An Ugly Side To The Beautiful Game – Calcio’s Ultra Culture

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There are few things in the world that can universally bring people together despite the lack of a common language, a different socioeconomic status, and a different political or religious background, like the beautiful game of football can. On the Italian peninsula, where football, or “calcio” is written into the DNA of its people, there is an ugly side to the beautiful game.

In a country that is the home of four World Cup winning sides, where region is a major determining factor for the club one supports, tifosi take their flags and banners to show their support, and in turn, knives, flares, and other items of hooliganism. There is no denying the beauty and majesty that comes with the waving blue flags and the inspirational songs and choreography of the San Paolo in Napoli, the legendary red and yellow banners of the Roma Ultras as they sing for Francesco Totti and Daniele De Rossi, or the iconic black and white of Juventus in a sea of the cutouts of Pavel Nedved, Alessandro Del Piero and David Trezeguet. However, many use their colors and pride instead to look for violence and trouble, further separating an already struggling nation both socially and economically.

Fandom violence is not unique to Italy, however, and there have been a number of problems in England and Spain as well. The hooligans of London are particularly notable, a city that is the home of more professional football clubs than in any other city in each of Europe’s top five leagues. With violence taking place in and around English stadiums, it was surely no place for one to go out and enjoy a nice Sunday game with family, but rather a place of war. And over what? The color of one’s shirt, or the badge the shirt possesses? The English FA addressed this issue by banning banners, flags and ultimately the ultras themselves as it created too much negativity and a distraction to the game, whether it was an act of Neo-Nazism or something else. Today we see England’s Barclay’s Premier League as the “Model League.” A league that is well-marketed, competitive, and safe for families to attend. With the economic state of the league aside, can we truly say the same about the Serie A?

In a league where some of the best players in history have made their mark, such as Diego Maradona, Ronaldo, Michel Platini, Zinedine Zidane, Paolo Maldini, Roberto Baggio, Javier Zanetti, Alessandro Del Piero, Francesco Totti and many others included, it is unfair to its legends that the Serie A has adopted a stereotype of violence and hatred throughout sections of a great deal of fans; more specifically the ultras.

It was only two years ago that the “ultra-fans” of Genoa saw their beloved team battling relegation and losing 0-4 to a very mediocre Siena. The referee was forced to bring the match to a halt after some of the Genoa faithful proceeded to throw smoke bombs and firecrackers onto the pitch whilst the match was in progress. The ultras were persistent and some had climbed over a barrier separating them from the pitch and demanded the players remove their shirts as the ultras claimed the players were unworthy of wearing the prestigious blue and red of Genoa. The players followed orders removing their shirts and handing them to captain Marco Rosi, despite the efforts from one of Genoa’s forwards, Giuseppe Sculli, who refused to take off his shirt and tried negotiating with the fans.

It is simply one case of many where the “twelfth man” (a number ironically retired by C.F.C. Genoa in respect to their amazing fans of the “Gradinata Nord”) had more power than should be granted. Genoa President, Enrico Preziosi even went as far as to request a stadium-ban and referred to the ultras as “criminals”, demanding that they be identified and imprisoned.

However, this is not a problem that lies alone in the region of Liguria. If you continue just north, you will find that the beautiful neighboring region of Piemonte, too has ugly characters. This is not a problem that is specific to the “smaller” clubs, quite the contrary as a matter of fact. It is not only the 9-time Italian Scudetto-winning side of C.F.C. Genoa, but clubs throughout the nation. Ultras’ violence and negativity is something that even lies within the massive and most supported club in Italy. With over 12 million fans on the peninsula and roughly 180 million supporters in the world, “The Old Lady”, Juventus FC was founded by thirteen men, one of which is Genoa-native Eugenio Canfari, the first ever president of Juventus. With the club’s iconic “Lo Stile Juve” motto, which became the staple for honoring, respecting and providing class when representing the black and white has been tainted a number of times by many of the Juventus Ultras, particularly the infamous “Drughi.” The self-proclaimed most important sanction of the Juve Ultras who named themselves after the gang in the famous novel and film, A Clockwork Orange, have had no shortage of violent and radical actions in the past, poisoning the historical club and city of Turin.

With the vast variety of dialects, cultures and of course, football clubs in Italy, the ultras have taken this opportunity to territorially discriminate against each other, again hindering an already problematic nation politically, socially and economically. Since the passing of Juventus legend, Gaetano Scirea, the famous “Curva Sud” of the Juventus Stadium has been named after the rock-solid, no-nonsense defender. In a midst of territorial discrimination and street-rallies by the Drughi, throwing firecrackers on the streets of Turin, claiming their “dominance” behind hooded shirts and veils of insecurity, the widow of Gaetano Scirea spoke publically against the Ultras demanding respect in the name of her deceased husband. This would only backfire, as the ultras classified her as an enemy, and irrelevant to the club after she asked for her former husband’s name to be removed from the stands if it the fans’ behavior was to continue.

As if attacking the widow of one of your own club legends isn’t moronic enough, within the ultras of Juventus—a section that is supposed to mutually supporting the same team—broke out in civil war between the “Fighters” and the “Drughi” of The Old Lady. Surely civil war is not what the Agnellis had in mind when considering “Lo Stile Juve”, but clearly ultras tend to evade any sort of legal or moral standing.

In April of 2005, a civil war broke out in the stands of The Stadio Delle Alpi (the former home of Juventus) between the Fighters and the Drughi in a match against bitter archrivals, Inter Milan after an argument during the match. A day after the game had ended, three Drughi members attacked and stabbed a 24-year-old supporter, breaking his nose and forcing him to require surgery by the hands of a fellow Gobbi (a nickname for Juventus) supporter. The perpetrators of the crime not only were the self-proclaimed legendary super-fans of Juve, but each had been previously arrested for a number of offenses. In an effort to resolve the problem, the Fighters were forced to change their name to “Arditi” to move away from the criminals of the Drughi. Surely banning these violent gang-like organizations would be enough, or would at least be the right step forward in order to make going to a match in beautiful, sunny Italy an equally beautiful and safe experience for families to attend. Unfortunately in most stadiums, including the Stadio Olimpco of the nation’s Capital in Rome, this is still not the case.

Whether it is throwing balloons filled with urine, beating and stabbing opposing fans, destroying the opposing team’s stadium bathroom, vandalizing cars outside the stadium, throwing flares, firecrackers or smoke bombs, there is one particular incident that happened less than a year ago on the same land that arose the great Roman Empire. It was May of 2014 and the capital city, Rome, was hosting Napoli and Fiorentina in the famous Coppa Italia final at the Stadio Olimpico. The Stadio Olimpico—home of Lazio and Roma—has seen its fair share of events over the years. The stadium has seen West Germany hoist its third World Cup trophy and a number of historic matches whether it has been the Italian national team or the two grandest Roman-based clubs; it has also, unfortunately seen no shortage of violence.

While most believed nothing would go wrong leading into the final, as Napoli-Fiorentina is certainly not a rivalry heated like that of Lazio-Roma, in which we’ve seen a number of violent disturbances take place such as stabbings, thrown objects, riots, etc. It was not uncharacteristic of the current state of the Serie A, however, to see yet another disgraceful and shameful action take place over such a beautiful game; a game that is meant to bring the world closer.

On the morning of the clear-skied Coppa Italia Final, three Napoli fans were shot at by gunfire; one of which by the name of Ciro Esposito, who was shot and induced into a coma by a local AS Roma fan outside the stadium, on the buzzing streets of Rome. While there isn’t much of a rivalry between the two clubs participating in the 2014 Final, supporters of Napoli and Roma do not historically get along and the “Derby of the Sun” between The Wolves of Rome and The Little Donkeys of Napoli is certainly a rivalry with a great deal of tension. After 50 days of fighting for his life, Ciro Esposito lost the battle and was the victim of voluntary manslaughter at just twenty-nine years old.

With the news of Ciro’s death still evolving, it was clear that there was something very off about this particular final. The match was delayed due to a fog of smoke that covered the entire pitch along with flares being thrown by Napoli Ultras in retaliation to the news regarding Ciro. Napoli captain, Marek Hamsik did everything he could to cool the situation, much like Giuseppe Sculli tried to for Genoa, but much like on that day in 2012 the ultras were again successful.

In a game that ended 2-1 in favor of the southern club, S.S.C. Napoli, the match would never have been delayed and perhaps Ciro Esposito would still be alive today without the self-interested ultras that infect Italy’s historical Serie A and the politics surrounding it. Perhaps Italy should follow in England’s footsteps—as their league is arguably the greatest model in the world—and put an end to this violence through banning ultras and the criminals they consist of.

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About the Author

Aaron West