Dauntless Dan Morey & his mettlesome Mama enjoy the ecstasy of Italian football
Football in Rome: Buying Tickets in the Piazza Colonna
I was standing in line at the A.S. Roma store in the Piazza Colonna, waiting to buy tickets for the upcoming Roma/Catania football game. I’d arrived early, but the place was already packed with crazy-eyed fans rooting through boxes of used Roma practice clothes. They dug deep, flinging aside the shirts of lesser players in search of some scrap of fabric that Totti or De Rossi had sweated in. One guy, who must’ve been forty, burrowed into the box, retrieved something that looked like a jockstrap, and bounded up to the register with a squeal of joy.
There is an Italian term for this type of behaviour: Estasi del Calcio. It refers to a football-induced madness that leads grown men to covet discarded uniforms, go shirtless at games, burn flares, scream, fight, and blow things up, all in support of their favorite team.
I asked the clerk for a couple of seats in the Curva Sud (south end of the Stadio Olimpico), where Roma’s most rabid fans — the Ultras — sit. He requested my passport.
I was prepared for this, having read about the strict security measures at Italian football games. I handed it over.
“The other?” he said.
“The other what?”
“You ask two tickets, yes? So two passaporti.”
Well, that made sense. I was a United States citizen and therefore not partisan, but what about my companion? I could be attempting to smuggle in a deadly Catania henchman, armed with grenades and nitroglycerine.
“The ticket’s for my mother,” I said. “I don’t have her passport, but I can promise you she’s no terrorist. She’s over sixty-five and hasn’t bombed a concession stand in years.”
“No passaporto?” he said, handing me a form. “Write the number here.”
I had no idea what Mother’s passport number was, so I scribbled down my old high school locker combination. He gave me two tickets.
“No Curva Sud,” he said. “Sold out. You sit here.”
He showed me our seats on the chart. We were just outside the Curva and fairly close to the field. “Buono,” I said. “Ciao.”
The Stadio Olimpico is at the center of the Foro Italico, a sprawling athletic complex. Il Duce built the forum over the course of a decade beginning in 1928, and dubbed it (what else?) Foro Mussolini. After the war, they changed the name, but that’s about it — everything else is still full-on Duce.
We went first to the smaller Stadio dei Marmi (Marble Stadium), which was empty, except for fifty-nine nude statues. Much to Mother’s delight, these gigantic marbles are all muscled men, representing athletes from the various regions of Italy. They wield sporting equipment and strike arrogant poses, flexing with nationalistic superiority.
Behind the Stadio dei Marmi is an imposing rectangular building. It houses the Italian National Olympic Committee, but was originally the headquarters of the Fascist Male Academy of Physical Education, or, as it was known at my somewhat less imposing high school, gym class.
The approach to the Stadio Olimpico is long and impressive and paved with mosaics that spell out “Duce Duce Duce”. Young men stood shouting and drinking under an obelisk with a simple message engraved down its side: “Mussolini Dux”. Militant chants reverberated from the stadium.
“Some of these guys look pretty scary,” said Mother, as we passed a jackbooted youth.
“Fascistas,” I said. “Don’t make eye contact.”
Thanks to a floundering economy and the rising popularity of right-wing political parties, mobs of Mussolini wannabes are springing up all over Italy. In Rome, they like to circle the Piazza Venezia in trucks, blasting death metal and waving flags.
Ten feet from the entrance, a squad of black-suited carabinieri sprinted across our path. Shields and truncheons clattered as they closed in on a trio of bottle-smashing skinheads.
Inside the Olympic Stadium
Our seats provided a nice view of the boisterous Curva Sud, which, I quickly realized, was best observed from a distance. The game didn’t start for another half hour, but the Ultras were already on their feet, singing, stomping, lighting flares and throwing firecrackers on the field.
Across the stadium, in the Curva Nord, a much smaller, though no less vocal, crowd of blue-and-red-clad Catania fans clapped and raised their hands in perfect unison. They were sequestered in the Curva Nord for their own protection, with vacant sections on either side, and security guards stationed at regular intervals.
The Distinti Sud, where we sat, was tame by comparison. There were a lot of children and a lot of tourists, including an enthusiastic Japanese family whose imported cheers were both puzzling and contagious. A man climbed down three rows to give them his Roma scarf.
The Sicilian side took the field first and was greeted with a thundering boo. When Roma came out, manic elation erupted from every quarter. The captain, Francesco Totti, jogged onto the pitch like a Roman emperor, waving to his worshippers and basking in their adulation. As the teams took their positions, Roma’s club song, “Roma, Roma, Roma ”, blared over the loudspeakers and the fans screamed along at a deafening volume. Smoke bombs and fire exploded from the Curva Sud; red and yellow flags filled the air.
Roma scored on a header twelve minutes in, and dominated the rest of the game. At one point they completed over twenty consecutive passes. This dizzying display was finally concluded when a Roma forward tapped the ball past the keeper with perfect grace and ease. Totti tallied the final goal at 70 minutes, volleying a rebound into the corner of the net and capping a 7-0 blowout.
As the home fans exited the stadium, the speakers played “Grazie, Roma ”, and we all sang along. Over in the Curva Nord, the depressed Sicilians sat and waited for the stands to clear.
Ecstasy on a Tram
The tram ride back to the Piazza del Popolo was Estasi del Calcio at its most exuberant. Teenagers stood in the rear, banging windows and singing fight songs. Outside, drivers honked their horns and passengers shouted from sunroofs.
One of the kids came up to Mother, shook her deliriously by the shoulders, and began to croon “Grazie, Roma ”. She opened her jacket like a flasher, revealing the “Avanti Legionare! ” shirt I’d bought her at the A.S. Roma store. The boy convulsed with laughter, as did his buddies, who burst into a “Forza Roma! ” cheer.
Back at the apartment we swilled Peroni and chomped pizza bianca, feeling like true Romans at last.
If You Go (you brave thing, you!):
Tickets and merchandise:
AS Roma Store: Piazza Colonna, 360, 00186 Roma, Italy
Online at www.asroma.com
Where it is:
Stadio Olimpico: Viale dei Gladiatori, 00135 Roma, Italy
Places to Stay:
Some hotels and apartments within a 15 minute walk to the Stadio Olimpico include Casa Vacanze Milvia, Ponte Milvio Halldis Apartments, Maxxi Penthouse, Casa Vacanze Ricordi Romani.
See all Rome hotels here.
How to get there:
A tram (line 2) runs from the Piazza del Popolo to the Stadio Olimpico. It will be crowded on game days and you’ll probably have to wait in line, so be sure to show up early. There is also a bus (910) that runs from Termini Station.