Stadio Angelo Massimino
Sicily can be as violent as it is beautiful and although the Stadio Angelo Massimino is in a fantastic setting its history is marred by recent events.
Constructed in 1937 this stadium has not been modified as much as many in the Peninsula however, its atmosphere is second to none. The extremely passionate Catania supporters are loudest in the Curva Nord where many of their Ultra Groups reside and they provide a spectacle of colour, flags, flares and choreography.
The dark side of this however, was never more evident than when Palermo visited the stadium in a derby match in 2007. Police officer Filippo Raciti was trying to break up a fight outside the stadium when he was hit in the face with an explosive and died. The trouble had broken out as Police had tried to stop Palermo fans entering the stadium mid way through the match and fights broke out. In the end the game had to be abandoned. Catania were banned from playing any matches in the Stadium from 14 February 2007 until 30 June 2007 as a result.
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 2nd 2007 remain one of the most ignominious in Il Calcio’s history. Life on the Curve 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 match fixing scandal (Calciopoli) 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 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 (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 choreographies it’s Ultras are as volatile and eruptive as their volcanic neighbour.
“I must say that it is already an honour to play for Catania. They are my hometown club and I always try to give my best on the pitch every week.”
This was a simple statement given to associated press in 2009 from Catania front man Giuseppe Mascara. It was humble, honest but hugely understated as the Sicilian born forward was much more than just a ‘home town boy come good’.
At just under 6ft and with a very slight frame Mascara did not look like a natural athlete and was perhaps not in keeping with the Spartan looking forwards we see today. Even so he had an unnatural ability to score spectacular goals and this was achieved through hard work and quick thinking.
Mascara joined Catania in 2003, a move which thrilled the young striker who returned home to Sicily. This was the zenith of his career and he took to the task of establishing Catania as a top flight club with vigor. Soon his team had made it to Serie A and his continued efforts saw him adapt to the division and he slowly began to make a name for himself.
His best season for Catania (and possibly his enter career) was in 2008-09 whilst playing under Walter Zenga. In this year he scored 12 goals in 34 games and scored one of the goals of the season against hated rivals Palermo. It is certainly worth looking up his 55 yard lob that beat Marco Amelia in the opposition goal.
Mascara was also known for the amount of research he would do before games, working on goalkeeper’s habits and defenders frailties. Walter Zenga remembers his asking frequently for reports on the opposition’s custodian.
Mascara left Catania in 2011 for Napoli but never regained the form he found at his boyhood club. He is still Catania’s all-time leading scorer with 31 goals.
When Calcio ruled the world, Mascara was helping Catania arrive in style.By Richard Hall @Gentleman_Ultra and Luca Hodges-Ramon @LH_Ramon25