For over thirty years, there was a football club in Rome that plugged away in the lower divisions of the Italian league, in the shadows of the two Serie A giants. AS Lodigiani played at the Flaminio, a stadium not five minutes away from the Olimpico, now used to hosting international Rugby matches, and while they were clearly destined to go nowhere, they had a small but committed group of fans who followed them around the country. Within that group there were Ultras Lodigiani, the colour and noise of the fan base. When Lodigiani merged with another lower league club – Cisco Calcio Roma – in 2004, it was apparently ok with both sets of fans, and they started the 2004/05 season as AS Cisco Lodigiani. However, as often happens, one side turned out to be more equal than the other. Eventually they dropped Lodigiani from their name (despite keeping the rights to it) and reverted to AS Cisco Calcio Roma, taking Lodi’s founding date of 1972 and putting on their crest.
As you can imagine the fans of Lodigiani weren’t exactly happy about all this, especially the Ultras. Without a senior club for four years, they turned up at Lodi’s youth team games to sing and chant for their team. That all changed this year though, as their club reformed it’s first team and started playing in the seventh tier of Italian football, which is entirely amatuer. I’d been in touch with them via their website, basically because I thougt that there was a feature in it, and they were more than happy to have me along to watch a game with them.
I was supposed to go last week to an away game within easy reach of my flat, but I showed up at the ground at half two, only to be greeted by a bunch of fifteen year olds playing on the pitch and a woman at the bar telling me the game kicked off at midday. Not my smartest move. But it meant that I got to watch them at home instead this week, with home for Lodigiani a pitch in a very swanky hotel called La Borghesiana right on the outskirts of Rome, surrounded by pretty rough looking suburbs. Around the place were other pitches with kids having their weekly session of parents shouting at them, but the faint sound of singing and drumming drew me over the horizon. As I approach the ground I saw the guys, stood on a small metal temporary terrace, with huge banners in front of them that almost cover the fencing in front. It’s a classic ultra style, but more than a little incongruous when your ground is three steps high.
As you can imagine, approaching a close-knit group of friends with whom I’d only spoken to via email, and who belong to a society who traditionally don’t like the press, was a bit daunting. But they turned out to be a good bunch of fellas, who enjoyed my comparison of them to AFC Wimbledon (‘Ah, si si, AFC Weemblidon!’) and were keen to explain the club’s current state to me and their feelings on Cisco, which added up to ‘we don’t even think about Cisco.’ As casual dismissals go, it sounded like the fake disinterest of a spurned lover who wasn’t quite over the heartache. ‘We’re third in the league,’ said Stefano, the main who I’d been in most contact with, at half-time. ‘but this is a terrible game of football. The seventh level of football isn’t very good usually.’ Unfortunately he was right.
Nevertheless, they wanted me to get me involved in the experience. They did this by handing me a flare and saying ‘Come on, get involved’ (or words to that affect), which I have to say, was pretty fucking ace. As was waving a scarf, bouncing up and down and generally acting the twat at what is essentially a park league match. It was great fun, and a close up look at what an ultras group is really about; a group of mates who care about their team putting effort into supporting them however they can, whether that be by singing, drumming, or plastering humungous pieces of card with slogans demanding justice for the dead Lazio ultra Gabriele Sandri. There also doesn’t seem to be any self conciousness about considering themselves the equals (or even betters) of the Fedayn in the Curva Sud, or Lazio’s Irriducibile, despite the fact only those on the substitutes bench can see what their pronouncements are. It doesn’t matter to them, if they were looking for attention there are far better places to be than a remote hotel in the Lazio countryside. What’s important is the believing in the message, and delivering it in the traditional ultra way, via home made banners and screaming it out at the top of your voice.
The game? Oh that. They lost an absolutely dire contest (even for that level) 1-0, and provided exactly one moment of excitement. While chasing an equaliser with the tried and tested method of humping it forward into the mixer, the ball broke to an unnamed Lodi player six yards out, who somehow managed to hit the goalie in the face. The ball span off the post and up in the air, only for another unnamed Lodi player to bicycle kick it back against the same post from the same distance. There was barely time for a brief burst of ‘Que sara sara’ (I really must learn the words to that song) before the ref called time and the boys could put all their flags and banners away.
After the game I managed to sponge a lift back to the metro off the guy with the drum. His name is Simone and he’s from Cinecitta, an area in the south east of Rome that was once home to the Italian film industry, but is now an almost forgotten tourist attraction hemmed in by the expansion of the city in the 1960s. It’s most famous for being where Ben Hur and Cleaopatra were made, as well as Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Westerns, but it still makes a few bob from American film and TV programme makers who want a spot of ‘authetic’ artistry. Simone is a short, quite stocky guy who’s also very pleasant and quite inquisitive, and we have a semi-stilted but quite interesting chat on the way back, mainly about football. Like most Italian football fans, he’s fairly knowledgable about the English game, although explaining that people from Liverpool were called scousers was a bit of a tricky one. ‘So everyone in England hates Liverpool as well?’ was possibly by favourite repsonse of the half hour journey. We started talking about the derby, which was that evening, and I asked him what he thought of the city’s two big clubs. ‘Oh, I’m a Roma fan, in the Curva Sud, although I never pay to get in.’ From what I could gather he’s not a fan of either the Roma ultras groups or the regulations that prohibit things like smoke bombs and flares, although I’m not sure what his specific beef is with the guys in the Sud.
Inbetween picking up his girlfriend, predicting the score for the derby and dropping me off at Subaugusta we exchange emails and talk about meeting up for the game next week. ‘We’re playing in a little village not far from, so come along if you want.’ I think I will as it happens, if not for the football then the chance to hang about with some different people and ruthlessly exploit them for an article or something. Cynical hack, that’s me.
The derby then. Well anyone who was already interested will know the score and the circumstances surrounding it. The game finished 1-0 to Roma of course, and the second half was one of the most fraught, ytense encounters I’ve ever been to. The atmosphere was garnished with a full plate of nerves, and as such the Sud never got going collectively; there was just too much riding on this game for Roma to get singing, espeically with Lazio were almost constantly on the attack. Even when down to ten men they were the better team going forward, and there were three proper heart in mouth moments, the worst of which was just after Baptista glanced home a superb header from a wonderful Totti cross. God knows who it was that missed from eight yards though, I could hardly see the other end of the pitch through the weed smoke. In any case, it was a collosal win for Roma, which was carried out almost in the shadow of the anniversary of Sandri’s death, commemorated by both sets of fans with a five minute absence of singing or flag waving. A sign of solidarity between fans, for good and bad reasons; the Boys group in the Sud put up a questionable banner, which read ‘Two curva, different colours, same values, same honour’. The fascists twats.
There was a one-legged guy who was sat in front of me, who when Roma scored, hopped backwards out of his seat to pile into a bunch of strangers, before hopping back into his seat with his arms in the air and his eyes shut, shouting ‘FORZA ROMA!’ It was the single most amazing thing I think I’ve ever seen at a football match, and at the end of the game he was almost in tears, while everyone else hugged, roared and headbutted the wall at the back of the Sud. I kind of stood there, clapping alone, feeling like a tiny bit of a dick.