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.
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.”
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.
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.