The Crazy World of Italian Soccer
Those of you who follow soccer (or football to my European friends) will immediately recognize this image as Francesco Totti, superstar of the Italian soccer world. This well known mural is located in Monti, tucked off of via Madonna dei Monti. Totti was born in Rome and has played for AS Roma his entire career. He and his wife Ilary Blasi, who is a showgirl and TV presenter, are the Posh and Becks of Rome.
I use this photo to just talk a bit about the crazy world of soccer here in Italy. It’s quite baffling to me, but this is one of those American / Italian (even European) divides that is hard to overcome. Don’t get me wrong, I love sports. I grew up in New England cheering on the Celtics, Red Sox, and Patriots, but nothing like this. I think the core difference is that here, the soccer teams are heavily entwined with politics. The Florence Newspaper does a great job and exploring these links in a concise manner. For instance, Rome’s other team Roma Lazio, was the team Mussolini supported so it’s fans are stereotypically considered to support the Fascist party. Of course not everyone does, but many do. And yes, the Fascist party is alive and kicking here in Rome, you see stuff about it on the news all the time. And of course, it wouldn’t be right if the fair Silvio Berlusconi was not in on the action as well, as he owns the AC Milan soccer club.
People here really do live and breath soccer. When Juventus, the most successful soccer club in all of Italy, got caught up in a match fixing scandall in 2006, my roommate, who is a huge fan, couldn’t even talk about the situation without freaking out. And then you have the Ultras, fanatical fans often associated with extremist politics who terrorize other fans and cause a lot of destruction. Even if you don’t understand Italian, check out a video of this past summer in Rome. A group of Neapolitan Ultras commandeered a train, forced off all the passengers and had the train take them to Rome for the soccer game. The police allowed this and didn’t even board the train to keep watch over them! As they poured into Rome they caused all sorts of damage to the city.
The corruption and violence is a shame. I still see signs up all over Rome in remembrance of Gabriele Sandri, a young Roman Lazio fan who was shot by an overzealous policeman a little over a year ago on his way to a game. I know it’s not just Italy, as I’ve seen footage of violence breaking out in Europe and South America over soccer. Maybe some of you European readers can shed some light?
Let me just be clear that it’s not all bad. I was here when Italy won the World Cup and the celebrations that night were the most amazing I’ve ever seen—including hundreds of people dancing in the Trevi Fountain! It was also one of the few times I’ve felt a sense of Italian national, as opposed to regional, pride. But it’s also interesting to me that some of the male Italian friends I have who don’t like soccer are very adamant about it. Perhaps because the country still has this “macho” ideal, a man not liking soccer could be seen as odd.
There’s probably a lot more that could be said, but I’ll leave it as is for now. I’d be interested to hear what people’s experiences are, especially as I’ve never been to a game here myself.