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When two tribes go to war…

AS Roma 3, SS Lazio 2
Stadio Olimpico, Rome, October 31 2007

It’s hard to describe just what a derby means to a fan. To put it into cold, emotionless black and white words on paper can’t convey the intensity of feeling without it somehow seeming pathetic to the reader. It’s only a game after all! It is just two groups of guys chasing a ball around a paddock. At the end of the match, our tax rates will still be the same. Unemployment will be unchanged. There will still be nothing good on TV on a Tuesday night. There is nothing at stake! So why do we get all worked up about it?

There is just something about two teams with an intense rivalry built up over decades of mutual loathing that’s great to watch and something else again to be a part of. Ordinary, run of the mill football is an outlet for intense passion in Europe. At derby time, that passion intensifies infinitely. The pure, unadulterated hatred of the other team that drives a desperation for victory at all costs is somehow intoxicating.

For the victor there is no cup, trophy or other such trinket that can be put on display. It’s far more important than that. Ask fans if they would rather win their league, or take bragging rights in their local derby, many reply that the derby is much, much, much more important.

While your league is made up of 18 other teams from different cities whose populations you have little to do with from day to day, you argue with fans of your local rivals all year about who has the better team. In the weeks leading up to a derby, that banter builds to a crescendo of trash talk. Your rivals become unbearable to you and you to them. But what is worse is when a derby is over, your rivals don’t pile onto busses and drive off into the sunset. The next morning, as you attempt to go about your normal daily business, the opposing fans are your co-workers, your boss and the guy who sells you your morning espresso. To lose to them, and to have no other choice but to face them the next day, is a truly horrific fate.

The differences between Roma and Lazio supporters are both historical and political. Roma was created when Mussolini’s government demanded that all the small Roman clubs become one to challenge the dominance of the Northern teams and evoke the spirit of ancient Rome. Lazio were the only club that stood up to the regime and refused to take part in the merger. Despite this, Lazio fans are known as some of the most right wing in the world. Roma fan groups have historically been leftist although many fascist groups have now sadly crept in. Lazio supporters are largely from the wealthier parts of the city and beyond the walls of Rome in the rural areas of Lazio. Romanisti are traditionally from the more working class suburbs of Rome.

My passion for derbies grew immeasurably in 2007, after surviving one of the world’s most intense rivalries – Italy’s ‘Derby della Capitale’ fought between Roma and Lazio. It was the experience of a lifetime. 80,000 choreographed, singing, dancing fans shot flares, exploded firecrackers and waved flags.

The overwhelming vibe I felt at the Stadio Olimpico as I looked into the eyes of the Lazio tifosi was of a hatred so intense… They looked at the Romanisti as though we had murdered their families, taken their houses, killed their pets, then found the gutter they were sleeping in and taken that too. We could see every bloodshot vein in the eyes of a mob who were clearly of the view that we were less than human and deserving of a violent, painful and preferably slow death.

But if I had died that night, I would have died happy. The echoes of the Roma songs are still reverberating in my soul. Every emotion you feel at a normal game is ten times more intense at a derby. There was the deep despair that came when Lazio scored the first goal. The relief and restored hope when Roma equalised. The jubilation when we then took a one, then a two goal lead. The terror as Lazio scored a second then camped out in the Roma penalty area firing numerous shots that bounced off our posts. The ecstasy of the final whistle and the pride in singing along with 70,000 other romanisti as ‘Grazie Roma’ was played over the stadium sound system as it does after every home victory. As I left the stadium with the triumphant Roma tifosi, I skipped along knowing that there is not much in the world that can beat that.

Being in the stadium for the game that secured the All White’s qualification for South Africa 2010 almost topped it. But nothing else has come close so far.

Since that night in Rome, watching a derby at home has taken a very different meaning for me. I watch with a sense of longing. The memories come flooding back. I have to make sure I get to experience that again before I die. But in the meantime, a computer screen will just have to suffice.

Categories: Roma/Italian Calcio

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Enzo Giordani

A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.

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