned Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini, concluded: “You people of Siena have a precious thing, and its unique how in the conflict between your districts lies your union.” And what better place to express this unity than the football stadium?

A Long Road Back for La Robur

“The final whistle at Massa [Massese] was a huge relief” Marco confessed. “Promotion [from Serie D] was not easy, but in the end, the joy of winning a championship is always enormous.”

As the squad’s coach pulled into the city, hundreds of exultant Senesi were present to greet them. As is tradition, the team then joined supporters for their triumphant procession through the city centre, the capi ultrá orchestrating proceedings and leading the chants.

“Of course none of this [success] would have been possible without a group of great players and a great Mister [coach] like Massimo Morgia” Marco admitted, “This man, frank and genuine, was able to create a feel good factor within the city and the supporters.”

Having arrived at the Bianconeri a year ago, Morgia engineered their promotion from Serie D. His passion, old-school philosophy and grounded personality immediately struck a chord with the fans, with whom he conversed on a regular basis. Yet having seemingly put Siena on the road to recovery, Morgia’s contract has not been renewed. This has been exacerbated by the departure of key players, including top scorers Lorenzo Crocetti and Simone Minincleri. The situation left Marco and many Senesi questioning president Antonio Ponte. “The failure to renew Morgia’s contract and that of key players was a move I didn’t like in the slightest. It seems like Antonio Ponte takes things day by day.”

Siena fans have reason to be sceptical, especially when it comes to trusting their owners. The wounds of bankruptcy are yet to fully heal and they cannot forget the guilty parties involved in their demise. At games, insulting chants are still directed at former president Massimo Mezzaroma and Alessandro Profumo, one-time CEO of bank Monte dei Paschi who is now on trial for a tax evasion scheme. It’s a subject on which Marco speaks passionately.

“For outsiders, it’s difficult to understand how things work in Siena. The vast sums of money injected into the city by the bank were never used to build a solid sport infrastructure. Just think that Siena have never had a proper training ground, forcing them to use alternative facilities. Instead a ludicrous amount of money (around €10m a year) was channelled into backhanded payments and personal favours within the system. Over the years, Siena’s supporters have been a prominent voice of opposition and denunciation. Following bankruptcy, some hoped this voice would disappear however this hasn’t been the case.”

Lega Pro: Back To The Present While Reliving The Past

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While Serie D may have been a dive into the past, Lega Pro will certainly haul the Senesi back to the present. The controversial supporter’s ID card (La Tessera del Tifoso) will once again be required if the fans wish to travel to away games. Furthermore, regulations regarding the use of paraphernalia for choreographies are far more stringent.

“The Tessera is a measure that serves only to distance people from Calcio.” Marco’s view is one mirrored by many supporters across Italy, and the Tessera is often maligned for reducing ticket sales while failing to tackle football-related disorder. “The absence of drums, flares and other materials detracts from the atmosphere however the numbers we take to away games will also depend on the team’s results.”

Enthusiasm will certainly not be lacking when Siena meet the likes of Pisa and Arezzo. These games transcend the average local rivalry, largely due to their historical back-drop. “In Italy, Campanilismo is fierce, perhaps more so in Tuscany than any other region” Marco opined. He is part of Siena’s younger generation and thus has become accustomed to the rivalry with Fiorentina, also known as the Guelph-Ghibelline derby.

“In Siena we have a strong link with our past, which is still very much alive today. The rivalry with Florence dates back centuries, to the battles and wars fought between the cities from 1200 to the mid-1500s for the supremacy of Tuscany.” This Campanilismo or local pride endures and often reaches its peak within the stadium. “A football match, in this case, represents the means by which you relive the conflicts of the past within the present” Marco poetically affirmed. And he is expecting equally volatile affairs in Lega Pro. “For me, the most fascinating match will be against Pisa, a team with a great history and large fan base. Let’s just hope we have a team worthy of the occasion.”

Hope of a Robur Renaissance Springs Eternal

Recent developments and transfer activity at Siena has fuelled more optimism among the supporters. Fresh faces have arrived while the team has performed well in a number of pre-season friendlies. Fresh off the back of two uninspiring seasons at Reggina, new coach Gianluca Atzori has a point to prove. The tactician is assembling a competitive squad, including a blend of experienced Serie A veterans such as former Reggina forward Emiliano Bonazzoli and Siena stalwart Daniele Portanova, as well as a number of young loanees.

“In terms of talents to watch out for, 17-year-old defender Daniele Guglielmi has a bright future while in attack we have loaned 18-year-old Kevin Arthur Yamga from Chievo and tre-quartista Marco Piredda from Cagliari.” Marco believes these are all players who could help Siena make the jump in quality. Young goalkeeper Tommaso Biagiotti also has the Senesi excited. Hailing from Siena, the 17-year-old is a boyhood fan of the club and towards the end of last season he saved a crucial penalty, further endearing him to the Artemio Franchi faithful.

During that season, the same faithful would often chant “I dilettanti non ci fa paura, ritorneremo presto in Serie A” (Playing in non-league football doesn’t faze us, we’ll soon return to Serie A). Of course that is La Robur’s long term goal however Marco is not getting ahead of himself.

“That [Serie A] is what we must be aiming for. Our support is as passionate as any. However to return to Serie B or Serie A, and even better, remain there, we need capable owners and investment.” For Marco, the priority lies with creating a sound infrastructure and investing in the future. Siena need to establish a stable base from which to continue their ascent, however there remain doubts as to whether these goals are achievable under the aegis of the current president.

“The priorities have to be a state of the art training ground, a strong youth section and a new stadium, preferably one that we own. At the moment these are all dreams” Marco sighed. “We must take inspiration from clubs like Udinese, Atalanta, Empoli and Carpi. It doesn’t matter how many years it takes, if there was a serious project at work, I’d be happy to accept fewer victories.”

With the Lega Pro season due to kick-off on September 6, anticipation is building around the city. The Robur’s revival has got off to the perfect start yet Marco’s expectations remain modest. “I hope we survive comfortably and perhaps win against the likes of Arezzo, Ascoli, Pisa, Ancona, Lucchese and Reggiana. These will be passionate affairs and I hope our team is up to the task.”

Robur Siena are awakening as they prepare to confront historic foes. But they have plenty of battles ahead if they wish to re-establish dominance within Tuscany. For at this present time, returning to Serie A appears anything but black and white.

Grazie Mille to Marco for all his expertise and help during my time in Siena, he is a true Senese! 

@LH_Ramon25

06/29/15

Verona – Vicenza: One of Italy’s Forgotten Rivalries.

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On a Friday night back in April, Davide Di Gennaro calmly dispatched a 92nd minute penalty to earn Vicenza a 1-0 victory away to Cittadella. The travelling Vicentini erupted. It was another invaluable victory in their quest for promotion to Serie A and one made all the sweeter by the fact that Cittadella are local rivals.

The two cities are separated by just 25-kilometres and Vicenza fans undoubtedly enjoyed a moment of schadenfreude as their victory ensured Cittadella slipped further into the Serie B relegation mire. However as the away contingent burst into song, their vocals were directed at one local rival in particular – Hellas Verona.

“Chi non salta è veronese, ooooo, ooooo, ooooo, o, o, o.”

‘Who doesn’t jump is a Verona fan’ bellowed the chant as a morass of red and white bounced to the tune of the famous partisan anthem ‘Bella Ciao’. For while every derby game matters, in the Veneto region there is none more fervent than that between Vicenza and Verona.

 The two rivals were formed just one-year apart, Vicenza in 1902 and Hellas Verona in 1903. Since then, they have played the role of provincial upstarts, both experiencing spells of transient success in which they challenged Italian football’s elite.

 In 1953, after Vicenza were saved from their economic woes by woollen firm Lanerossi, under the guise of their new proprietors, they became a Serie A regular throughout the 1960s and most of the 1970s. This period culminated in the Biancorossi’s most successful season to date after the goals of legendary Italian forward Paolo Rossi steered them to second place in the 1977-78 Serie A season.

 Verona would go one better just seven years later when, under the tenure of Coach Osvaldo Bagnoli, they won the Scudetto in 1985. Inspired by the attacking prowess of Preben Elkjær, Pietro Fanna, Antonio Di Gennaro and Giuseppe Galderisi, the triumph remains Hellas’s only Serie A title.

 However more often than not, Vicenza and Verona have been perennial strugglers, something which has only helped strengthen their rivalry. Separated by no more than an hour’s car journey, it was a rivalry that started in 1906 after the pair met for the first time in a regional tournament. Vicenza won 2-1 and since that day the rivalry has only intensified. But there is much more to the Derby del Veneto than just football.

The Veneto boasts some of Northern Italy’s most idyllic locations, from the floating city of Venice to Verona’s Casa di Giulietta. It’s a region that takes pride in its culture and traditions, whose people are often keen to distinguish themselves not only from the rest of Italy, but from those living just down the road.

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Venice: The Floating City

The main avenue through which the Veneti express this local patriotism, or Campanilismo, is through their language. While often referred to as a vernacular, Venetian is actually a Western Romance Language. The accent is instantly recognisable by its guttural yet rhythmic sound, perhaps owing to the regions history, during which it experienced Spanish and Austro-Hungarian rule. As a result, the dialects and accents vary from town to town, each with their own intricacies and tweaks.  For example, Hellas fans refer to each other as butei, Veronese dialect for ragazzi (boys) while in Vicentino, ragazzi becomes tosi. Understanding the Vicenza –Verona rivalry, requires a certain grasp of Italian history.

There is an old Veneto saying:

Veneziani gran signori,

Padovani gran dottori,

Vicentini magnagati,

Veronesi tutti mati.

Venetians lords and earls,

Paduans learned doctors,

Vicentini cat eaters,

Veronesi are all mad.

The saying has its roots in the past. Venice was renowned for its commerce and merchant classes whilst Padua was – and is – famous for its university and medical school. The Vicentini’s rather more unflattering tag is thought to have originated from an era in which Vicenza – and the Veneto as a whole – suffered crippling poverty, leading to rumours that the people of Vicenza resorted to eating cats. The epithet has stuck. As for the Veronesi, the presence of two psychiatric hospitals in the city (San Giacomo and Marzana) combined with the fresh air of the Monte Baldo mountain range is alleged to have inspired their ‘mad’ moniker. Indeed, someone with an eccentric character is said to have ‘Spirito Montebaldino’ – the spirit of Monte Baldo.

 The adage also reflects the regions civic rivalries. During the middle ages the Scaligeri (Scala) family made Verona one of the most powerful city’s in northern Italy, bringing the territories of Padua, Treviso and Vicenza under their dominion. Vicenza remained under Scaligeri rule until the Doge’s republic of Venice eventually broke Verona’s autonomy in 1405. But the antipathy between the cities has endured.

 In the absence of warring lords and despotic families, sport, namely Calcio, has in the words of eminent psychologist William James, offered the cities a “moral equivalent of war.” In his book ‘A Season with Verona’, Hellas fan and author Tim Parks offered the quintessential summary when recalling the clubs first ever victory against Vicenza.

 “That day in 1912 the Veronese crowd, unarmed, discovered a new way of expressing their antique rivalry with their neighbours. For the first time they could take pleasure, unarmed, in their neighbours discomfort… You beat the neighbouring town at football and a collective dream is born.”

Verona curva

 “The derby with Vicenza is probably more than a game of football.” Charles Ducksbury tells me, “Even Veronesi with no interest in the game hate Vicenza.” Charles should know. He has been following Hellas since he was 9-years-old and his passion for the club and the city is undiminished.

Charles has lived the derby, both home and away. He has had objects hurled at him, inhaled the smoke of the flares and sung his vocal chords dry. “The hostility can be intense. When they [Vicenza] beat us in our promotion season [from Serie B], the Vicentini were kept inside the Stadio Bentegodi for almost three hours because of the Butei outside waiting for them.”

His last Derby del Veneto involved a trip to Vicenza’s Stadio Romeo Menti back in September 2012. Verona won 3-2 thanks to a Domenico Maietta goal, something of a collector’s item given the defender has only scored three times throughout his 15-year career. Not that Charles had the pleasure of seeing this rare strike.

 “My impression of that game is that I hardly saw any of it. Behind the goal is some huge netting to stop people throwing things on the pitch. So the Butei hung their flags on it, and from where I was stood, most of the pitch was covered up.”

 Back then the sides met in Serie B, a season in which Hellas won promotion while their red and white counterparts slipped down to Lega Pro. But in truth, the last decade has seen both clubs struggle, on and off the field. At the Scaligeri’s nadir in 2009, the club flirted with relegation to the bottom tier of Calcio’s professional pyramid. Even more recently, the future of Vicenza was in doubt after their financial malaise triggered talks of a merger with their city bedfellows, Real Vicenza V.S.

Back in 2012, Charles observed that the hostilities between the two sets of fans might be easing, which he attributes to more stringent policing.

 “To be honest, I think that particular derby I attended was tame compared to others I’ve read about. Inside (the stadium), we sang all game of course, and the Vicenza ultras had a couple of good choreo’s, but I wouldn’t say it was as hostile as normal. It was too hot. There have been many violent incidents in the past, but recent years it has seen less violence around the stadium, though this is more to do with police presence than the will of the fans.”

But other factors may have also contributed. Both clubs travails mean it has been 14-years since the Gialloblu met the Biancorossi in Serie A. Furthermore, the rise in prominence of Chievo Verona, haughtily dismissed by Hellas fans for their miniscule fan base, has seen the intra-city rivalry intensify.

 “It is a complex relationship. For years they [Chievo] were a second team of many Hellas fans, but now of course they’re not. It’s an important game now, because of the history of them using our colours, symbol, stadium etc. But to consider this rivalry above all others is laughable.” Charles retorted.

It is Verona against Vicenza that really makes the blood boil and for Tim Parks no game compares. “…in the end it always comes back to this old game with the magnagati, our cuginastri (nasty cousins). The one no one wants to lose, the one that will attract the most away supporters. No distinction is more urgent or more arduous than that between ourselves and those who most resemble us, the guys down the road.”

Were Vicenza to make a return to Serie A, the flame would undoubtedly be reignited. After losing out to Pescara in the 2014-15 Serie B semi-final play-offs, the Vicentini will hope that they can use this experience as a platform from which to propel themselves into Serie A next season. The Veronesi undoubtedly revelled in their rivals failure, however they would have equally relished the chance to relive this historic rivalry on Italy’s grandest stage.

Outside the Veneto region, the Verona-Vicenza derby has been somewhat forgotten. But for the aficionados, it is one of the peninsula’s most fascinating rivalries. It’s a matter of history and pride. It’s the butei against the tosi, the mati against the magnagati. It’s an antique clash and one to decide the rulers of the Veneto. For those involved, the stakes couldn’t be higher.

With thanks to Veronese, Charles Ducksbury, and Vicentino, Marcello Casarotti, for their help and insight. Images courtesy of Marcello.

Originally published on The Gentleman Ultra

@LH_Ramon25.

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.

04/6/14

The Ultras of Fiorentina

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A Guide to the Ultra Groups in Serie A: Fiorentina

City: Florence

Key Ultra GroupsUltras Viola and Colletivo Autonomo Viola (CAV)

Other fangroupsLegione Viola (Purple Legion), Guelfi (Guelphs),Granducato (Grand Duchy), L’Alcool Campi (Alcohol Campi – signifying fields or a province called Campi in Florence), Vieussex, Settebello(Beautiful Seven), Fiorenza 93, Firenze Ultras, Gruppo Storico Ultras V.’73, Aficionados, Urban Crew, Alterati (Altered state – drug related),Fedelissimi (Stalwart faith), Bomber Group, Pazzi di Lei (Crazy for Fiorentina), Sindrome Viola (Purple Syndrome), Vecchio Stampo (Old Fashioned), Stati Liberi del Tifo (Supporters Free State), Viola Korps,Gruppo Signa (Signa Group) and many others

In 1289, a schism between the Pro-Papal Guelph forces of Florence and the imperial Ghibelline forces of Arezzo culminated in a brutal conflict at the Battle of Campaldino. This battle was part of the long struggle for power between the popes and Holy Roman Emperors in Italy. It also reflected the fervent civic rivalries of the era, rivalries that remain to this day. On the blood-strewn plains of Campaldino, the Florentines and their allies triumphed. It was a victory that secured the Guelphs in Florence.

The Tuscan Republic would go on to become the birthplace of the Renaissance, a civic colossus on the Italian peninsula. Florence remains a city of unquestionable prestige and, though the days of civic war are over, the city’s team, Fiorentina, provide an outlet for campanilismo – local patriotism.

Expressions of Guelphism are often seen at the Stadio Artemio Franchi and, under the aegis of the Ultras, the city’s medieval splendour lives on. The metropolis and its football club are viewed by supporters as one entity, so a victory for La Viola is a victory for Florence. The team is the city’s symbolic army and these cultural nuances set Fiorentina supporters apart in the world of Italian ultras.

Fiorentina are said to have the sixth largest following in Italy and this is exemplified in their numerous Ultra groups (I lost count at around 100). This perhaps reveals a trait particular to Florence: the need for individuality and ingenuity are entwined with the city’s glorious past.

The first origins of Viola fan-groups can be traced back to 1965 and the formation of Vieussex (the name of an historic library in Florence) and Settebello (Beautiful Seven). These two groups are present today, with Vieussex residing in the Ferrovia stand and Settebello in the Curva Fiesole, the heartbeat of the Artemio Franchi stadium.

One of the more renowned groups to have resided in the Curva Fiesole is the Ultras Viola (Purple Ultras). Formed in 1973, a vicious fight with the Genovese led some fans to create a group of “super supporters” who could compete with any adversary. Founded and led by a man called Stefano “Pump” Biagini, this period is described by a Viola Ultra as the “glorious 1970s”, characterised by violent clashes, stolen banners, dangerous away days and above all the years of “Calcio vero” (uncorrupted football).

Despite the group’s prominence, the Ultras Viola disbanded just 10 years after their inception following violent exchanges with Romanisti which saw their twinning with the Romans come to an abrupt end. Stolen banners (which both fans blamed on each other) sparked an irreconcilable quarrel and this change, combined with a rise in eminence of Colletivo Autonomo Viola (CAV – Autonomous Purple Collective), led to a changing of the guard. Created in 1978, CAV took a central position on the Curva and, despite their dissolution in 2011, the group’s vestiges have ensured that the Fiesole remains one of the most vivacious Curvas on the peninsula.

It is also worth highlighting Alcool Campi (Alcohol Camp), a clan who lived a brief but fiery existence. This tempestuous group were said to be the culprits in a notorious incident, when Fiorentina Ultras launched petrol bombs on to a train full of Bologna fans. A 14-year-old died tragically and Alcool Campi quickly ceased to exist.

“Neither left nor right” has always been the motto of the Fiorentina Ultras, who have predominately refused political affiliation. This does not have any bearing on their twinnings and rivalries, epitomised in their longstanding friendship with Hellas Verona fans (traditionally right-wing) after ex-Fiorentina players joined the Gialloblu and helped them to their one and only Scudetto in 1985.

It is impossible to talk about Fiorentina without mentioning their virulent hatred for Juventus. When the Bianconeri come to the Artemio Franchi, a furore rages across the city. The origins of this rivalry date back to the 1981-82 Serie A season, when the Viola had the Scudetto snatched from their grasp by Juventus on account of some dubious refereeing. This rivalry was accentuated when Fiorentina cult hero Roberto Baggio was sold to Juventus in 1990, triggering riots across the city.

In parts of the Tuscan capital you can buy stickers that read “zona anti-gobbizzata” (“hunchback-free zone”). Hunchbacks are seen as lucky in Italy thus the nickname was patented for Juventus, a team seen as notoriously lucky. In what must be a sight to behold, albeit a strange one, Fiorentina fans have also been known to perform a ritual on players signed from Juventus in which they are “de-hunchbacked”.

The rivalry can take on a more sinister nature, with some Viola fans taunting their rivals about the Heysel tragedy which claimed the lives of 39 Juventini. Fiorentina fans have been known to wear Liverpool merchandise when facing their Turin adversaries, and following the tragedy in 1985, a banner was revealed by Fiorentina Ultras reading “39 less hunchbacks”. Juventus fans claim that this is why CAV attempted to befriend Liverpool fans back in 2009 when the clubs met in the Champions League.

Despite this, the Fiorentina Ultras are renowned for their loyalty, sarcasm and irony. They are no strangers to decrying the club’s hierarchy or the team itself if they feel things aren’t being done to their lofty Florentine standards. Former owner Vittorio Cecchi Gori, whose disastrous tenure at the club culminated in bankruptcy and demotion to Serie C2 in 2002, can certainly vouch for this. Viola fans had to endure the humiliation of losing the club name for a year – when they became Florentia Viola – and 30,000 of them descended on the city centre to make their feelings known to Cecchi Gori.

The hub of the Italian Renaissance, Florence is synonymous with Michelangelo, Dante, Machiavelli and the Medici. The Fiorentina Ultras take untrammelled pride in the city’s cultural history and the Artemio Franchi has become something of a holy ground for the Viola fanatics. Awash with purple and white, the stadium can produce electrifying atmospheres and decorative choreographies that even the greatest Florentine artists would be proud to call their own.

You can also read these articles on Richard Hall’s website –  The Gentleman Ultra.

Follow myself – @LH_Ramon25 and Richard – @Gentleman_Ultra on twitter.

03/18/14

The Ultras of Chievo

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A Guide to the Ultra Groups in Serie A: Chievo

City: Verona

Key Ultra Groups: North Side 94

Other fan groups: Ultras Chievo, Cani Sciolti (Wild Dogs or Bad Boys), Chievo 1929, Gate 7, Mussi Volanti (Flying Donkeys), Gioventù Clivense (Chievo Youth), Gruppo Milano (Milan Group), La Fossa dei Pandorini (The Pandora’s Den), Brulè Boys (Grill Boys), The Friends, North Side Girls.

Come si scrive Ciampion Lig” (“How do you write Ciampion Lig”) … certainly not like that. Of course it was tongue-in-cheek, an ironic gesture emphasising the Chievo fans’ own incredulity at their team’s success, success that saw them on course for a Champions League spot during their first ever season in Italy’s top flight.

In the end, it wasn’t to be, with the Flying Donkeys finishing fifth in the 2001-02 season and outside of the Champions League spots. Just five years later, with a little help from the Calciopoli scandal that led to Juventus, Milan, Fiorentina and Lazio all being banned from Europe, spelling “Ciampion Lig” was the least of Chievo’s worries; they were in it – well, at least the preliminary stage.

It was an astounding achievement for a club whose existence was for so long peripheral, even non-existent in the eyes of their powerful overweening neighbours Hellas Verona. This was Chievo’s time and their fans were keen to remind their city bedfellows.

In a game against Livorno the Clivensi (Chievo supporters) produced a banner that read: “Chievo frazione di Verona, provincia d’Europa” (“Chievo district of Verona, province of Europe”). A club from a tiny suburb of Verona that is home to 3,000 inhabitants were competing in Europe’s premier football competition. Their success became known as the “Chievo phenomenon” and how the Veronesi loathed it.

Writing in the Guardian back in October 2001, Tim Parks, the author of A Season with Verona, gave his own account of the Chievo area:

“I’d lived in Verona more than 10 years before I stumbled across it, a miserable case of working-class suburb overflowing into declining semi-industrialised fenland.”

Parks conveys the haughtiness that every Verona loyalist expresses towards Chievo, both the place and the team. Chievo’s nickname in Veneto dialect is “Ceo” which means kid. Their story is certainly a child’s fairy tale: the ugly duckling that blossomed and became a swan, flaunting its feathers among Calcio’s elite. It is fanciful but not far from the truth. Chievo fans may be maligned by their city rivals for their miniscule fan-base and they are not renowned across Italy, but they have still played their part in Chievo’s romance.

Having trawled through forums and fan sites, it is clear there remains an ambiguity regarding Chievo’s more stalwart fans. Are they really Ultras? Aside from the countless Hellas jibes, some recognise Chievo’s North Side as the ‘only real group of Ultras’.  Apparently a few boys formed the group over a beer in 1994, in a bid to start a movement of ardent fandom that would help their cause of claiming the Curva Nord as their own domain. Normally residing in the Curva Sud inferiore of the Stadio Bentegodi, they move to the Curva Nord on derby days to accommodate the greater number of visiting Verona fans.

In the early years, the group’s symbol became the Looney Tunes character Marvin the Martian, who, as a member describes, “encapsulates Chievo and above all the North Side who were aliens in the world of professional football”.

When Chievo faced Napoli in 2000 an overly offensive banner abusing the visitors (the content of which remains elusive) led to five members of the North Side being expelled, creating profound divisions. New leadership re-asserted the group’s basic ideals, including a non-violent, apolitical stance and a rejection of official twinnings and rivalries. These are not your usual Ultras and this episode best captures their idiosyncrasies.

Later that year Chievo’s promotion to Serie A saw the North Side flourish and the Flying Donkeys were followed more feverishly than ever before. As a result various sub-groups formed. These include Ultras Chievo (1999), who have now dissolved but were allegedly ‘less good-natured” than North Side, Chievo 1929 and Gate 7, who were formed as recently as 2013.

Although the North Side Ultras profess to have no rivals, Chievo’s prominence has seen Verona develop a new-found hatred for their once “fictitious” neighbours. The return of the Mastini to Serie A in 2013 saw the first Derby della Scala in over a decade.

There were murmurings of trouble and stories than the Clivensi had thrown objects and sticks at the Verona team bus. But as many of theVeronesi will tell you, historically this is not the Veneto derby they get worked up about. The Veronesi never believed this rivalry would materialise, as demonstrated by the banner they unfurled during their 1995 derby in Serie B: “When donkeys fly we will play this derby in Serie A”. Needless to say Chievo’s success and Verona’s struggles in the last decade have allowed the Clivensi to revel in a touch of schadenfreude.

Having written about Catania’s Ultras, the contrast is striking. If you were to juxtapose Chievo with the Sicilians, you would have to say they are the saints of the Ultra world. The Chievo story is unique and in a small way their fans have left an indelible mark on the pages of the club’s history. Whether you call them magnanimous Ultras or just fans, the Clivensi offer a passionate and loyal support that follow and fly with their donkeys wherever they can.

You can also read these articles on Richard Hall’s website –  The Gentleman Ultra.

Follow myself – @LH_Ramon25 and Richard – @Gentleman_Ultra on twitter.

02/23/14

The Ultras of Cagliari

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A guide to the Ultra groups in Serie A: Cagliari

City: Cagliari – Sardinia

Key Ultra GroupsSconvolts and I Furiosi (The Furious)

Other fan groups: Fossa Ultras, Commando Ultras Supporters Young, Cagliari Ultras Curva Nord, Eagles, Crazy Boys, Brigata S. Elia, Panthers, Rebels, I Miserabili (the Wretches), I Weltschmerz (the World Weariness), Bunker Skin, Vecchie Facce (Old Faces).

In John Foot’s book, Calcio: a history of Italian football, there is a striking vignette of a funeral procession being led by Cagliari fans following their Serie A triumph in 1970.

The Cagliaritani are carrying little coffins through their narrow cobbled streets mourning La Vecchia Signora (The Old Lady). After beating them to the title the fans have decided to bury Juventus. It is a typical example of how Italians often mix Calcio with religious sentiments and it also demonstrates the Cagliaritani‘s sardonicism, a word entirely appropriate due to its definition and etymology; the Greeks believed eating a plant from Sardinia caused facial convulsions resembling those of sardonic laughter.

Cagliari is the biggest club on the island of Sardinia. Their ground Lo Stadio Comunale Sant’Elia has only recently started to host games again due to its decrepit state, however, in the late 1980s its Curva Nord was renowned for being one of the most colourful and vibrant in Italy, producing spectacular choreographies with witty banners.

This was partly inspired by the birth of Cagliari’s most famous Ultra groups, the Sconvolts in 1987 and I Furiosi in 1989. The Sconvolts, whose name comes from the word sconvolto, which means shocked or deranged, were formed as a subgroup of both the Cagliari Ultras Curva Nord and Eagles 1985. I Furiosi on the other hand was formed by ex-members of the Sconvolts and a number of other small groups.

The Ultras of Cagliari are an unorthodox bunch and they differentiate themselves as “duro e puro” (“tough and pure”). It is an aphorism which suits them. Unlike many Italian Ultras they were renowned not for their violent nature, but for their dedication and passion, especially during la trasferta (the away day). This was largely down to geography. For many the ferry was the only viable option and we are not talking about Dover to Calais. Cagliari to Rome takes 13 hours and that doesn’t include travel on the mainland. Despite the long and gruelling journeys, the Ultras relished la trasferta and their stalwart support for I Rossoblu has earned them respect all over Italy.

Yet, in what is becoming a recurring theme, deep underlying divisions existed between their principal groups. This was born from a difference in mentality and ideology. While the Sconvolts remained apolitical, I Furiosi held right-wing sympathies and this meant they had their own twinnings and rivalries. Until 2012, the Sconvolts only recognised true ties with Foggia, whereas I Furiosi had friendships with the Veronese, Interisti and Wild Kaos Atalanta.

I Furiosi also developed a famous rivalry with the Milanisti after they managed to steal a striscione (banner) at one of Cagliari’s home games. Losing a striscione to a rival is shameful; it is the modern day equivalent of losing the king’s colours in battle. This shame was compounded when the Milan Ultras proceeded to reveal this banner at the next game between the two sides. One account even reports a grown man crying with despair at the sight of it.

The incurable differences between the Cagliaritani meant they occupied different positions on the Curva Nord and in 2003 this conflict reached its peak. The Sconvolts travelled to their game against Hellas Verona with the sole aim of revenge. It was meticulously planned. They travelled in small groups so not to attract attention from the police. Arriving in the city they gathered behind the Curva Sud of the Stadio Bentegodi (the realm of the Verona Ultras) and they waited with iron bars, sticks and smoke grenades.

All hell broke loose, a bar was wrecked, fights raged with the Veronesi, two police were hospitalised and 33 Sconvolts were arrested. In the aftermath of the fight, the Veronesi posted the following on a fan forum “It was a fair fight, without the use of knifes… Honour and respect to the Sconvolts.”

The tranquil reputation that followed the Cagliaritani had vanished. But here comes the truly shocking part. This vendetta was a consequence of events that had occurred in Cagliari five months earlier. At the corresponding home fixture, members of I Furiosi had teamed up with Hellas Verona Ultras and attacked the Sconvolts. It was the gravest of insults and one the Sconvolts could not ignore. The Furiosi disbanded later that year and while the exact reasons are hard to ascertain, it was certainly connected to this incident.

Today the Sconvolts remain famous across Italy. Although their numbers have dwindled due to a large proportion of their recent home games being played in Trieste (a mere 666 miles away), their old adage of “pochi ma buoni” (“few but good”) is truer now than ever.

They remain passionate and loyal and their slogan “Essere ultras esserlo nella mente” )Being Ultras is a state of mind”) is famous nationwide. This is encapsulated in a quote by a member of the Sconvolts: “Nobody in their right mind would leave their family on a Saturday to travel to Trieste to watch the last game of the season with nothing riding on it. It’s the purest of passion with no logic”

You can also read these articles on Richard Hall’s website –  The Gentleman Ultra.

Follow myself – @LH_Ramon25 and Richard – @Gentleman_Ultra on twitter.

02/9/14

The Ultras of Catania

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A guide to the Ultra groups in Serie A: Catania

City: Catania – Sicily

Key Ultra Groups: Falange d’Assalto Rossazzurra (Red and blue Assault Phalanx), Irriducibili (Unbreakables).

Other Ultra Groups: A Sostegno di una fede (In Support of a faith), Onda d’urto (Shockwave), Giovani Rossazzurri (Young Red and blues), Decisi (The Determined), Drunks, I Pazzi (The Crazy ones), Ultras-Ghetto, Boys Resca (Barb Boys), Tigna (Ringworm), Torrone (Nougat), A.N.R (Associazione Non Riconosciuta – The Unknown Association), Vecchia Guardia (Old Guard).

The air filling the baroque styled streets surrounding Catania’s Stadio Angelo Massimino is thick with the fumes of tear gas and smoke. Palermo’s David Di Michele has earned a famous victory in the Derby di Sicilia, much to the chagrin of the Catania Ultras. But while the battle on the field is lost, the war on the streets has just begun. The Catania fans vent their fury at the police. Homemade bombs, flares, firecrackers, pipes, rocks, pieces of sink and even a scooter rain down on the authorities. The cacophony of explosions, helicopters, and yells almost drown out the approaching ambulance sirens. Amidst the maelstrom a policemen lies fatally injured. Allegedly struck by a broken sink and a missile which exploded in his vicinity, he would later die from his injuries in hospital. The officer’s name was Filippo Raciti and the events of February the 2nd, 2007, remain one of the most ignominious in Il Calcio’s history. Life on the Curva would never be the same again.

The day after Raciti’s death Gazzetta Dello Sport ran the headline “Poliziotto Ucciso Il Calcio Chiude” – Policeman Murdered, Football Closes. In his column for the Guardian, James Richardson reported an “authentic ambush” on the police planned and coordinated by Catania Ultras. Italian football was reeling. The Calciopoli scandal in 2006 had revealed a dark under belly but this was something altogether more sinister. Il Calcio had been plunged into the global spotlight and sanctions were swift. Games were immediately postponed and although Serie A returned the following week radical changes were afoot.

Italy’s football chief Luca Pancalli stated “What we’re witnessing has nothing to do with soccer… Without drastic measures, we cannot play again”. The football stadia act, also known as the Pisanu decree involved a draconian clamp down. Teams whose grounds weren’t up to code (this being the majority across Italian leagues) were forced to play behind closed doors. A ban was placed on pyrotechnics and the sale of block tickets to away supporters. Financial relationships between clubs and fan associations were prohibited. Catania were forced to play the remainder of their games at a neutral venue and behind closed doors. The Stadio Massimino underwent major work to meet the newly introduced safety measures and did not re-open to fans until September 2, 2007 when Catania hosted Genoa. A minutes silence was observed for Filippo Raciti.

The events in 2007 encapsulate the disturbing side of Ultra culture. A continuation of strict measures such as the Tessera del Tifoso (supporters ID card) has at times threatened their very existence. However while the Catania’s Ultras will forever be synonymous with the tragic death of officer Raciti their loyalty and passion was fundamental in leading Catania Calcio to the summit of Italian football.

Over the years the Stadio Massimino has seen a number of Ultra groups take eminence on both Curve. Two of Catania’s more renowned groups are Falange d’Assalto Rossazzurra (Red and Blue Assault Phalanx) and Primo Amore (First Love) later renamed Irriducibili (Unbreakables). Falange (formed in 1979) were Catania’s first Ultra group and resided in the Curva Nord. Their incursion saw the birth of other groups such as Onda d’Urto (shockwave) and Giovani Rossoazzurri (Young red and blues), the latter’s members moved to the Curva Sud and in 1991 founded the Irriducibili. In Catania’s case it seems the habitual internal divisions were exemplified in the varying degrees of prominence enjoyed by both Curve. While the Curva Sud was the heartbeat of the stadium during the late 90’s, the Nord remains one of the most atmospheric in Italy today and its effervescence is said to be the reason Catania Calcio remains one of the biggest clubs in Sicily.

In 1993 Catania Calcio was a perennial struggler and their financial problems had seen them relegated to Eccellenza (The 6th tier of Italian football). Franco Proto, president of Atletico Leonzio, a team from Lentini (just 20 miles from Catania) sought to take advantage of this situation by moving Leonzio and forming Atletico Catania. However the Catania fans rejected this team preferring to stay faithful to their beloved Rossoazzura. New recruits grew through the lower leagues and they formed the group ‘A Sostegno di una fede’ (In Support of a faith). Despite languishing in the depths of despair Catania’s following was ever-present and the Curva Nord was alive with an array of flags, banners and colourful smoke effects.

When it comes to rivalries Catania – Palermo is as fierce as they come. Messina, another prominent Sicilian club come a close second. Other noteworthy enemies include Catanazaro, Taranto (especially for their blasphemous chants insulting Catania’s patron saint – Agatha), Reggina, Salernitana, Avellino and Siracusa. Catania’s Ultras have good relations with Crotone and Trapani, the latter being based on common hatred of Palermo.

Catania is a city which lies in the shadow of the imposing Volcano Mount Etna or in local tongue ‘A Muntagna’. Remarkably following its eruption in the 17th century one of the materials used to rebuild the city was lava. The volcanic stoned pavements are a constant reminder of the cities tragic but explosive past and while the picturesque Stadio Massimino has often produced beautiful match day choreography it’s Ultras are as volatile and eruptive as their volcanic neighbour.

As always you can find these articles on Richard Hall’s website –  The Gentleman Ultra.

You can also follow Myself – @LH_Ramon25 and Richard – @Gentleman_Ultra on twitter.

Thinking of visiting Catania? Check out travel expert Max Barnard’s guide to the top 10 places to visit in Italy.

 

01/30/14

The Ultras of Bologna

The Serie A Ultras guide is back. All these articles are being published on my colleague Richard Hall’s fantastic website The Gentleman Ultra (an absolute must for Calcio fans) and they are also being featured as part of Richard’s alternative Serie A club guide on the Guardian Sport Network.

Also if you haven’t already, follow myself – @LH_Ramon25 and Richard – @Gentleman_Ultra on twitter.

Having already posted Atalanta here is Bologna – hope you enjoy.

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A guide to the Ultra groups in Serie A: BOLOGNA

City: Bologna

Key Ultra Groups: Forever Ultras, Mods, Molle Cariche, Via Genova, Vecchia Guardia, Freak Boys, Supporters, Beata Gioventù, Bologna 1982

Other Ultra/Other Groups: S.G.P 1999, U.R.B Girls, Deragliati, Narab Group, Socmel, Capotatti, 051, Fuedo, Lungimiranti, Infoiati, Brigata 1992, All the Bancon, Le Rane, Pascutti Group, Colonna Romana, Freak Tonici Imola, Noi di Bologna 1997, Official Smokers, Gruppo Croci, Turist Group.

The match is Roma vs. Bologna during the season of 2002/03. The Roma fans have choreographed a special display to welcome their rivals from Emilia Romagna – BOLOGNESE AMICO DELLA QUESTURASPIA SPIA SPIA (the Curva Sud is littered with these placards) – BOLOGNA FAN FRIEND OF THE POLICE: SPY SPY SPY. Of course the Bolognesi have their view of the Romanisti. “SE IL MONDO FOSSE UNA TORTA DI MERDA VOI SARESTE LA FETTA PIÙ GRANDE!” – IF THE WORLD WAS A CAKE OF SHIT YOU WOULD BE THE BIGGEST SLICE!

Believe it or not Roma and Bologna used to be Gemellati (twinned). Friendly ties existed between two Ultra groups, The Mods of Bologna and The Boys of Roma. This was a friendship forged by Calcio as well as politics with both groups holding far-right ideologies. In the 1995/96 season Bologna were on the brink of promotion to Serie A. The Mods decided to invite their Roman allies to their decisive game against Chievo. Bologna won, but the joyous atmosphere was about to turn sour. Some of the Bologna and Roma Ultras took advantage of the chaotic celebrations and launched a racist attack on a group of North-African drug dealers. One man was allegedly stabbed. It is thought that to save their own skin a number of Bologna Ultras gave the police the names of the Roman perpetrators who were consequently arrested. The Bologna fans reputation was besmirched. For the Romanisti the Bolognesi were no longer friends but the worst type of enemies– Infami, a term used in the criminal world for police informers.

It beggars belief that since the birth of Forever Ultras Bologna (URB) in 1974 the club has spawned 29 Ultra groups (that I know of). It has at times been a story of factional infighting, a swirling morass of competing cliques vying for pre-eminence on the Curva Bulgarelli or Curva Nord. Both URB and the Mods (founded in 1982) have been two of the Rossoblu’s more famous groups. Occupying central positions of the Curva Bulgarelli (a sign of influence) they have been friendly neighbours, choreographing impressive match day spectacles. This does not mean they have always seen eye to eye.

Following the racially aggravated assault URB condemned the Mods and all involved. This coupled with pre-existent political divisions made the relationship a fragile one. Despite the Mods and their extant sub-groups Molle Cariche (Loaded Springs) and Via Genova(Genoa Road) holding right-wing inclinations, Bologna’s Ultras are traditionally associated with leftist politics. This is historical. During the post war years the city of Bologna became a stronghold for the Italian Communist Party. Groups like URB and Freak Boys, the latter whose symbol is a marijuana leaf and motto is “ovunque fattanza” – always stoned became affiliated with the left. Indeed the URB emblem of two crossed hammers has strong resemblance to that of Westham Utd, though one of their leaders states it symbolizes the left and the workers fight. It is also worth noting that there is a heavy smoking and drinking culture in the Curva, especially among some of the Bologna Ultras.

A scrupulous explanation of all the groups that remain would be laborious. Nevertheless it is worth mentioning other Ultras who have been prominent on the Curva. These include Supporters (apolitical and formed in 1979), Bologna 1982, Vecchia Guardia (Old Guard) formed in 2001 whose philosophy upholds the Ultra values of the older generation and the recently formed Beata Gioventù (carefree youth) who replaced the Mods after they disbanded in 2012Bologna also has a women only Ultras group known as URB Girls. The various groups, factions and alliances can be perplexing however this phenomenon reflects wider Italian culture. Much like Bolognas’ Ultras, political parties in Italy form and disband, quarrel and mould friendships with dizzying frequency and rapidity. It is simply a way of living.

This is not to say the Ultras of Bologna are not unified when fighting a common cause and they have at times been known to showcase their more violent tendencies. In 2005 following their Serie A relegation play-off defeat to Romagna rivals Parma, Bologna Ultras hurled metal bars and weights at police while they smashed through security barriers and tried to invade the pitch. The Curva Bulgarelli is also united in the fight against Calcio Moderno (the corruption of Il Calcio by corporate interests) and against Calciopoli (the scandal which involved the rigging of games by selecting favourable referees in 2006 which implicated many of Italy’s big clubs).

An incident involving clashes between Bologna and Fiorentina Ultras in 1989 saw a 14 year old Bologna fan suffer 3rd degree burns after Viola Ultras launched a petrol bomb onto a train full of Bolognesi. This combined with the geographical proximity of the two makes Fiorentina public enemy number one. Roma, Modena, Parma and many others don’t lag far behind. Bologna Ultras are said to have ties with Ravenna and German club Vfl Bochum which are thought to be political.

Bologna is renowned for its medieval architecture, ancient university and fine cuisine. On match days the Stadio Renato Dall’Ara only adds to the flavour with the Curva Bulgarelli awash with red and blue accompanied by the colourful effects of various pyrotechnics reminiscent of the red rooftops of Bologna.

Thinking of visiting Bologna? Check out travel expert Max Barnard’s guide to the top 10 places to visit in Italy.

01/22/14

Can Seedorf Prove the Doubters Wrong in More Ways Than One?

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It was a striking image. A pointed finger and a clenched fist, Clarence Seedorf and Mario Balotelli kindling a spark that AC Milan fans will hope is just the beginning of an enduring flame.

It was not the effusive eruption of relief one might have expected following Balotelli’s 82nd minute winner against Hellas Verona but then again that wouldn’t be Seedorf’s style, nor the volatile Italian’s. It was a gesture of solidarity. A moment of mutual appreciation that portrayed respect between two men who might just hold the key to each others success. Yet with all the recent speculation surrounding the Dutchman’s lack of coaching experience and his suitability for the job, his appointment arguably raises a more pertinent issue. Seedorf is the first black coach to take the helm at AC Milan. But does this appointment signify a step forward for Italian football?

Seedorf is nicknamed Il Professore (The Professor) and it is an epithet he thoroughly deserves. In addition to a decorated playing career (which includes three Champion’s League winners medals with three different teams), he is fluent in five languages and has proved himself to be an accomplished pundit and entrepreneur. As Gabriele Marcotti points out, he is simply not like other footballers and to repeat his words verbatim “you’re left with one of the cleverest men in the game right now.” In a recent press conference the former Champions League winner alluded to the connotations of his appointment beyond football.

“Of course racism still exists in the World but once again AC Milan has shown itself to be an innovative, brave and forward-looking club.”

Seedorf will be battling on many fronts. He has to negotiate an intransigent hierarchy who continue to pull in competing directions, appease a combustible set of Ultras who are currently staging their own coup and mold a group of players who collectively are a shadow of the Milan Seedorf used to know. This would be enough to unsettle the most phlegmatic of personalities but more importantly, the Professor will have to carve his own path and identity. For he confronts a history which offers little in the way of reassurance.

Photo from telegraphRacism has often reared its ugly head in Italian football, Mario BalotelliKevin Prince BoatengSamuel Eto’o are a few of the star names who have had to endure such taunts. But what Seedorf confronts is something completely different. Not overt racism but the unspoken, possibly unconscious attitudes some still hold in positions of power.

In 1991, the Crystal Palace chairman Ron Noades said:
“The black players at this club lend the side a lot of skill and flair, but you also need white players in there to balance things up and give the team some brains and some commonsense”

This quote epitomises attitudes of yesteryear, ones which are no longer held by the majority. But this does not mean their vestiges have simply disappeared.

While the number of black players have steadily risen in Italy’s top flight, their presence in head coaching roles is virtually non-existent. The numbers speak for themselves. Many articles suggest Seedorf is the second black coach in Serie A history, citing Brazilian born Jarbas Faustinho Cané as the first after he took the reins at Napoli from 1994-1995. However some (myself included) would perceive Seedorf as the third.

Born in Rome after his mother had moved to Italy from Somalia, Fabio Liverani was the first black player to represent Italy during a friendly against South Africa in 2001. Having played for a number of Serie A clubs including Perugia, Lazio, Fiorentina and Palermo he experienced racial discrimination first hand. This did not stymie his ambition.

Liverani was once quoted as saying “I want to be the Carlton Myers of football.” Myers was an Italian basketball player of Afro-British descent and a symbol of ethnic diversity in Italy after he became the country’s first black Olympic flag bearer in 2000. It is safe to say Liverani became an equally iconic figure and 12-years after becoming the first black player to represent Italy, he took charge of the head coaching role at Genoa. Thus without getting embroiled in classifications of race, not acknowledging him as one of the only three black coaches in Serie A history would be doing him a grave disservice.

Liverani genoa www.republica.it

Liverani was sacked by Genoa after amassing 4 points in 6 league games.

Unfortunately for Liverani his tenure at Genoa was short-lived and after just six games in charge of the Rossoblu he was sacked in September 2013. Although the former Lazio midfielder only managed one league win at the Genovese club, six games is hardly enough time to judge a man’s credentials. Genoa president Enrico Preziosi is not renowned for his patient demeanor however some might question whether another man would have been jettisoned after such a brief spell.

Former England international John Barnes has suggested that black managers are given less slack and a shorter time period in which to succeed as a head coach.

In Clarke Carlisle’s BBC documentary ‘Is Football Racist?’ Barnes is asked ‘Do you believe that a white manager would have to wait so long for his next appointment? (a question in relation to Barnes’s eight year wait for another managerial job after he was sacked by Celtic back in 2000).’ This was his response.

“Well first of all I think that white managers are given longer when you get a job, longer to fail…Its almost as if they don’t really believe in you in the first place…and then when you’re not successful straight away its like, well that’s what we thought anyway.”

Indeed the landscape for black coaches looks no greener in England, nor in any of Europe’s top leagues for that matter. Just recently Paul Ince was sacked after less than a year in charge of Blackpool leaving only two black managers across the English football leagues.

It would be banal to attribute this to simple racism and as the issue is of such complexity, it goes well beyond the remit of this article. Listening to Radio 4 just this morning a similar question was broached when Gary Beadle (an English black actor) was asked if racism is holding back black, Asian and other minorities from a career in the arts?

His response articulates the issues as well as any explanation I could give.

“I wouldn’t call it racism… I’d say its institutionalised attitudes that just hold people back , whether its their gender or cultural background, it’s a problem that we seem to suffer from.”

Seedorf in the spotlight during his first game against Verona. (Photo from the Telegraph)

Seedorf in the spotlight during his first game against Verona. (Photo from the Telegraph)

So returning to football, it’s not that Seedorf is confronting direct racism, although it will be interesting to observe whether he suffers racial abuse from the stands even as a coach. He is confronting a range of expectations, whether they be the white hegemony expecting him to fail, or quite possibly produce a miracle, or black people hoping he can become a successful trailblazer for those aspiring to coach in the future. Quite simply he is not just managing a European giant he is managing millions of projections across the world.

Having addressed the question of whether Seedorf was ready to take charge at AC Milan, Gabriele Marcotti concluded his ESPN piece perfectly

“Is he ready? Heck, like he says, he was born ready. If he fails, it won’t be because he’s not ready. It will be because he’s not a good coach”

He is spot on, Seedorf should be judged solely on his performance at AC Milan, not on his suitability, not on his previous and/or lack of experience and certainly not because he is black. And that’s when it dawned on me. Seedorf’s race should at no point come into the equation. It shouldn’t be comment worthy. So am I contradicting my argument by writing this very article? Perhaps, however the day we feel no need to say “he is only the ‘second’ or ‘third’ black coach in Serie A history” and I feel no need to share my musings, will be the day real progress has been made.

Take Paul Ince for example. His record suggests he was dismissed simply because he is not quite good enough however the fact there remains a shortage of black coaches leads people to suggest otherwise.

So to answer the original question of whether Seedorf’s appointment constitutes a step forward for Italian football? Yes, its a step forward for football in general. Because when the next black manager is appointed perhaps we won’t feel the need to point out that he is the umpteenth black coach in that league.

We can only hope that Seedorf exceeds all expectations as he will not only restore AC Milan’s fortunes, but like all great professors he will also re-write history.

11/25/13

The Ultras of Atalanta

Choreography dell'supporters atalanta

flags, smoke, flares

blog.foxsoccer.com

A guide to the Ultra groups in Serie A: ATALANTA

City: Bergamo

Key Ultra Groups: ‘dell’Atalanta Supporters’ & Forever Atalanta.

Former Ultra Groups: Brigate Neroazzure Atalanta (Black and Blues Brigade Atalanta),  Nuova Gurdia (New Guard), WildKaos Atalanta & Nomadi (Nomads).

It is July and the Ultras of Atalanta are partying at their pre-season festival. A tank – yes a TANK is in the process of crushing both Brescia and Roma. Well not literally, the tank is actually crushing two cars, one painted white and blue (Brescia) and the other painted red and yellow (Roma). Fans, family and players alike have come to join this annual celebration dedicated to their football club known as La Festa della Dea (Festival of the Goddess). On board the tank among a number of Atalanta supporters is new signing Giulio Migliacco who later claimed he was “inadvertently the protagonist” in what one might, at first glance, mistake for a tribal celebration of a goddess of war! Actually La Dea is Atalanta B.C and its tribes are the Ultras!

Bergamo which lies in the shadow of the Alps is a city of two parts, Upper Bergamo and Lower Bergamo, or in local dialect Berghem de Sura e Berghem de Sota. It’s famous for its musical history and enchanting medieval ambience, yet take a trip down to Lo Stadio Atleti Azzurri d’Italia, and the Ultras of Atalanta compose music of an altogether different pulse.

CurvaNordBergamo black & blue flag & che guevaraAtalanta Ultras have long been associated with left wing politics and images of socialist icon Che Guevara could often be seen in the Curva Nord (or Curva Pisani). Their first group, Brigate Neroazzure – black and blue brigade (BNA) came to being in 1976. It was from the BNA that sub-groups formed such as Wild Kaos Atalanta (WKA), Nomadi (Nomads) and Nuova Guardia (New Guard). Over the years these Ultras earned themselves a fierce reputation and were renowned for using only ‘fists’ and ‘boots’. In 1995 following the death of Genoa fan Vincenzo Spagnolo, stabbed by AC Milan Ultras, the Atalantini issued a statement entitled “basta lame basta infami” – cut out the knives, cut out the infamy.

In 1998, under the leadership of Claudio “Il Bocia” Galimberti members from Nuova Guardia, BNA, WKA and later the whole of Nomadi came together to form ‘dell’Atalanta  Supporters’ (or Curva Nord Atalanta). This group is now largely apolitical. Il Bocia is well known within the Ultra circle, infamous for his fearless and violent past. Despite this he is held in great respect for his work within the Atalanta and Bergamo community. As a ‘Capo Famiglia’ figure, he organises fundraising and family events like the aforementioned La Festa Della Dea. And the respect does not stop in Bergamo. In 2005 the Ultras of Brescia, Atalanta’s local and fiercest rival issued a statement regarding Il Bocia’s stadium ban.Nemico leale, Boci non mollare!” – Bocia our loyal enemy, don’t give up!

However there is one small group who have resisted the call to unite. When the BNA disbanded due to internal conflict regarding ideology and territory on the Curva some members decided to form Forever Atalanta. These Ultras reside in the Curva Sud (or Curva Morosini) and their members are thought to be predominately leftist.

In recent years the Atalantini have been involved in significant riots and protests. On November 11, 2007 prior to Atalanta’s game against AC Milan, news travelled to Bergamo that Lazio fan Gabriele Sandri had been shot by police. After 7 minutes a pocket of the Curva Nord tried to break down a glass perimeter fence. Players on both sides attempted to calm fans but they were warned the violence would continue if the game was not abandoned. 2009 saw two notable protests. The first concerned their club and Captain (Cristiano Doni) in a match fixing scandal, the second was a protest in Rome opposing La Tessera Del Tifoso (Supports Id Card). It is worth noting that neither ‘Curva Nord’ nor Forever Atalanta have accepted La Tessera, thus are unable to follow Atalanta on the road.

The Ultras of Atalanta have few friends and many enemies, a fact they thrive on. Ci stanno sul cazzo tutti – we hate everybody as Il Bocia aptly puts it. An incident in 2006 which saw 3 Atalantini stabbed by Roma fans, makes A.S. Roma a particularly hated rival. The few ‘friends’ they have include Ternana and Eintracht Frankfurt (based on old political affinities).

Come match days the Curva Pisani is a concoction of flares, smoke, flags and banners or on special occasions is engulfed by a huge blue and black flag. The infamous standing of the Atalanta Ultras lives on and although their reputation has been earned through many a bloody battle they are also admired for upholding ‘Ultra’ values and their close relationship to the Bergamo community. In a poetic peroration, using the words of Il Bocia himself

“What Ultras do is bring the city together. It is our duty to preserve the real values of this sport and while we are around, we will carry that passion forward till the bitter end”.

Find below video of Curva Nord vs. Inter 29/10/13

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dyXCQko0th0

Atalanta vs. Hellas Verona 04/05 – Curva Nord

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cRWBs6hTDgE

You can also find this article on Richard Hall’s website – The Gentleman Ultra http://thegentlemanultra.tumblr.com/