The Longest Day (of Football) – Part Two

As Sunday mornings go, I can think of better starts than a trudge along a muddy suburban lay-by, being glowered at by a group of sloping foreheaded locals, and being given directions by a man who could barely be bothered to pull his trousers up from around his ankles. Or asking for a cup of tea in a cafe and seeing the woman behind the counter put cold water in the teapot. It also transpires that people over here also like to play really shit music at ear drum-perforating volumes through their mobile phones while they’re sat on buses, and that the outer suburbs of Rome are pretty grim – or at least Borghesiana, where Lodigiani play, is. I didn’t notice last time because last time I was too busy paying €30 to get a cab there from the bottom of the metro line at Anagnina, and the cabbie regaled me with stories of feeling his arsehole twitch in the away end at Galatasary. It’s an odd area where the tentacles of Rome reach out into the Lazio hinterlands; part countryside, with its big houses, gardens and small olive fields, and part desolate suburban rat hole, with stained grey tower blocks, a residential workers’ suppository where natives and immigrants live side-by-side in less than perfect harmony. This is where the ‘Baby Gangs’ – the local equivalent of what the British press hatefully call ‘Hoodies’ – demand payment from immigrants for rights of passage down certain streets, or simply kick the shit out of them for a laugh. It’s the part of the city that tourists will never see unless they happen to be passing through on a bus; scruffy and bizarre during the day, it would be downright unsettling walking around there during when it’s dark.

It’s strange then, that such a run-down suburb be host to the swanky sporting complex of La Borghesiana that Lodigiani play at, a place so posh that the national team have trained there, as well as various big European club sides like my own source of frustration, Chelsea. God only knows what they must have thought of the surrounding neighbourhood. This time I brought Spangles along, seeing as she was curious to see what it was actually like hanging with some proper ultras, and as we trudged up through the main driveway for the hotel, which had been flooded by the enormous storm that kept me up half the previous night I couldn’t help but think what a romantic boyfriend I was. But if I wanted an ego boost – and let’s be honest here, who doesn’t? – I got one. As I strolled down towards the ‘terrace’ I was spotted by the ultras and got a whopping great cheer as though I was a returning hero, fresh from shitting in Cisco president’s mouth. Chants of my name rang out, as well as the classic ‘Come on [insert my first name here]’ in the swaying style of a 1970s home end. It was fucking ace. Arriving fashionably late was never so well rewarded.

Luckily for me though, despite turning up over half an hour late I hadn’t missed any action, and let’s be honest, I’m not here for the actual football. Which is just as well, as it’s not that good. Lodi do a good job of beating a team above them in the league 2-0, and there was much bouncing and singing, lighting of flares, exploding of bangers and waving of scarves. Once again it’s all good fun, and well worth the pain in the arse travel. Although at half-time it’s quite obvious that they find me amusing, asking me whether I’m in the National Front and being mocked for my lack of Italian. None of which bothers me all that much, but I’d like to be able to talk to these people past rudimentary greetings and rehearsed questions.

One of the weird characteristics that they have as a group though, that despite being a good laugh and able to take the piss out of themselves (‘This is the cutting edge of tifo!!’ cried Stefano as they ballsed up another chant), there are moments when they take themselves paradoxically seriously. About half way through the second half the ball was cleared over the fence and our heads, and the Lodi coach asked the guys if one of them could get the ball back for them. ‘We’re not ball boys’ was shouted back, ‘we’re busy supporting you guys.’ As though the act of supporting in itself is the most important thing they could do, and getting the ball back would ruin it completely. It’s the odd mixture of devotion, dedication and giving yourself for the team that is mixed with an elevate sense of self that runs right through the ultras movement.

‘Look guys, we let you onto the pitch so you can put up your banners, why can’t you co-operate with us?’

‘What do you mean let us on? We’d just climb the fence anyway. Employ some ball boys if you want them collected.’

The exchange gave you a complete idea of what each party perceives Lodi to be. On the one hand you’ve got the coach, who sees this for what it is; a new club, with amateur players and not a huge amount of resources, and you have the ultras, who see their club as what they remember from when they were professional, who should be dealing with these things themselves. It also seems to be a way of keeping their distance from the club as a whole, which is nigh-on impossible when your they’re this small.

This row has since found its way online, with the guys complaining about being treated as ball boys (‘there are only a few of us, and if we have to collect balls then we are one voice less’ – again with the self-aggrandising) and asking why they didn’t come over to clap them after the game. The president then replied, explaining why he thought that they should have helped them out, and a player told them that they were waiting for them to come into the dressing room after the game to celebrate as usual (which I suppose is a nice touch, if a little weird and contradictory). Meanwhile Simone pops up to tell them that ‘frankly we were only 1-0 up, and they were attacking. I thought it would be a good way to time waste.’

Anyway, straight after the game Simone gave us a lift to Subausgusta on the metro and travelled with us to the Olimpico, where Roma were playing Fiorentina. On the way I noticed something, something very odd indeed about our man Simone. Knowing that we were both English, he spent most of his time asking questions about English football, as he’s ‘sick for it’, apparently. But the inquisitiveness isn’t the odd thing, it’s the way he starts nearly every sentence by saying the name of a football team, usually a lower league one. So there would be a small silence, punctuated by him saying ‘Plymouth Argyle’ (pronounced phonetically), or ‘effe chee oo-nye-ted’ (work that one out if you can) and a chat about those clubs. I don’t know whether he wants a biscuit every time he gets one right but he’s certainly very earnest about it, and frankly it’s nice to be in a situation where someone else is the linguistic clown for once.

In any case, it turns out that I’ve become a bit of a personality down Lodi way; as I was perusing their fanzine at half-time with Roma still at 0-0, I noticed that not only had they taken the piss out of my propensity to say ‘si si’ an awful lot, but they’d put me in their hot or not column. And ladies and gents, I can tell you that I am most definitely hot, which is nice. I’m a bit flattered and perplexed, really, although it’s fairly obvious they think I’m a bit weird, and I imagine think I’m absolutely hilarious with my shite conversation. I’m just trying to imagine if some Italian reporter showed up at a Sunday League team I played for and started speaking in Macaroni English at everyone. Actually there’d be people there who could speak Italian, so that wouldn’t work. But you get my point.

Right yes, Roma. Well they played out yet another extremely tense match, with both sides creating some wonderful chances. In the end the bionic fatty… sorry Totti scored the only goal of the game, after a flowing move swept from one end of the pitch to the other, although the keeper should definitely have saved it, as you can see hear:

In fits and starts Roma played some really fantastic football, but the nervousness form the bad start is still there, both on the pitch and in the stands. There’s very much a sense that at any moment they could throw the game away at any moment, and winning 1-0 is simply not enough to ease the nerves. In fact if it hadn’t been for a wonderful save from Doni in injury time from a Gilardino header (with the Roma defence backing off so far they were practically in the Sud) then the fans’ fears would have been justified. But, three wins on the bounce is good, and Julio Baptiste is starting to look like a real player.

We bumped into Simone on the tram after the game, and he pointed out the various Lodigiani graffiti all over the walls near the Olimpico. ‘That’s all my work’, he said. ‘Do you like it?’

I answered the only way I know how. ‘Si si.’

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3 Responses

  1. […] Hanging out with the ultras of AS Lodigiani. In « Previous Post Leave a comment… […]

  2. CB, as you know I’m not much of a football fan, but you really do write great, evocative, emotion-packed football. Or the stuff revolving about football, at least.

  3. I know this might not be the most appropriate place to post this but for other readers living in the USA are you concerned about the debt? It just seems like it is getting to the point where the country is going to go bankrupt and my husband and I are just a little concerned that our kids and grandkids are going to have some big problems in a few years. Thanks for letting me vent, Sara

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