Team: Lazio and Roma
This stadium is Rome’s second Coliseum but this one is active. Since its construction in 1910 it has been a venue for all manner of events, from Fascist rallies, Olympic Games to World Cup Finals. It has seen all emotion known to mankind, love, passion, competition and hatred.
Primarily it is home to arguably the fiercest football rivalry in world football and one of the most passionate derby games on the planet, the Rome derby. The Stadium itself has had many facelifts most notably in 1960 when it was transformed to host the Olympic Games and again in 1990 when the stadium was almost entirely rebuilt was for the World Cup Finals.
In 2008 changes were again made to bring the stadium up to allow it to be classified as one of UEFA’s elite stadiums. This makes the venue perfect for the explosive Derby della Capitale in which Roma and Lazio fight it out to being pride of the city. It is more important for many fans for their team to win the derby rather than the Scudetto.
The Derby involves fireworks, choreographed flag and banner displays and an intense noise level. However, it has also been the scene of violence, racism and extreme Ultra Groups such as Lazio’s infamous Irriducibili and Roma’s legendary Boys Roma.
During the rest of the season, these groups do make sure that the stadium is still an intimidating place to go for away teams.
However, they are constantly struggling against low attendances in their vast arena. For example at one of the low points in recent years, 2010/11, Roma averaged and attendance of 33,952 whilst Lazio only managed an average of 29,122. Things are changing on the Roma side but the Lazio Ultras still boycott many games as they in dispute with how the club is run.
Key Ultra Groups: Irriducibili (Unbreakables/ Indomitables), Eagles Supporters, Ultras Lazio.
Other Ultra Groups: Banda Noantri (Our Gang), Viking Lazio, Commandos Monteverde Lazio (C.M.L ’74), Gruppi Associati Bianco Azzurri White and Blue Association Group), Folgore (Lightening), Boys, Marines, Gruppo Sconvolti (The Deranged Group), Gruppo Rock (Rock Group), Ultras 74, Brigate S.Giovanni (S Giovanni Brigade), I Golden Boys, Nucleo Armato Biancazzurro (Nuclear Armed White and Blue), I Vigilantes (The Vigliantes), I Leopard, Eagles’Korps, Gioventus Biancazzurra (White and Blue Youth), Eagles’Girls, Avanguardia (Vanguard) , In Basso a Destra (Down on the Right), Only White, and Caos Group.
“T’avemo arzato la coppa in faccia.” ‘We raised the Cup in front of your face’ was a banner flown over the city of Rome. Lazio fans had innovatively hired a light aircraft to deliver the message. Another proclaimed: “The real truth is that we hurt you: 26-05-13.”
This was one of the greatest days in Lazio’s 114-year-history, the day they beat Roma in the Coppa Italia final. For the duration of the summer the Laziali revelled in schadenfreude, tormenting their Roman counterparts at every given opportunity.
For the Derby in September 2013, the Lazio Ultras had planned a special choreography. Balloons would lift a giant Coppa Italia above the Curva Nord, just as a reminder – as if Roma needed one – that it was the Biancocelesti who had won the most important Derby della Capitale in history. The authorities banned the display, wary of the backlash it would likely cause. In a sardonic response the Laziali left the Curva Nord empty for the first five minutes of the game, but for a banner which read:
‘Ah, I forgot, it’s the ‘memorial’ derby. I’ll finish my beer first…’
‘Laziale or Romanista?’ There is perhaps no question more important in the eternal city. Founded in 1900, S.S. Lazio is the city’s oldest club. In 1927, when the National Fascist Party merged Rome’s biggest clubs, the Biancocelesti were the only ones to resist. Roma fans claim to support the club that truly represents Rome however Laziali are quick to remind them of who arrived first.
The realm of Lazio’s Ultras – the Curva Nord of the Stadio Olimpico – is world renowned. It has been at the vanguard for some of Italy’s most colourful choreographies. The groups have changed but their support for the Aquile (Eagles) has been steadfast, none more so than the Irriducibili.
Formed in 1987, the first members of the Irriducibili were originally known as Cani Sciolti (Wild Dogs). After dislodging a group called Viking, the character ‘Mr Enrich’ was adopted as their mascot – a little man who kicks furiously – and as one of their members claimed “signifies rebellion against the political and football system.”
In 1992 British flags adorned the Curva following the arrival of cult hero Paul Gascoigne. He was received warmly by the Irriducibili, whounveiled a banner depicting a pint of English beer with the message ‘It’s ready for you’. That year also saw the dissolution of Lazio’s first prominent Ultra group, The Eagles. They were formed in 1976, two years after the team’s first Scudetto success, which saw the numbers in the Curva proliferate.
The arrival of food tycoon Sergio Cragnotti marked the beginning of one of the clubs most successful eras in which they won their second Scudetto in 2000. This coincided with the clubs centenary year and the Curva Nord’s celebrations brought 25,000 people onto the streets.
Such was the popularity of the group that numbers oscillated between 6-7,000 people, sometimes even more. They became infamous nationwide and a feature which distinguished them was their merchandising business. The group franchised and sold their merchandise in and around Rome. This helped them provide their own away-day packages as well as fund their fanzine - La Voce Della Nord (The Voice of the North).
In a sense the group gained brand notoriety. However their merchandising business was criticised by some in the Curva. This led to a schism in 2006 and a group called Banda Noantri (Our Gang) now known as In Basso a Destra (Low on the Right) were formed.
In the book – Football, Fascism and Fandom – Alberto Testa and Gary Armstrong state:
“The Irriducibili were challenged with the insult of embourgoisement; that they had compromised and were now money driven.”
Both groups co-existed in relative harmony mainly because of their ideological standpoint (both held neo-fascist sentiments), yet four years later a crossroads was reached.
In 2010 the Irriducibili invited a politician, Renata Polverini, (from the moderate right) into the Curva during an election period. At a time where the club were struggling this angered other groups on the Curva. To add insult to injury the politician also sat on the portrait of Gabriele Sandri, a faux pas which was unforgivable.
In respect for what they had done since 1987, Fabrizio Toffolo – the leader of the Irriducibili –announced the dismantling of the group on the radio. Having sought aid from a source that used to sit on the Curva Nord, it would appear the Ultras are now united under the banner of Ultras Lazio. This group is mostly comprised of youngsters and former Irriducibili members. Other smaller groups including Avanguardia, In Basso a Destra, Only White, and Caos Group also reside on the Curva.
Unfortunately it’s impossible to discuss Lazio’s Ultras without mentioning their political extremism, something explored in depth in Football, Fascism and Fandom. At times heinous views have plagued the Curva Nord. Monkey grunts, racist banners and fascist memorabilia have all been used. One particularly unabashedly racist banner was unveiled against Roma reading “Auschwitz is your town; the ovens are your houses.” (The banner was a reference to Roma’s association with the Testaccio neighbourhood which has a Jewish population). Paolo Di Canio performed a fascist salute to the Curva Nord while playing for Lazio during a derby in 2005. Di Canio – a former Irriducibili member – saw the salute as a badge of identity with the Ultras.
The Laziali have also suffered two tragedies. The first was back in 1979, after a Lazio fan called Vincenzo Paparelli was hit in the eye and killed by a flare fired by a Roma supporter. It was Italy’s first football related fatality. In November 2007, a 25-year-old by the name of Gabriele Sandri was shot and killed by a police officer. The police claimed the shooting was accidental after an officer (Luigi Spaccatorella) intervened to stop a fight between Lazio and Juventus supporters at a motorway service stop. Sandri’s death triggered nationwide outrage and emphasised the deep contempt Ultras feel towards the authorities. In the capital, Laziali and Romanisti united causing havoc across the city. Sandri’s funeral attracted over 5,000 mourners.
The Laziali feel it is their duty to look after the clubs best interests. This has led to years of struggle with the Biancocelesti’s president, Claudio Lotito, a pantomime villain in the eyes of many. It appears strange that the Ultras would protest against a man who saved the club from liquidation. But during his tenure Lotito removed the policy of supplying the Irriducibili with 800 free tickets for matches. He also refused to fund the Curva Nord’s choreography and rejected a proposed takeover of the club by former Lazio legend Giorgio Chinaglia. Thus the ultras feel that the only way their Eagles can soar is to jettison Lotito.
This season 6,000 supporters held a protest before their home game against Sassuolo. In the stadium thousands of placards reading ‘Libera Lazio’ (Free Lazio) were on display. At the time of writing, the Ultras have announced they will boycott games for the rest of the season as they continue their Anti-Lotito campaign.
The Laziali and in particular the Irriducibili could be described as pioneers. Having transformed the style of support on the Curva their name has become, one of, if not the, biggest in the domain of the Italian Ultras. When sky blue fumes choke the air and the Curva Nord ripples under a gargantuan banner, to the back-drop of Vola Lazio Vola, the Stadio Olimpico truly becomes the heart-beat of this ancient city.
Classic Player: Giuseppe Signori
“Beppe” Signori was one of the most complete and ruthless forwards of his decade. His name is remembered but why is he not on a pedestal. When one writes about him, the sentence feels like it should start with “Lest we forget”. This is poignant as when he was at Lazio, he was more deadly than the eagle on his shirt, he was immense, he was devastating, so why is he overlooked?
It is true that followers of the Italian game and those abroad know who “Beppe” is. They know he played for Lazio, they know he scored goals but there was so much more. The man with a left foot that destroyed the world’s best league needs more accolades than this, does he not?
Despite humble beginnings at Leffe and Paicenza, he was then part of ‘that’ Foggia side and this earned him his Lazio move in 1992. Here he blasted onto the center stage, as in his first season he scored 23 goals in 24 games leaving him with Serie A’s Golden Boot.
This season saw Italian football start to grace the British shores, thanks to Channel 4 and James Richardson and many in the UK won’t forget him. His trade mark was his ability to poach goals and his devastating consistency with set pieces.
His classic one or two step walk up to the penalty spot, had Lazio fans enthralled and opposition goalkeepers baffled. Penalty after penalty went in this season adding to his total. This and his instinct in the box were not the only things in his locker and if anyone looked back to match day 21 of the 93/94 season, they will see him score a ridiculous long shot against Cremonese in a 4-2 win. The ball was hit so well it threatened to pierce the opposition net.
The 1994/95 season continued in the same vein with Signori scoring 17 in 24, Lazio finished runners up in Serie A and his confidence was evident. He started to drift away from his marker more this year and scored many more goals from open play. He proved much more dynamic, more complete, now adding the odd headed goal into his arsenal.
In 1995/96 Signori achieved the impossible in Serie, scoring 24 goals in 15 games making him the league’s top scorer. This was his high point, his victory in the amphitheatre. Admittedly his penalties and free kicks accumulated a majority of his tally but one step penalties and ballistic free kicks; along with numerous tap-ins, only fuelled his reputation as bloody minded.
This season saw him indulge in the spectacular also, just look at match day eight when he scored an incredible volley against Juventus in 4-0 win. He was starting to drift more out onto the left, deceiving defenders just when they thought they had figured him out.
The 1996/97 season saw him notch 15 in 32 as Lazio finished fourth. This season saw him add, along with the normal repertoire, more work rate as he would come deeper for the ball continually adapting his game. Time was running out and in 1997/98 he scored two goals in six games before leaving for Sampdoria on loan. He still managed to finish top scorer in The Coppa Italiathat year, in an amusing twist of fate.
His career may have been blighted after he retired with accusations of match fixing and batting scandals. He was banned in 2011 from all football activity for five years and it perhaps is this which has muddied the memories.
One thing is for sure, no matter what, when Calcio ruled the World, nobody was and deadly from the spot and nobody had been so single minded in scoring goals.