Singing against the enemy: Italian football songs, Part II

Last time out I looked at some of the songs which Italian fans sing in support of their own teams. But we all know that it’s a just as much fun, if not more so, to insult the opposition: what the Italians call cori contro, songs against, are one of the most enduring and often funniest parts of fan culture. It’s also one of the most potentially problematic — encouraging prejudice and hostility, even racism, and frequently containing allusions to violence.

Among all the hysterical media discourse on Italy’s hooligan problem over the last twelve months, I have read few more absurd assertions than that by a journalist in an Italian daily paper, who claimed that “Violence is directly related to the singing of cori contro — in England nobody sings songs against the opposition any more.” The English tradition of cori contro is of course alive and well, and I don’t imagine that efforts to eradicate them over here will have any success either.

Most numerous, and most vitriolic, is the category of songs against one’s direct derby rivals, but many of these are rather uninteresting, revolving around the general theme of ‘you’re shit and we hate you’. There are occasional flashes of comic genius though: Roma fans, who like to stigmatise their Lazio rivals as ignorant country bumpkins, once threatened during the derby “We’re going to steal your flock of sheep.” Meanwhile Treviso threaten their rivals Venezia that “We’ll burn La Fenice [the famous Venetian theatre] and chuck you in the canal.”

Clubs’ symbols are fair game for insult: the Roman wolf is berated with various songs asserting “you’re not wolves but just bastard dogs”. And so are clubs’ owners: an anti-Milan song attacks owner Silvio Berlusconi and Canale 5 (one of his Mediaset TV channels) along with a more familiar symbol of the rossoneri, Gianni Rivera. Meanwhile the classic anti-Juve chant insults both the fans and the club’s owners, the FIAT-owning Agnellis: “On a Monday morning, what humiliation, going to the factory to serve your boss; Oh Juventino, you suck the dicks of the entire Agnelli family.”

Juve are notorious for having fans from across Italy, especially in the South: Cagliari sing “Sardinian Juventino, you’re even shittier than the ones from Torino.”

Juve themselves sing what I am forced to admit is quite a funny ditty at the expense of Inter, who in 2001-22 thought they had won the Scudetto only to throw it away at the last minute in a hilarious fashion losing at Lazio. The bianconero song, entitled “5 May 2002″ runs as follows:

The fifth of May went rather badly
For Moratti and Internazionale
You were all in Rome, expecting
Celebrations, but forgetting
That the league is won in May
Not in July’s dreamy days,
And while there were tears from Ronie
Bianconeri began to party
And think of all you interisti
Down in Rome all sad and twisted
Oh interista, you know what we’ll do?
Put our hands in the air and sing for you…

INTER MERDA, INTER MERDA

[OK, this is my first and last effort at retaining some kind of poetry in the translation]. Inter can retaliate very simply by taunting Juventus with “Serie B” – Inter are now the only club never to have played outside the top flight.

There are of course some deeply unpleasant chants around. Italy has its own equivalent of the Munich air disaster, and very similar opposition songs attached to it. The Superga tragedy of May 1949, in which 31 people including 18 players were killed returning from a European game against Benfica, devastated Torino in a way which Munich could not destroy Manchester United. Sadly this is today acknowledged by rival chants about “that magical aeroplane”. Incidentally, for Toro’s 50th anniversary in 1999 they held a friendly against an all-star Italian League XI. I wouldn’t like to gamble on the likely consequences had the Turin derby fallen that week, but I’m not sure Juve would have behaved as well as Man City fans did, since they sing that “you only made history at Superga.”

A large proportion of cori contro are aimed less at a specific club, than at a city or a region. Some chants are generic and multipurpose, like the old favourite “Roman/Milanese/Torinese/ Catanese mothers are whores” or simply “Odio Bergamo” [I hate Bergamo] or Napoli or Genoa or any other three-syllable placed name which can be made to scan (Manchester, for instance). Insults can apply to whole regions. Tuscany has the most clubs of any region in Serie A, so a one-size fits all approach is useful: “Tuscan women are whores, whores, whores, and their sons are rabbits, rabbits, rabbits”.

The rabbit is a traditional emblem of cowardice.

Sampdoria fans get told “Genova stinks of fish and it’s sea is polluted” (part of the Italian ultras’ well-known campaign for cleaner beaches, perhaps.) Meanwhile fans of the Milan and Turin clubs are taunted over their bad weather: to the tune of Guantanamera, “Solo la nebbia! Avete solo la nebbia!” – only fog, you only have fog. Not something for which any part of the British Isles could safely mock any other area.

Violence is frequently present in these songs — not that many people are likely to actually have the hand-grenade suggested in the short rhythmic chant “Bomba a mano su Milano!” Roma fans suggest that Milan should be torched – “Milano in fiamme” – while Juve fans sing exactly the same song but substituting Florence in flames.

But it’s Napoli, and Naples as a city, which really bears the brunt of regional prejudice. “Come on Vesuvius, clean them with fire” is a typical sentiment, while local rivals Cavese update things slightly by urging Osama Bin Laden to direct his plane towards Napoli Central Station. Meanwhile the classic chant runs:

Smell what a stench, even dogs flee
The Neapolitans are arriving
O cholera and earthquake-afflicted
You’ve never seen soap in your lives
Napoli are shit, Napoli [have]cholera
you’re the shame of all Italy,
Neapolitan, dirty African
Sooner or later we’ll stab you.

This delightful ditty combines all the worst stereotypes about Naples — poverty, dirt, disease — with a garnishing of racism and violence to boot. Though it’s not only northerners who look on those south of them with contempt. Bari fans, safe in the knowledge that they are all of 150km north of their hated rivals, call Lecce fans “Africans.” If this is irony, I struggle to appreciate it myself. Given that both Bari and Lecce are part of the same region, this shows how closely integrated racist and localist discourse are. But by and large though most cori contro stay within the bounds of acceptability and humour.

Next time out, I’ll conclude with a quick look at political chants and protest songs.

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