Azionariato Popolare AS Roma (Part 3)

OK, so here is another section of quotes that I’ve translated from Walter Campanile’s various interviews, this time from the press conference itself. Again it must be said that if any sense at all is lost from the translation then sorry, but there is no malicious intent in any linguistic fuck ups I make. And in any case, this is mainly for my benefit, so screw you. If you want to get hot off the press Italian news then learn the bloody language yourself. Below is a more up-to-date vision of what they feel the organisation should be about, with the original Italian here, for those of you who wouldn’t mind helping me out a bit. Meanwhile, if you’re at all interested in the structure of the APASR then why not take a look at the informative slides from the conference?

In what concrete way do you want to contribute to the growth of Roma and how does the current owner feel about that?
Mario Sacchi of Envet: The objective of the association is to assist and support the club. It’s evident that we will have to invest in the club, as a minority, obviously.

Is there a representative of the club here? Was one invited? Was the project presented to the club?
(There are a couple of sentences here that I literally cannot make head nor tail of: how depressing – Ed). In Europe we have clubs that were born as sporting clubs in which the member is a ‘socio’ (a member in the true sense of the word – Ed) and they developed on this model. At Hamburg for example, they didn’t need an azionariato, but the association ‘Friends of Hamburg’ nourishes the fan base, helps in the life of the club and of the supporters, and it also brings together thousands of members. Arsenal isn’t in the hands of their fans, but a group has a minority interest that doesn’t change the life of Arsenal, but it gives consent to the participation from and the involvement of those who care about the club. Roma is undoubtedly the object of this project.

Walter Campanile: We invited everyone here today, representatives of Roma and of the institutions. Their non presence doesn’t bother me because as yet we haven’t done anything. I’m sure that the work that we do will eventually be appreciated. Already, with regards to the number of members, we have overtaken Arsenal. This, we still repeat, is only a point of departure. We only want to participate and contribute to the management of the club. To let us help Roma, only that. Like Ranieri’s Roma, we also have to work off the pitch one step at a time. A note to the fans: all fans demand maximum effort from their players, so we mustn’t hold back when there is the opportunity to do something concrete.

How come there are no representatives from Roma here?
There are some (It’s clear who they are; they didn’t make themselves known at the time – Ed). We  have already opened the channels of dialogue and have invited everyone. I’m available to go anywhere to talk about our project.

Is Angelini one of your members? (Note: you might remember from my first post on this subject that pharmaceutical magnate Francesco  Angelini has been wildly rumoured to be interested in buying the club. This has caused many to think that the APASR was a front for various high-profile people to buy it from the Sensis, of whom more later)
Walter Campanile: No.

Will the money collected from members go to the club’s transfer market budget?
By law the money cannot go in the pockets of our associates. Just to be clear there will be specific body that will decide how the money is spent, and it will be possible to verify that through the balance sheet. If come the second year you become disillusioned you will be able to leave and not have to pay the money again. Transparency is guaranteed.

As we saw in the previous post, the group want to contribute financially to the club, with a minority say in what happens, and with the ain – in the short-term at least – of being little more than a community hub for fans. There appears to be a lot of talk about socios, but the comparison with those clubs is moot, as they are owned by their own communities and critically, they elect the people who run the club. This isn’t to say what happens at these clubs is perfect; Lord knows you only have to put in the occasional cursory glance at Sid Lowe’s Spanish football articles to know that the political machinations at Real Madrid in particular can get pretty ugly, frankly I’d be hoping that whatever does become of this project stays as far away from the ugliness that is Real Madrid as possible.

What happens to any money invested however, is another discussion altogether. Last week Roma’s owner Rosella Sensi had a meeting with Italian bank Unicredit regarding Italpetroli’s €400million plus debt, of which €300million is owed to them. Let’s just say that the meeting didn’t go well. ‘While Roma are flying on the pitch and dreaming of the Scudetto, off it the future of the club remains in doubt’, says Il Tempo (which appears to be a subsidiary of Il Sole 24 Ore, who basically invented the story about APASR that I mentioned above – we’ll skip over that for the time being). Why? well, Unicredit are 49% shareholders in Italpetroli (the company that indirectly controls Roma, remember) and are calling for the cancellation of the debt repayment plan and an  injunction on 13 Sensi assets, for various business-y reasons, including not communicating the company’s net asset value (regarding the 2008 balance sheet) in time. In 2008 the group lost €33million, and if 2009’s losses add up to more than €17million they will have to reduce capital, and as the Sensi’s don’t have any other solutions, Unicredit are adamant that assets must be sold.

The paper finishes: ‘The alternative is a recapitalisation, in which the bank would be ready to participate, but it would probably not gain a majority consensus from the shareholders. When thinking about the sale of assets thoughts shouldn’t go to Rome, the jewel in the group’s crown, made even more appetising in the last few months by on the pitch results that will probably take them into the Champions League next year. If the Sensis do have to give up the club, pharmaceutical magnate Francesco Angelini remains a credible potential buyer, and will be following the story with interest.’

No mention of our boys and girls in the Azionariato Popolare AS Roma yet. Maybe in time.

Azionariato Popolare AS Roma (Part 2)

Ok, so the other day I said that I would be chucking some quotes up here from the press conference and hopefully from a chat with the man himself, Walter Campanile. Well he was in Brussels yesterday chatting with EU big wigs so there was no point trying to get a lengthy discussion going, especially when I’m going to want him to repeat 90% of his answers at least twice. However, I have managed to dig up some quotes of his from back on 24 November last year, when he spoke with a Roma fans site about how the structure of the trust is going to work (NOTE: please bear in mind that any translation may not be 100% accurate, or may lose some of its meaning; contrary to popular belief meaning is not replicated exactly in every language, so just deal with it. The full Italian version is here for those of you who are able to read the language or just fuddy duddy killjoys who want accurate sourcing and that.):

A what point are you in the project?

I’m wary of looking too far ahead. We haven’t yet made Roma fans aware of what the azionariato popolare might be when it comes to pass.

What do you mean?

There are those who believe it to be some kind of subscription scheme, but if it was like this those who live in Saudi Arabia or Argentina would not have any reason to participate. When would they ever see Roma at the Olimpico? Instead, through our project whoever is able to contribute economically will strengthen our club, and from everywhere in the world.

Ok, but in what timescale?

The azionariato popolare doesn’t exist in Italy, in the sense that there is no legislative frame which inspires it. Anyway, in this early phase we have worked to understand if the model used in other countries could be applicable here in Italy.

We imagine so.

Exactly. In fact, that’s what we found and what will be explained later. We also occupied ourselves identify the legal entity that will represent fans based in Rome. (Ed’s note: this bit here is the bit I’m least sure about, linguistically speaking, if anyone wants to offer me a better translation please do.)

Are you not thinking of having a board of trustees (again)?

Of course, but not right away. Our scope to start with will be to get the fans to take an active part in the running of the azionariato, and having a representative in the board will be the next move.

What’s the next stage?

Between December and January we will look to have 80 people from the world of AS Roma involved with us. It will be them, in February, who will form a Constituent Assembly that will busy itself with writing the trust charter, on which the fundamental principles of the azionariato popolare romanista will be written. A month after that, if we are on schedule, we will be able to form the legal structure that will deal with whoever the owner of Roma is.

What characteristics will it have?

It will be democratic, absolutely transparent and not for profit, just as Supporters Direct, the organization that works for Uefa and who assists trusts with the legal support of Cleary Gottlieb, suggested to us.

Then, you said, the rendezvouz with whoever owns the club in March.

We still need to find an interlocutor who will open the door for us.

Even if it’s the Sensis?

The project is independent. It’s not important to us who the owner is.

But if it’s the Sensis you might end up delivering some money in a closed envelope a family who financially are in substantial trouble.

I understand where it might go. Ours isn’t a collective like that of Sistina in the 60s. The management of funds won’t be a fan, not of the presidente of the club.

So you’re saying that it would be fine for you whoever owns the club. Even Angelini?

Absolutely. I repeat: we are happy to support whoever is disposed to help make Roma great again.

This interview (despite being a couple of months out of date) is interesting to me on a philosophical level: to me, surely the point of organising fans together like this is so that you can have a large, potentially majority say in what goes on at the club, rather than sort of hang around and talk to the owner, who will tell you to piss off if they don’t like what you have to say. Obviously benefits regarding unity of the fans, organising social night, tickets for foreign fans and creating an all round community for supporters of the club are all great and I heartily endorse them. Obviously it’s early days yet so what form the relationship with the club takes is still up for grabs, but personally I’d like to see a big enough groundswell of support that would eventually put the ownership and the running of the club into the hands of an elected body.

At the press conference they made plenty of allusions to Barca and the Spanish socio model, but that works on the principle of ownership, of a democracy that has real power, or at least as much real power as those running a football club can ever have (This is Italy mind you, where Rome’s mayor, the fascist Giovanni Alemanno made explicit reference to the authorities not letting Lazio get relegated, so maybe I’m underestimating that a bit.). Without that true stake in the club where is it going, and where does the money go once in the hands of the club?

I’ve got a few things still needing translating, including a video interview of Walter talking to a journo after the press conference and some of the question and answer session that was held after the presentation. We also have the results of the Sensi family’s meeting with Unicredit, which was yesterday, so all in all anyone who might be reading will have a bumper amount of content coming you way over the next week or so. After that? Well, who knows readers, who knows.

There are people who take it for some kind of subscription scheme.

Azionariato Popolare AS Roma

*Wipes away cobwebs*

A lot has changed since the last time I bothered to write anything for this godawful repository for my deteriorating brain. I now write every day for a pittance about celebrity crap, music, sport and video games, as well as do a weekly shift translating for La Gazzetta Dello Sport, and various other proofreading jobs. It pays the rent and keeps me in pizzas, so I’m not complaining, but recently the creative urge has been creeping up my spine and tickling the back of my brain, asking me why I know the intimate details of Jordan and Peter Andre’s divorce, and her subsequent marriage to a cross-dressing cage fighter and why I have done precisely nothing with the reams of stuff I have on Lodigiani, the meeting about the Tessera del Tifoso I took eight hours out of a beautiful summer’s day for and Azionariato Popolare AS Roma, which is the first real attempt in Italy for a football club run by the fans, for the fans, and which my own girlfriend is an important part of. Every now and again I get a metaphorical poke with a stick via a blog comment which arrives in my inbox, goading me to do something worthwhile with my time, anything that might give reason to halt the rapid disappearance of justification for the title of journalist with which I deign myself. Well you fucking win, ok?

This is why today I attended the official press conference that Azionariato Popolare AS Roma held to announce its presence to the world (well the Italian press at least), their vision for a brighter day in Italian football. It must also be said that aside from my own thoroughly selfish reasons for being there, I hold the idea and the people behind it in extremely high regard, and if in the long term they manage to organise Roma fans into playing a role in the democratic running of their club it will be one of biggest achivements in the history mankind. I say this as a man who has seen how hard it is for Italians to organise a meeting place and be there on time, so don’t take that lightly.

So a bit of background then. The Sensi family is currently finacially crippling the football club through their siphoning off of club money to service the €300million debt of their Italpetroli, as evidenced by the preposterously large €20million Liverpool paid for the summer transfer of Alberto ‘sicknote’ Aquilani. Usually a football club would be laughing all the way to the bank with that sort of money, but instead the fee magically disappeared into a huge black chasm. Anyone who has read The Beautiful Game? by David Conn will probably already be familiar with the sort of thing I’m talking about. Anyone tomorrow Roma president Rosella Sensi, Italpetroli and bank Unicredit will be meeting to discuss repayments of a debt that is nothing to do with the club. Got that? With this in mind APASR has sprung up, offering a different way of running a club in a country where local magnates ruling private fiefdoms is the common model, pumping in unsustainable millions while hiring and firing managers seemingly on a whim. It’s rallying call is partly for this sort of nonsense to end, but also for more fundamental change. As it says on their website (which has also been translated into English for the benefit of Roma’s worldwide fanbase):

Barcelona’s motto is ‘more than a club’, which helps explain their culture, and in thier own way, greatness. Maybe the moment has arrived to think of constructing our own future together for a Grande Roma, which could be an example in Italy and Europe and that could become, like Barcelona, more than a club.

As much as I am loath to praise Barca for their pompous slogan, their is little doubt that the socio model is the best way for a football club to be run if you’re interested in it being a force for social good.

The idea has certainly gained some traction, if the press conference was anything to go by. In fact not only were various Roma blogs reporting live from the scene, but big national newspapers like Il Messagero and La Repubblica were there (and have already produced stories for their respective online audiences), giving the movement a potentially huge boost. Having met Walter Campanile, the main man behind the scheme, and watched him deal confidently with Italy’s assembled hacks, I have to say he’s a very confident, convincing presence, prodding and cajoling any doubters, laying out the arguments and the structure of everything in detail. If he were less morally upright he’d do a fine job of selling you hooky clothes down the market, or encouraging pensioners to part with their savings because they had the cowboys in their bathroom. Mostly though, you can tell that he and his colleagues know they are right, and that they’re not about to give in to those who say ‘this can’t be done in Italy’.

It was standing room only today, partly due to the radical idea APASR is selling to the public, but also because of a furore kicked up by the press earlier in the month, when respected Naples-based business daily Il Sole 24 Ore claimed that the organisation was a front for a group of Italian celebrities who wanted to take the club from the Sensis without presenting any evidence, a story that was repeated also in La Repubblica. There had also been rumours doing the rounds that they were a front for medicinal drugs magnate Franco Angelini, which while raising the profile of the movement, presented them in an appalling light. Thankfully both of those were quickly swept out of the way.

Ah God it’s late, and in my head this post is already turning into bad facsimile of a Hunter S. Thompson screed, while the text remains resolutely tangent free (up until now at least). How much needs to be said about a press conference when the most important thing about today is an idea, one that needs pressing home and support from the wider fan base? All we’re looking at is a collection of suits and scruffily dressed photgraphers relaying the same quotes, when I’ve got access to better, original material at my fingertips. I’d already know whether we are looking at a new model of ownership or merely a union of fans that have the ear of the owners, loud but mostly powerless? Now that Roma are second in the league and doing well in the Coppa Italia and the Europa League, do the fans care enough to embrace radical change? In essence, is Roma doing well now a bad thing for the club long term?

Tomorrow we (Why I am writing this as though anyone is reading is anyone’s guess) will hopefully have some unique quotes from representives, as well as wonderfully translated stuff from all over the Italian press.

Thank Fuck for That

Last night was a strange experience. As has often been the case this season, a televised (and therefore easy to find on Sopcast) Chelsea match has clashed with a Roma home game. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem; I’d made my choice by coming out here and getting a season ticket, and goddamn it if I wasn’t going to get value for money. However this time I was very concerned about being dump out of the FA Cup by Southend, which would be the biggest cup shock we’ve had inflicted on us since Millwall knocked us out on penalties in 1995, if you discount the League/Fizzy Pop/Worthless Cup. And who doesn’t? The feeling of foreboding was palpable, and when I got a text message from my cousin saying:

‘One nil Southend. Pathetic’

 

 

all interest in the spectacle before me vanished like our ability to defend set pieces.

While the Sud kept up it’s constant flow of songs, urging the team to add to the rather good first half free kick from Julio Baptista, I was constantly checking my phone, trying to picture the scene at Roots Hall, mentally willing my team to score a goal – any goal – through some sort of Jedi mind trick. In truth it helped that Sampdoria had turned up for the game, which had initially been postponed due to a freak downpour back in October, with a similar attitude to the almost entirely absent Rome public. So while a half empty stadium was baiting Cassano and watching The Beast play like some sort of Drogba/Totti hybrid, My brain was throbbing ‘score a fucking goal you rudderless bunch of fucking cunts! This is all about ME and MY feelings of embarrassment!” in the general direction of Essex. Just before the second half started I got another text that simply said:

1-1 ‘Ballack

 

 

‘Thank fuck for that’, I replied, and at that point I zoned out completetly. ‘Oh wait,’ said my eyes. ‘Baptista has scored a wonder goal, dribbling round two players and curling a splendid finish in the far corner, before running to the Sud to take the applause.’

‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, whatever,’ my brain replied. ‘I’m busy envisaging a game in another country whose outcome I am attempting to change with the power of aggressive thought-rants.’

All I could think about was my phone. I placed my hand in the pocket where I keep it so I could grab it the instant it vibrated. I tapped it, hoping that somehow that would dislodge messages that read ‘2-1 Lampard’, ‘3-1 Anelka’, ‘4-1, referee handballs it in before wheeling away to celebrate’, I squeezed it like a stress ball and there was a permanent cloud around my vision, like I was watching the game in flashback mode. Roma could have had another three more if they’d tried, but it was as if both teams had given me the green light to forget about them altogether. Samp just gave up, while Roma lazily passed the ball about, half-trying to add to their tally. Meanwhile…..

‘FUCKING VIBRATE YOU BASTARD PHONE!’ Just done’t let us lose on penalties again. PLEEEEEEEAAAAASSEE?

It was at this point that I had a moment of clarity: this is why football clubs have us over a barrell. Despite everything that is wrong with football, everything that is fundamentally wrong with my club – the greed, the ticket prices, the ruthless commercialism, the absolute disdain with which the club holds its supporters, the ruthless expansionism into other territories selling brands like a football club is a can of Coke – here I am, in another country, at another teams stadium, with a season ticket I bought for that team in my pocket, and all I can think about it is the horrible feeling in my gut that ‘we’re going to lose this. I just KNOW it. It’s terrible.

The journey back was the same. I was of no use to anyone, my mind slipping in and out of fantasy land. Then as I plonk my phone down on the table I see it has a message:

4-1 second half class

 

 

Thank fuck for that.

An Even Longer Day (of Football)

One of the problems of being a football fan is that so much of your heppiness relies on 15 (relatively, even allowing for lower league weirdos xx) handsomely paid men who couldn’t give a flying toss about you or your life deciding whether they can be bothered to do their jobs properly, or whether their boss has any idea how to tell them how to do their jobs, or not getting soundly trounced by a team barely ever in second gear. Especially when you knew that all along that Scolari was a poor choice as manager, and boooooooooooooo it’s all crashing down around our ears.

Anyway, multiplying this feeling by three is a questionable idea, especially when you have days like yesterday: Up at half seven to go on an away trip with Lodigiani to Collona, a little town 45 minutes on the train south from Termini, not far from Ciampino for those of you who have flown into there from the UK, and finishing at half eleven after a rip-roaring Roma-Milan game that also gave me one of the best goals I have ever seen live, courtesy of Brazilian Wonderkid de jour Pato.

The Lodi experience was as ever, amusing and odd, and a bit shambolic. This wasn’t helped by a new and disgusting character who went by the name Borgo. Borgo, for those of you who have seen ID, is a lot like Gumbo, only less simpathetic. He mumbles everything he says, usually spits while doing so, walks in a permanent zig-zag motion while nodding like a smackhead and dresses like he lives in a bin. Which for all I know he does.

Large portions of the whole day were spent shouting at him for:

  • Walking into the path of oncoming cars
  • Falling asleep
  • Spitting on people as he spoke
  • Drinking all the beer
  • Not singing
  • Saying fascisty things
  • Being constantly, incessantly on his fucking phone

He’d make a great sitcom character, only no-one would believe that someone could be so obnoxious, unpleasant and thoroughly useless and still have friends. I assume they keep him around as a sort of group cat, independent enough to buy pizza and drugs and to tell people to fuck off, but not quite well-formed enough a human being to really pay attention to anything anyone says, or care either way. He also stank, and farted like his arse was an exhaust pipe: in short, he was the sort of guy you go out of your way to avoid on away trips, but when there’s seven of you on the train it’s pretty tricky.

Luckily he did his best to avoid doing what he was supposed to be – supporting his team – and slept through most of the game and had his phone glued ot his ear for some reason or another, which seeing as he didn’t say a word to anyone at the other end hard to figure out why. Maybe he was testing to see  if there was enough brain up there to damage with radiation.

For once, the game was actually entertaining too, and although Lodi lost 3-1 and finished the game with nine men, some comical refereeing livening proceedings immeasurably. One of the Lodi guys was sent off for swearing at a player who had just two-footed him from behind, while the assaulter got away with a yellow, Collona had a goal disallowed which looked suspiciously over the line to me and at 3-1 decided that the best punishment for a Lodi player being flattened in the box was an indirect free-kick. On top of this, there was a 20 man brawl which ended in one of our boys being pulled off the pitch by his own keeper in a headlock. Beautiful. There was also a lot of not paying for things, like train travel and match tickets (I can’t believe they charge for this level of football) while waving the Portuguese flag around, and an irate old man who was so incensed at the use of a metal bin as a perch to direct chants from that he tried to kick it out from under him, all of which was pretty funny. And it was a very pretty place as well.

dscf07371

Not so funny was the fascist guy who turned up on his own with a Palestinian flag (not to express solidarity with the opressed and murdered peoples might I add, but just to show off his fuck-witted anti-semitism), and then sprayed some celtic crosses around the place, doing all of us the world of good. On the train back there was a lot of anger at this, partly because it reflects badly on the group and casts them all as of that political persuasion, which Simone in particular seemed annoyed about, but mostly because they want to keep politics out of the group. Borgo of course thought otherwise, the bell end. 

Simone also told us that he never pays for public transport, taking trains down to Naples and back for a laugh and declaring that ‘Trenitalia is my house’, as well as showing us just how he bunks the metro (the classic move getting of getting in behind someone else who’s put their ticket in – I think it helps he’s almost as a short as the barriers mind you), and then went into one of his classic chats about English football. I zoned out at this point, I was tired and my brain had had enough of trying to decipher the Rome dialect.

So, a brief bit about Chelsea then. I’ve managed to watch a decent amount of our stuff through various channels and I think I have a vague idea of what we’re about, and it’s not looking good. It not  just that United turned us over good and proper without playing all that great, that can happen at Old Trafford, it’s more that we seem to be spluttering and hacking in every position, and that I can’t help but see cracks forming that may never be repaired. Now having known Ray Wilkins when I was a kid, I know that he is in fact a smashing guy, but I’m not convinced he’s a good enough coach, nor do I think that Scolari’s other coaches know how to keep a team fit over the course of a long season. We looked shot to bits after an hour of Sunday’s game and we are still conceding stupid goals from set-pieces, something we hardly ever did under you-know-who. Even worse is that we can’t blame injuries for that; we had Terry and Carvalho in the middle of the back four, and Cole and Boswinga on either side. Add Mikel in front and Cech behind and we should be pretty much inpenetrable, but we’re not, with individual errors and poor organisation making previously frightening defenders look like Gareth Hall. The most damning statistic is that we’ve only won seven out of our last 18 games, which form that won’t win us any trophies, and while that doesn’t bother me a huge amount – a healthy, stable club in the long-term is far more important to me – it’s a shame to see such a talented and commited group of players underperforming so badly. I just hope those who repeatedly slagged off Avram Grant while we took the title race to the last day of the season and the final of the Champions League are happy with what our new media-friendly,  exspansive style is bringing us.

Anyway, after saying pretty much the same thing to my newly-arrived in Rome mate who’d come round to watch the match, we set of for the Olimpico batting a poor zero for two, as I believe the yanks say. You haven’t been following football if you didn’t know that David Beckham was making his debut for Milan on Sunday evening, an event so momentus even the Guardian decided to do a (rubbish) match report with barely a word said about the giallorossi. So here goes nothing. Totti was out, so they decided to not persue with the three-man triangle up front, and instead reverted back to the five man midfield that caused them so many problems at the start of the season, with Vucinic up front on his own, and Baptista providing support of sorts from an attacking midfield position. Presumbaly this was to keep the pressure up on an ancient Milan midfield, but instead it kept their even older back four relatively free of trouble, and consequently the pinged back and forth between the sides, although Milan looked marginally more dangerous. Pato in particular looks like a real player, and in the second half he proved it by scoring two goals, the second of which was just insanely good and sent their huge travelling support absolutely mental (highlights below – just before the minute mark).

That put them 2-1 up within the space of 15 minutes in the second half after going in at the break behind to a Vucinic goal, and after that it looked like they might run away with it, Pato and Kaka were causing all sorts of problems down the left, and Roma were struggling to keep hold of the ball. Then Vucinic scored, completely out of the blue, and for the last 20 minutes it was pretty much all Roma; Mirko himself could have had a hat-trick if a flashed cross hadn’t hit his heel while he wasn’t looking. All in all it was a damn exciting game of football, and perked me up no end. It was also good to see a big crowd at the Olimpico; when it gets going it’s a pretty special place.

So, three games, two losses (both spankings) and one draw. As Scolari always says in his press conferences; this is football.

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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The Longest Day (of Football)

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.

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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.

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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.