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Lazio-Roma rivalry for the ages

Posted by Staff  November 17, 2012 01:29 AM

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By Julian Cardillo

ROME - Twice a year the tension rises for a soccer game in Rome. Both of those times are for the Derby della Capitale, a match between rivals AS Roma and SS Lazio, which share the Olympic Stadium.

In the pouring rain last Sunday, Lazio defeated Roma 3-2 in front of a divided, sellout crowd. Erik Lamela opened up the scoring for Roma early in the match, and Lazio countered with three goals from Antonio Candreva, Miroslav Klose, and Stefano Mauri. Miralem Pjanic narrowed the deficit late in the game. Two players also were ejected: Roma’s Daniele De Rossi for punching Mauri midway through the first half and, later, Mauri for handling.

De Rossi looked as though he regretted his action. But there is a high-intensity atmosphere that takes over during the derby for both players and supporters. While tempers flare, tackles get harder, and blood begins to boil on the field, off the field supporters are impassioned.

Often, supporters have been beaten up, knifed, or worse. On Oct. 7, 1979, Vincenzo Paparelli, a Lazio fan, died when he was hit by a missile. Soccer hooliganism, or the violent behavior by supporters at games, occurs on both sides. But it’s been a bi-product of the rivalry for decades.

It’s been a bitter rivalry since 1929. Benito Mussolini, looking to build a unified Roman team, combined three Roman clubs: Alba-Audace, Roman, and Fortitudo. Lazio, named after the Italian region which houses the commercial cities of Latina and Formia as well as Rome, was not part of the merger. Roma won the first derby on Dec. 8, 1929 and the rivalry has grown stronger since.

Mussolini’s involvement in the creation of Roma in 1927 has left somewhat of an indelible fascist mark on the team, though today most of Roma’s supporters consider themselves urban, middle class and the left-wing, which went on to abhor fascism in Italy. Lazio supporters on the other hand are viewed as both the right wing, urban upper class and those who come from the region’s suburbs and countryside.

“Lazio supporters are nicknamed “Burino” which means hillbilly,” said Andrea Fortunato, a Roma supporter. “In fact, Roma supporters poke fun at Lazio supporters by telling them to come to the game with their tractors."

Much of the conflict comes from this political background. Supporters sit on opposite ends of the stadium, Lazio in Curva Nord and Roma in Curva Sud, and use offensive language. Lazio supporters put up a banner reading: “Auschwitz is your town, the ovens are your houses” for a 1998 derby. Roma supporters have replied with banners that read: “Team of sheep followed by shepherds," directed toward Lazio’s rural following.

Aside from that, Italian military police have to escort fans who sit in the Curve (or curves, where the die-hards sit) in and out of the stadium. Roads are closed. Bus routes are cancelled. Spectators who don’t sit in the curves won’t talk on their way to the stadium. In fact, walking to the stadium is a completely silent affair. People are afraid to reveal something to the wrong person and pay the price.

“Some people go to the stadium for politics, not to cheer on the team,” Fortunato said. “People are scared, they’re afraid to lose the derby. Later in school or even at work the winner always makes fun of the loser. No one wants to show who belongs to Roma and who belongs to Lazio.”

Fights are organized before and after the games. Even between friends. It’s a kind of loyalty that isn’t seen in the United States or too many other places in Europe. It’s what happens when a game is tied to politics and regionalism. It’s like the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry in the same city, but on steroids.

“The supporters know each other,” continued Fortunato, who said that he knows young people that pick fights with even their closest friends over the derby. “That’s what’s negative. They know each other from school. In terms of soccer and politics, kids grow up with a negative mentality of each other in high school and into college.”

Roma lead the all-time series with Lazio 54-55-40, though this year Lazio (7-4-1, 5th place) appears to have a more experienced, well-rounded team. Roma (5-2-5, 7th place) has shown flashes of brilliance but has too many inexperienced players to make winning a habit and avoid silly mistakes. Nevertheless, both teams are trying hard to clinch a spot in the Champions League and inch their way up the standings.

“I have friends that cheer for Lazio,” Fortunato said. “We’re actually very much alike.”

Indeed, very much alike. Both Roma and Lazio are competing for a Champions League berth against teams such as Juventus, AC Milan, and Inter, who have more international notoriety and better finances. For all the smack that both teams talk, neither really has a leg to stand on. Roma has just three Serie A titles while Lazio has just two. Neither team has ever won an international trophy, except Lazio’s victory in the 1999 UEFA Super Cup.

The competitiveness of the derby is cool, but the violence, regionalism, and danger that comes with it undermine soccer’s nickname as “the beautiful game.”

“The derby is beautiful, but it’s hard to explain why,” Fortunato said. “It’s not supposed to be about politics. The violence shouldn’t happen. The derby is a match for the city, the capital of Italy.”

“Fortunately, there are some that do it properly. They go to the stadium to support the team and wave their flags for ninety minutes. They sing loudly during the match. And that’s a real supporter. No politics, just soccer.”

Follow Julian Cardillo on twitter @juliancardillo

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About Corner Kicks: Julian Cardillo offers insight and analysis about the New England Revolution as well as European and international soccer.

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