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The Crazy World of Italian Soccer

Posted on Jan 2, 2009 | 18 comments

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.


  1. He’s very famous here, Jessica! My son’s one of his fans.

    And it’s a great photo as many of your photos are.

    HAPPY NEW YEAR to you too Jessica!

  2. Really? I had no idea his fame was so international! You can tell your son I saw him in a restaurant one time here in Rome. If you ever visit, I’ll let you know where it is, I think he goes there regularly.

  3. Try living in Menton when Italy and France play each other. We are a border town! Your images are just fantastic, Jessica.

  4. What you describe – the soccer mania – strikes me as a sort of substitute for political mayhem. (Probably much has been written about this.) As destructive as it can be, it sounds much less destructive than real political mayhem has been through the centuries.

    An excellent shot, very nicely composed. The burnt orange background is very effective, too.

  5. Jilly – Wow, I can only imagine during the finals of the Mondiale!

    mk – Oh, there is plenty of political chaos as well, don’t worry. In fact, I forgot to put it in my blog, but an excellent book, which I read a few years ago, that details a lot about politics and their ties with media and soccer is The Dark Heart of Italy by Tobias Jones

  6. Nice post on the subject. Growing up in Germany I can attest to the European fanaticism over soccer. My grandfather’s brother was killed at a soccer game with a beer bottle. I remember the hordes of fans marching drunk to the soccer stadiums, very noisy. And we’ve seen of course what the Brits can behave like.

    Over here all the violence happens on the field. Maybe that’s what’s needed in soccer, guys smashing into each other over and over allowing the fans to channel their aggressiveness 🙂

  7. Hi Snap, that’s horrible about your grandfather’s brother, it’s such a shame. You are right about us mostly leaving it all out on the field. The worst fan “violence” I remember when Jets (I think?) fans throwing snow balls at the cameras and then getting kicked off of Monday Night Football for it.

    It really is interesting how it’s many different nationalities here. What we call Ultras in Italy, are hooligans in England and I’m sure they’re called something else in other places. Too bad because the sport can actually be quite fun to watch, especially when they score a lot of goals.

  8. Ciao MyUSICA – Welcome to the blog and thanks for your comment. As an Italian, what do you think the average fan thinks of soccer violence and the political ties? Has it just become a normal part of the routine?

  9. Oh dear, I could care less about soccer, but my oldest son is nuts about it…hence, I get quizzed on teams and players often! I have a nightgown that says, “a lui piace il calcio, a me i calciatori” That about sums it up for me!

  10. Hi Lake, thanks for posting your comment and I look forward to your participation in the blog. It’s my pleasure to share Rome with everyone!

  11. It’s funny one of my friends is married to an italian. I like him but when she told me he rooted for Lazio, I was shocked. I was thinking how can that be?

    I would love to go to a Roma game. I was supposed to go with one of my friends to the Inter game but he had to go out of town. It was for the best. Roma lost 0-4 that day.

    My family is from the Caribbean so I grew up with a dad who didn’t see soccer as a cute suburban sport like we do in America. When I wanted to join the girls team at my high school he was very skeptical. “Girls playing soccer?!”

    Totti is hot but so is Cannavaro, Gattuso, Pirlo, Toni, etc. sigh.

  12. To be fair, one of my roommates is Laziale and decided NOT Fascist, in fact he works for the Partita Democratica. Totti isn’t my cup of tea, but I must say he’s cuter in person then what I’d thought. Did you ever see those Dolce and Gabbana ads a few years ago with a lot of the top players…wow! They were all over the city, I’m sure you can find them via google.

  13. Oh yes I saw those ads and even wrote a post about them. ha

  14. I’ll have to look through your archives for it! They have the rugby players in the ads out now, but I must say, they’re aren’t as good.

  15. I just read today Rod Stewart has already planned his funeral. He plans to be cremated and his ashes spread over his favorite team’s soccer field. Now thats a fan and a fanatic:)

  16. There are so good pictures here! Thanks a lot, and all the best from Rio!

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