while Europe is removing barriers, in Rome you throw us in a cage
Roma vs Juventus
With the recent collapse of the Milan clubs, a new, sleeker Juventus have risen from the ashes of calciopoli to take Serie A by the throat, and their downturn has also left a place at the top table for Italy’s second tier clubs. Roma, with their American owners and plans for a modern ground akin to the Juventus Stadium, have made themselves the Old Lady’s biggest on-field rivals, much like they did in the early 1980s, when the likes of Falcao and Carlo Ancelotti won the league and came within a penalty shoot-out of being European champions.
They did so in front of some of the world’s most fanatical supporters: Commando Ultra Curva Sud, or CUCS. Many of those who lived through that era say that a game against Juventus was even more important than the Rome Derby. Beat Lazio and you won local pride; beat Juventus and you might win the scudetto.
The pair meet on Sunday [30 August 2015] evening in Rome, but there will be no flares, no drums, no flags. With Roma the closest challengers to a Juve side that started their search for a fifth straight title by losing 1-0 at home to Udinese, the heirs of CUCS’ legacy won’t even be chanting; instead they’ll be stood in silent protest, mute due to Rome prefect Franco Gabrielli’s decision to split the Curva Sud into two separate sections in the name of “public safety.” The outrageous security measures put in place for Roma’s friendly with Sevilla a week before the start of the season, which saw fans subjected to queues of 40 minutes in 35 degrees Celsius heat just to get into the stadium complex, let along the ground itself. Hundreds of armed carabinieri police officers and armoured cars greeted the fans once inside.
“All this,” wrote the Roma ultras in a press release, “in front of children and families going to a peaceful summer friendly that didn’t even have the presence of the visiting supporters,” adding that, “while Europe is removing barriers, in Rome you throw us in a cage.”
The club are not happy about the strike, and director Mauro Baldissoni managed to outline their desire for a powerful tifo while simultaneously and condescendingly accusing the fans carrying out the strike of not doing as they’re supposed to, as though they were on the club’s payroll rather than helping to pay his wages.
“Fans have the right to decide for themselves how to behave, but Roma needs them,” Baldissoni said on Wednesday. “Anyone that comes to games to support the team should do just that, and fans going on strike are going against their role, particularly for a match like Roma-Juventus.”
In making their displeasure clear, however, the club has revealed a truth unspoken amid the hang ’em, flog ’em talk that in Italy usually follows this sort of direct action from fans: for all the problems they create (and there are plenty) Italian football needs the ultras. The stadiums need the fanatical tifo the ultras groups organise and lead, as vocal support outside the curvas is almost non-existent. Without them, matches would be played in the sort of eerie quiet that accompanies reserve team games. No one wants to watch any game played in a silent stadium, much less the showpiece fixture of the current Serie A era. Not only is it not good for the players, it’s not good for business.
This protest has not come out of thin air. Ever since police officer Filippo Raciti was killed in violent clashes after the Catania-Palermo Sicilian derby of February 2007, the authorities have tried a series of increasingly tough measures to try and stamp out football violence. It’s a serious problem — and one created by a large chunk of the ultra community, let’s be clear — that had been left to fester for decades.
They’ve had some success, in the strictest sense of the word, but in their efforts to stop a small minority from stabbing and throwing flares at each other they’ve penalised thousands of perfectly normal supporters with ham-fisted measures. Among those are a nationwide fans ID card scheme similar to the one that Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government failed to implement, plus ramped up security checks that manage to be both draconian and cursory at the same time, and stadium banning orders that are dished out on the spot by the police, not the courts, and often for the most frivolous of reasons. In Italy, fans have to prove themselves innocent.
Terry Daley is based in Rome and has covered Italian football for both Reuters and AFP. He has written for Vice Sports and Mirror Football. Twitter: @T_Daley