Soccer in Italy - Everything that Foreigners Need to Know

Soccer in Italy

Just in case the rest of the world outside of Italy hasn’t realized it yet: calcio season has begun!  Italians are famously crazy for soccer, the way Japanese go nuts for bizarre game shows or the way Germans enthusiastically embrace the musical talents of David Hasselhoff.  I guess we all have our cultural idiosyncrasies.

Perhaps nobody in Italy is happier to see the arrival of soccer season this year than the politicians.  Now, and for the next nine months, their actions will go largely unnoticed once again while the national discourse addresses more critical issues, such as quality of Totti’s penalty kicks or the questionable morals of the referee’s wife. soccer in italy, italian football, serie A

Last year, a friend of mine and I attended a live game at Stadio Olimpico when A.S. Roma took on A.C. Milan.  I have been to many sporting events in the U.S., but nothing could have prepared me for that Sunday afternoon last winter.  I should have suspected something was different when my friend, who grew up in a small town in Lombardia, insisted that I had to buy the tickets for both of us at a ticket outlet in Rome.

“But why?” I asked, “Can’t we just buy them online?”

He explained, “It’s possible, yes, but not so easy.  Since my family lives near Milan, they won’t let me sit next to you at the game.  You will have to buy the tickets for both of us with your American passport, and then we must hope that they don’t look too carefully at my I.D. when we enter the stadium.”

“That’s crazy! What are you talking about?”

“Crazy?  Wait until you see for yourself.  Then you’ll understand.”

Stadio Olimpico Roma

Stadio Olimpico

Once I took my seat, I understood.  As for my friend, he wasn’t such a hardcore fan.  But the real tifosi are absolutely rabid in their support of their respective teams.  Consequently, the stadium was sectioned-off with Plexiglas (bulletproof?) partitions to separate the opposing sides.  There was only one smallish area reserved for the visiting fans from Milan, and entire sections on either side of them were intentionally kept completely empty, except for the riot police in full combat gear lined up and down both aisles of the steps.

What’s more, at the end of the game, the Milan fans were not allowed to leave the grounds until the rest of the stadium was cleared out.  Only then did the police escort them back to their buses where they were immediately whisked off for the trip back up north.  The Carabinieri even patrol the train stations on game days, keeping a careful eye on arrivals and departures from the visiting team’s city.

This was a bit shocking to me because it was in sharp contrast to my image of Italy in general.  People sometimes ask me if Rome is a safe place to visit.  I come from South Florida where rednecks with 8th grade educations carry guns into supermarkets…legally!  Rome, dangerous?  Ha!  To me it feels about as dangerous as a petting zoo.

I’ve been in the “worst” areas of the city at 2:00 in the morning and never once felt at risk of anything more treacherous than having my pocket picked.  (Which is always a risk in Rome, so hide your wallets, sports fans!)  Perhaps I’m a bit too cavalier in my attitude, but the truth is in the statistics.  Random violent crime is extremely rare in Italy—especially compared to the U.S.

But despite my overall impression of Rome, the soccer game did feel a little dangerous.  Indeed, there have been incidents where fans have been injured and even killed.  For some reason, fans like to throw objects from the top of the stadium with no regard for the pedestrians below.

Several few years ago, some Inter fans first torched a Vespa and then launched it from the upper deck of San Siro stadium in Milan. Violence aside, one has to wonder: how do you smuggle a good-sized motor vehicle into the upper deck of a sports stadium?  That’s some really lax security, if you ask me. Or maybe the fans disassembled it, smuggled the parts in collectively, and then reassembled it on the inside, only to toss it from the balcony at the appropriate moment. Now THAT’S teamwork! Forza Inter!

If you’re keen to witness one of these spectacles, please don’t be discouraged.  It’s an interesting slice of Italian culture and definitely worth the effort.  Security has improved greatly in recent years and there hasn’t been any major trouble in a long time.  Here’s a website that provides a schedule: Corriere dello Sport.

As the name implies, Corriere dello Sport is the national newspaper dedicated only to covering athletic events.  This is somewhat misleading.  If the average issue is about 50 pages, the first 49 ½ are devoted to soccer/calcio and all its various leagues. Serie A, Serie B, Serie C, Junior League, Champions League, Foreign Leagues. Only on the last page will you find a quick roundup of basketball, volleyball, cycling, motorsports, and every other minor sporting event squeezed into the smallest possible space.

Here in Rome, there are two teams: A.S. Roma and Lazio.  You are a fan of one or the other, period.  If you’re a Roma fan, then you’re second favorite team is whoever is playing against Lazio that week, and vice versa.  (“The enemy of my enemy is my friend,” or so goes the proverb.)  There are bars where you can watch the Roma game and bars where you can watch Lazio.  No self-respecting business would dare cross that line and neither should you.  Make your choice, but choose wisely because you do not get a second chance.  You can move to another city, you can find a new boyfriend/girlfriend, but you can never change your calcio team once an allegiance has been proclaimed.

AS Roma, calico italiano

Roma, Roma, Roma…

So after you have chosen a squadra, buy your ticket, and enjoy the spectacle—these are the modern day gladiators playing in the modern day Coliseums.  Maybe you should even pick up a team jersey to show your support.  I heard they come in both cotton and Kevlar.

To purchase tickets, the best option is to go to one of the outlets—you can’t miss them, as they also serve as retail stores where you can buy the aforementioned fan gear so the logos are everywhere. For AS Roma (my team), the most central store location is in Piazza Colonna.  I go to the one near my apartment on Via Appia Nuova.  If you’re shameless enough to root for Lazio, the most central location is at Via Farini, 34, near Termini station.  Always bring cash AND your I.D., which you’ll also need at the stadium to enter.  For the less sought after games, you can try to purchase tickets online at one of the more reputable vendor sites.  Try this one: Ticket One.  You can use PayPal, but also know that they’ll add a service charge.

Sharing is Caring!

Living in the Caput Mundi and trying to decipher Italian culture for the English speaking world.

  • Mirjam says:

    Ciao Rick! I’ve just started reading your blog, and it’s hilarious! I’m a Dutchie who moved to Rome 6 weeks ago. I love it, allthough some things are still a bit strange to me..But I guess that’s normal!

    I was reading this article and tought of the Palio in Siena, I was there to watch it this July. It was crazy, but impressive….Have you seen it once?

    Buona giornata 🙂

    • Rick says:

      Ciao Mirjam! Oh yes, it’s normal to find things a bit strange…but you’ll get used to it! I have been to Siena, but have not seen the Palio. I’d love to go one day.
      Thanks for “stopping by” my blog…a dopo!

  • Great article Rick, it’s so true!. I would post a video that is an example of the level of madness for soccer in Italy. I’m sure you will like it 😉

  • Silvano from Milan says:

    You hit the point!
    You can change your girlfriend, wife, work, or the city where you live, but there are two things you can not change in life: your mom and your football team!
    By the way, I know that you are a foreigner and you live in Italy with an Italian wife.
    All good things, but supporting a.s. Roma I think is the biggest mistake in your life.
    There is only one football team that stands out above all others: a. c. Milan!

  • Leigh C. says:

    My fiance was at a wedding recently and shared pics with me. So- lovely big cake, rose petals around it, little fondant bride and groom on top. The fondant bride was in white. But the fondant groom? Dressed in a little fondant soccer shirt of Genova team colors. Now that’s team loyalty.

  • Are you sure it’s only a game? Sounds like life & death to me!

  • A few years ago we rented a house in Le Marche. We followed the local football team and each Saturday we went to the games. At home and away from home. It was the best fun but we saw so much more than just the game. Our good friend was the father of the team captain of our team but on the day did not even know us. The team coach was not allowed in to the game one week because he wanted to fight the other coach. The spectators were so intense it was funny. After the game we would all go to the local bar where the guys would have gelati and us Aussies would have a drink. It was a super experience. Mind you I am shocked by the behaviour you have written about. Great post Lyn

    • Rick says:

      Hi Lyn! Yes, it is shocking, because I mentioned, violent tendencies are not typically a part of the Italian character. But I think that anybody who wants to understand Italy must try to understand this calcio obsession as well. Most of the time, as you said, it’s great fun. Once in a while it does get out of hand, however. Ciao!!

  • sabine atwell says:

    This is funny but also in some way sad. We recently talked to a Spanish young friend of ours, Pablo – our former exchange student who now works in Valencia, Spain as an attorney for a pittance with taxes out of this world and who plans to emigrate to the US as in Spain there is ” La Liga and la paella”, but not much of a future for young talented people. Priorities in Southern Europe are seriously misplaced. It didn’t matter much when there was competition, but it does matter now. His classmate from law school in Spain works fewer hours at Google in Mountain View, Ca and makes 5 X the salary with a lower rate of personal income tax.

    As a former North European where things are much better, I see the fun in all of this but I also see a real tragedy for young people… We love to visit, but living there is another thing, especially if you are under 30.

    • Davide says:

      Hello Sabine, ( I’m sorry for my English )
      I’m Italian and I moved In Paris from 4 months because, as you said, in Europe opportunity for young people are missing, specially in South. But as Italian which doesn’t like to much soccer, I can imagine that people go to the stadium also to have fun and as we say in Italy to “staccare la spina”(pull the plug), without think about the government which is increasing taxes and, when policians say that are removing some tax, they are just increasing the existent tax and changing its name. Of course the fans have to modify their behavior otherwise families with children are not allowed to have fun together. I think that Rick showed exactly how italian people live the soccer season, because for an Italian soccer is like a religion.
      Great post Rick!!

      • Rick says:

        Thanks for you comment, Davide. Yes, a good point, soccer is a type of escapism for many–“unplugging,” as you say. And as long as the violence is avoided, people can enjoy this otherwise healthy past time. Ever culture has it’s form of escapism…the English drink at the pub, the Americans spend money that that don’t have…what do the Parisians do, I wonder?
        Thanks for your comments…ciao!!

        • Davide says:

          Hi Rick,
          Parisian are more or less like English people, the only difference is what they drink, beer for English and Champagne for French 🙂
          It’s always a pleasure read your posts, also because I like to see what people think about them.
          Salutami Jessica,
          Ciao 🙂

    • Rick says:

      Hi Sabine! I’m not a huge soccer fan myself, but I’m not exactly sure that I understand the connection you’ve made between soccer and unemployment. It seems to me that people “escape” to things like soccer because of the bad economy and not the other way around. In other words, It’s possible that the economy is creating more soccer craziness; but probably NOT possible that crazy soccer fans are causing the bad economy.
      Still, your point in well-taken. The prospects of young Europeans these days is pretty grim. Many, like your friend from Spain, are forced to make some really tough decisions. Which, as you say, is kind of tragic.

      • sabine atwell says:

        This is my point. Young Germans also watch soccer , Americans watch their IPhones, and there is the same craziness that is spent on sports- as we do here in the US. It is hard to see how young Southern Europeans’ future will be realized. I love Italy and was an exchange student there in the 60ies. We will visit again shortly, but I would not want to be a talented and well educated young person there now. The government’s policies are not only inept, but as Spanish friends of ours are saying, stupid and even evil. There is a terrible brain drain going on from these countries… the most talented and most focused leave once again….. Soccer seems very unimportant to these folks. We talks to these young people in the US at Apple, Google, Oracle, and our universities.
        I just find it sad…. though we in the US benefit very much from their talents.

        • Rick says:

          Well, yes, I totally agree about the brain drain. There have been a few documentaries made on this lately: “Emergency Exit,” and “Italy, Love it or Leave it.” I think a big part of the problem is the European Union itself. There’s enough regulations to stifle competition and growth, but not enough to address the inequities in a fair way. Germany is doing OK and France is treading water, but the rest of the EU is slowly losing ground to the rest of the world.

  • >
    %d bloggers like this: