Tag Archives: Italy

A New Dawn For Italian Football Supporters?

AnconaThe Summer of 2010 won’t be remembered as the happiest of times for Italian football. The Home Minister introduced a compulsory ID card for fans known as the ‘Tessera del Tifoso’, which has threatened supporters’ freedom and generated chaos, particularly for those travelling to away matches. The national team’s departure from the World Cup came at an embarrassingly early stage, and as the beginning of the season drew closer, the prevailing atmosphere was one of uncertainty and concern. As a result of their chronic financial problems, about 30 clubs were barred from entry by their Leagues, and were relegated to lower divisions or forced out of existence altogether. Such a tragic state of affairs is not unfamiliar to Italian football fans, but this Summer represented the nadir of the crisis.

As a result, the Italian Supporters’ Trust movement has mushroomed, and three organizations have been created with the help of Supporters Direct and their Italian collaborators. Of course, ensuring that these organisations met Supporters Direct’s aims and values required months of behind the scenes meetings, research and education. The fact that these new Trusts developed over the Summer shows why they are so special. Traditionally a season of relaxation, hope and expectation for fans (but increasingly one where thousands of them have to face up to the rumours surrounding their own club’s financial problems), their emergence reflects the level of desire for change amongst Italian football fans.

During the last few months, fans of S.S Cavese 1919, F.B.C. Unione Venezia and U.S. Ancona 1905 provided a tangible response, a hint of hope, a signal that something is changing; even in Italy. Just a few years ago, it would have been risky to place any faith in an Italian Supporters’ Trust movement. Several initiatives, grounded not in fandom but in money-making or political interests, had failed in previous years. The Italian culture of fan ownership is still in its infancy, compared with that of other European countries. But many supporters have become frustrated by what they have seen happen to their clubs, frustrated by their inability to help — until now. Thanks to the Internet, an echo of what has become commonplace elsewhere in Europe is beginning to be heard, and interest in fan ownership is a major part of this development. At the aforementioned three clubs, a total of 3000 supporters decided to take action — and in a few weeks achieved results to be proud of.

By law, Italian professional clubs must be the equivalent of English public or private limited companies, and semi-professional or amateur clubs have chosen this structure as well. Therefore control of clubs, from the top to the bottom of the pyramid, has traditionally been concentrated in the hands of private, individual owners. Fans have always been expected to accept decisions from above, despite the ever-present threat of mass protests. The average Italian football fan is also generally considered a stupid, vulgar and uneducated person (of course, there are also fans of this type in other countries!). This widespread perception has presented a major challenge for the new trust movement, but its first steps have been promising. With legal assistance from Supporters Direct, the first groups chose to structure themselves as associations — a simple, democratic and not for profit organisation, which allows members (i.e fans) to buy and own shares through the trust.

Let’s have a closer look at these three trusts, which are now officially Supporters Direct affiliates. They all aim to be involved in the running of their club, to be represented on the board, and in the end to become shareholders, as well as to be active in the community and in social initiatives under their club colours.

SOGNO CAVESE

Cavese currently compete in Girone B of the Lega Pro Prima Divisione, so it’s a professional club. Their status came under serious threat last Summer, when the club risked going out of existence because of a deep financial crisis. It was saved at the last moment, thanks to the actions of many fans and citizens, who donated more than €200,000. This wasn’t the first desperate moment in the history of Cavese, and the supporters decided to do something to protect their beloved club. The footballing environment in Cava dei Tirreni is complicated, but Sogno Cavese has rapidly become a reference point for everyone who cares about the club; thanks to their credibility, transparency and independence. The trust was launched at the beginning of July, includes fans from every section of the stadium and has 600 members, including local hero Rino Santin, who was the manager during the club’s golden era.

When all the people who had given money during the preseason fundraising were asked to choose a representative, the trust Chairman won the election hands down, and is now on the club’s board, with advisory, proactive and checking functions.

“Through Sogno Cavese, we want to become protagonists in our own history. The unbreakable bond between a town and its population, a footballing history that stretches back to 1919, and the passion for the club shirt are the reasons behind our decision to start a supporters’ trust”, says board member Giuseppe Abbamonte. “To us, Cavese is more than a mere football team: it embodies our passion, our love for the local area, and respect for our history. As an integral part of the community, we believe that the club should be governed by democratic principles, and based on participation and representation. We’re committing ourselves with passion, and setting aside self-interest. We are aware we’re not the only ones who have chosen to do this, and we hope that our dream [the Italian word for which is 'sogno'] will soon become a reality.”

VENEZIA UNITED

One of Italy’s most famous cities, Venice was also among the first to produce an alternative model for running the local football club, Venezia. It wasn’t implemented but left as a legacy the idea that it is possible for fans to collaborate with local institutions and businesses. In the Summer of 2009 the club was unable to weather yet another crisis, and thus was relegated from Lega Pro Prima Divisione to the amateur Serie D, where it competes today. As a result of this, the fans decided that they wanted to have an important role in the new era, and to help the club become successful and sustainable. At the beginning of July they founded Venezia United. The trust now has some 1200 members, including important figures from the local sporting and civil arena, as well as the team captain.

Their goals for the future are ambitious: they want to double in membership size over the next three months, and to add €50,000 to their capital by the end of 2010. They also hope to buy some of the shares that are due to be issued soon, following the owner’s announcement that he can no longer be responsible for the running of the club. Local institutions gave – and are still giving – their help, but it’s not sufficient and at the time of writing, no credible buyer has emerged. Venezia United needs to be part of the future ownership structure, in order to let their opinions on how the club should be run going forward be heard; and acted upon.

“More than 1100 members in just over three months is quite a number, and it indicates that the route being taken is the right one. Now comes the challenging task of broadening our focus, reducing the influence of militant supporters, and beginning to work on the economic realities affecting our project”, says Chairman Franco Vianello Moro. “Our goal is still some way off, but the scope of the commitment that we have made has been recognised by the Town Council, as well as the FBC Unione Venezia- with whom we are discussing a possible position on the club board, initially as auditors.”

SOSTENIAMOLANCONA

Ancona was one of the clubs to suffer the most last Summer: it wasn’t accepted into Serie B (where it finished 17th last season) and was sent down to the regional Eccellenza. SOSTENIAMOLANCONA (let’s support Ancona) was born at the end of August, and the fans were heavily involved in the early development of the new club. They voted on the new name, the colours, and the stadium. The trust now has around 800 members gathered under the motto “our passion can’t be relegated” — sentiments which have been borne out by the average attendance of 3500 fans for each home game.

The trust is working closely with the club, and has two elected representatives on the board. The present owner has already announced that if the club are promoted at the end of this season it will become a limited company and SOSTENIAMOLANCONA will take possession of 17% of the shares. He will retain 34% and sell the remaining 49% on the market. This arrangement ensures that the Trust will continue to have a crucial role in the decision-making process.

“Our association is truly the result of spontaneous action, precipitated by a desperate situation. The project has grown step by step, with widespread fan involvement. Now I’m more convinced than ever that the supporters are what really counts”, said chairman David Miani. “It was important for us to try and bring about change, not just to talk. We really tried to do something different for our passion, for our club, in its difficult moment. We wanted to be able to say that when needed, we did everything that we could possibly do. It seemed impossible but now we are 800-strong, we have two auditors on the club board, we’re working towards a brighter future; and we are reviving the people’s passion for the club, even in a very low league”.

Supporters Direct is also in touch with other fan groups in Italy, including myRoma (an AS Roma fan group with more than 300 members and 0.0045% of the club’s shares), Modena Sport Club co-operative (more than 150 members), and Il Mio Potenza association (more than 100 members). A new initiative in Brescia is also expected over the next few months.

The Italian movement for fan involvement and ownership is part of a wider movement that is growing across Europe with the help of Supporters Direct; which includes clubs from several countries such as the United Kingdom, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Greece and Israel. Each country clearly has its own particular contexts and problems, but it has become clear that the factors which unite the fans are far more numerous than those which divide them. The sense of being part of a wider movement is a source of pride and confidence for all concerned.


A World Cup Miscellany: Group F

This is the sixth in series of brief and miscellaneous perspectives on the World Cup groups and nations (here’s Group A, Group B, Group C, Group D, and Group E).  The mostly light-hearted intention is to both provoke and satisfy curiosities, to utilize Eric Hobsbawn’s notion that “The imagined community of millions seems more real as a team of eleven named people,” to fill some space towards the World Cup frenzy…

What if the World Cup was organized by some criteria beyond just nation-state boundary?  What if it was like boxing or wrestling, with different weight classes to make matches competitive?  Or what if it were like American professional sports, where the teams that get to play are the ones with the most money?  What would be the criteria to keep things fair in world football?

Taking this hypothetical as a question of what objective characteristics matter most to a country’s soccer success, I’ll turn (yet again) to the book Soccernomics: Why England Loses.  Authors Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski identify three key variables in their effort to statistically predict international football success by country: experience (ie, number of international games played in a nation’s history), wealth, and population.  I don’t really buy Kuper and Szymanski’s argument for experience—it just doesn’t makes sense that what happened 50 years ago matters much to a team now, and seems more like their Euro-centrism in statistical guise (since most western European countries have been playing regular internationals for longer than countries in other parts of the world).  I do buy that wealth, operationalized as GDP per capita, matters—but that wouldn’t be much fun as a criteria for a World Cup because it would leave Brazil and Argentina playing against mostly minnows while the US gets whooped by Germany and France.

That leaves population.  And population brings me to Group F: the Super Flyweights of the 2010 World Cup.  As the smallest quartet in the tournament, you could combine the populations of all four teams in Group F—Italy with 60 million, Paraguay with 6.3 million, New Zealand with 4 million, and Slovakia with 5.4 million—and get a population that would fit two and a half times over in Brazil alone.  Or four times over in the United States (as a side note, when people express surprise that Americans have bought more World Cup tickets than any other nation outside the hosts, remind them that the US is quite easily the largest country in the tournament—and certainly the largest with significant disposable income).

So what would a World Cup contested by population brackets look like?  The Best Eleven blog did much of the work on this back in January with a post comparing FIFA rankings by population for countries with over 100 million (the US came in third behind Brazil and Russia—with Bangladesh and Pakistan at the bottom of the table); 50-100 million; 30-50 million; 20-30 million; 10-20 million; and then a separate post for countries with 8-10 million; 6-8 million; 5-6 million; 4-5 million; 3-4 million; 2-3 million; 1-2 million; and less than 1 million (go Bahrain and Cyprus!).

In that scheme Group F looks pretty good.  Italy was number one in the 50-100 million group (with Myanmar and the Philippines at the bottom of the table); Slovakia came second to Denmark in the 5-6 million people group; Paraguay was third in the 6-8 million group (behind only Switzerland of World Cup teams); and New Zealand came in a respectable fifth in a tough 4-5 million group (behind Croatia, Norway, Ireland, and Costa Rica).

Now what if we took this line of thinking to another logical extreme and tried to make the World Cup a representative democracy?   If we value all human life equally, shouldn’t teams be representative of the world’s population?  Well, probably not.  Because if you did it that way, you’d have to allot 12 of the 32 spots to teams from China (with about 20% of the world’s population) and India (with about 17%).  The US, with about 4.5% of the world’s population, would get almost a team and half—but to make up that other half it would probably need to combine with Mexico (1.5% of the world’s population) and that just wouldn’t be any fun.  Brazil, with about 2.8% of the world’s population, would still just about get a team—but so would Indonesia (3.39%), Pakistan (2.49%), and Bangladesh (2.38%).  Group F, on the other hand, represents just 1.1% of the world population combined—good for about a third of an entry in a truly representative 32 team World Cup.  Finally, Europe (with about 10.9% of the world’s population) would only get about three teams in total (compared to 13 in South Africa 2010)—confirming that indeed FIFA would never let this happen.

It is, however, worth keeping in mind that for all the discussion about youth development schemes, league set-ups, coaching traditions, sports culture, and “passion for the game,” population does matter.  Why, for example, is Australia likely to be significantly better than New Zealand at the World Cup?  Could it be as simple as the fact that the Australian population, and thus the Aussie player pool, is nearly six times bigger than the Kiwis?  It is probably quite significant that since tiny Uruguay (currently the 132nd largest country in the world with 3.4 million) won the first and fourth World Cups in 1930 and 1950, no nation with a current population under 40 million has lifted the trophy (by my count, Argentina is the least-populous winner).

Fortunately, part of the fun of the World Cup is that it ultimately comes down to eleven players on the day—regardless of how big the national player pool.  I might be able to explain the contrast between New Zealand and Australia in terms of population, but that doesn’t explain why the Kiwis are likely to get pasted by comparably sized Paraguay and Slovakia.  To figure that one out, we’ll just need to watch the games.

Group F: The Group of _______________

In addition to the notably small population size, Group F has some intriguing statistical character (see the table below).  Take Paraguay: besides the African nations, Paraguay and Honduras are the two poorest countries in the tournament (Paraguay as a GDP per capita of $4500, Honduras $4100) and the two with the lowest ranking on the United Nations Human Development Index (Paraguay is 101st, Honduras 112th).  Yet for Paraguay that may be misleading since it also ranks as the World Cup nation with the highest level of economic inequality (based on the “Gini index” scores reported on Wikipedia from the CIA World Factbook).  The only two countries close to Paraguay (at 128th of 135 countries) on inequality are the current and future World Cup hosts: South Africa was one spot better at 127th and Brazil three spots up at 125th.

What I found most statistically interesting about this group, however, was another random category in which Paraguay tops the World Cup nations: corruption.  On this one, according to Transparency International, Paraguay is actually tied with Côte d’Ivoire at 154th out of 180 world nations on ‘perceptions of corruption.’  Slovakia (at 56th) and Italy (at 63rd) do a bit better—but of course we all know the reputation of Italian football.  John Foot, in his aptly titled book Winning at All Costs: A Scandalous History of Italian Soccer, has an entire section on ‘Corruption, Suspicion, Legitimation’ where he notes:

“For the Italian football fan, the referee is always corrupt, unless proven otherwise.  What remains to be discovered is how he is or has been corrupt, in favour of whom, and why.  It is this thesis that dominates most discussions of Italian football.  Conspiracy theories abound – are hegemonic, in fact.  Who will be allowed to win next year, next week, tomorrow, and why?  In Italy, there is the strong conviction that the state, its rules and regulations are flexible entities, besmirched with corruption and therefore ready to be flouted and challenged…In Italy, as the writer and football critic Giovanni Arpino put it, ‘those who hold power, even for ninety minutes, are never looked upon in a good light’.”

A generalization?  Sure; but in soccer terms the Italians have to be considered at least as corrupt as the Paraguayans.

Interestingly, however, all these perceptions of corruption are counterbalanced in Group F by the presence of New Zealand—ranked by Transparency International as the least corrupt country in the world.  But still, while the nation of New Zealand seems beyond suspicion, any national team with a center back who can’t get a game with the New York Red Bulls on the roster (Andrew Boyens) could only be described as ‘suspect.’  So I’m labeling Group F The Group of Suspicion and Innuendo.

Who would advance if there were any justice in the world?

ESPN's 2010 FIFA World Cup Murals by the Cape Town-based AM I Collective

The Paraguayans are a tough one to calculate with my secret formula of soccer history and global politics.  Being relatively small and relatively poor makes them seem a bit like a noble underdog, and it would be  just for them to win in the name of their fallen compatriot—national team regular Salvador Cabañas who was shot, but not killed, in Mexico City.  I also tend to think they just look majestic in their red and white stripes.  But it’s not enough to overcome being the most unequal country in the tournament: Paraguay is out.

The Italians also have much against them.  Silvio Berlusconi.  That ugly catenaccio lock-down style.  The traitor Giuseppe Rossi.  I want to hate them.  But I just can’t—perhaps because I know they don’t particularly care what anyone else thinks (and they are not bad in regard to inequality: at 38th, they’re just three spots behind Canada).  They’ll win, and they are in.

Pop quiz: which World Cup team will likely feature two Stanford University graduates?  Hint: it’s not the US or England.  I feel some affinity for New Zealand thanks to their strange connections with the much maligned American college soccer system (both Simon Elliott and Ryan Nelson finished college at Stanford, after the Cardinal soccer program was briefly taken over by former New Zealand national team coach, former Scottish international, and current Notre Dame coach Bobby Clark).  In addition to the two from Stanford, Tony Lochhead played at UC Santa Barbara, Tim Brown played at the University of Cincinnati, Andrew Barron played at William Carey University in Mississippi, Aaron Clapham finished at the University of Louisville, Andrew Boyens played at the University of New Mexico, and there may be others I’ve missed.  So even if they won’t win any games, I’ll take the Kiwis in a debate about the value of a good liberal arts education.  The problem is that I just don’t think soccer matters enough in New Zealand—everything else (including Rugby) is going too well.  So despite a respect for higher education, New Zealand is out.

That leaves me with Slovakia—and I’m fine with that.  After they split with the Czechs I kind of lost the plot, but that whole ‘Velvet Divorce’ seemed quite reasonable.  So if there were any justice in the world, Italy and Slovakia would advance from Group F.  But, as the lack of representative democracy in the World Cup makes clear, there is rarely any justice in the world.

Group F – Some Stats

FIFA rank Betting odds on winning the Cup Population GDP per capita Rank out of 182 nations on the Human Development Index Life expectancy Rank out of 180 nations on perception of corruption A subjective ranking of how much the WC matters by country(1-32)
Italy 5 14 60 mil 29100 18 80.5 63 13
Paraguay 30 80 6.3 mil. 4500 101 71.8 154 16
New Zealand 78 2500 4 mil. 26700 20 80.2 1 30
Slovakia 38 250 5.4 mil. 21200 42 74.7 56 22
- FIFA rank is based on the “FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking” updated April 28th, 2010
- Betting odds on winning the World Cup are from the “win-market” best odds as of May 12th on the Guardian web-site.
- Population is rounded from estimates drawing on various sources in Wikipedia.
- GDP per capita is in US dollars and based on 2008 list by the International Monetary Fund “derived from purchasing power parity (PPP) calculations.”
- The Human Development Index rank is from the United Nations Development Program combining 2007 data on “Life Expectancy, Education, Standard of living and GDP.”
- Life expectancy in years is based on the 2009 list from the CIA World Factbook for “overall life expectancy at birth.”
– Ranking on perceptions of corruption is based on the 2009 Index from Transparency International.
- The 1-32 ranking of how much the World Cup matters is my own totally subjective sense of how much the country as a whole cares about how the team performs in South Africa; it is intended entirely in fun.

My Roma: Serie A’s First Supporters’ Trust Is Established

AS RomaOn 27 May, the first ever Supporters’ Trust in Serie A was formally established in Rome, with a ‘Constitutional Assembly’ convened to agree the structures and purpose of the new association whose ultimate objective is fan ownership at AS Roma. After the morning meeting, where 83 supporters symbolically assembled to approve the Statute, the paperwork for the “MyRoma” association was registered with the notary and the organisation was finally operational. Months of hard-work, planning, publicity and dialogue have led up to this point: now it’s time to see how fans will react.

While there have been proposals about ‘azionaraito popolare’ (popular shareholding) for several years and at various levels of the Italian football pyramid, Thursday’s event was the biggest step forward so far for supporter ownership in Italy.

The launch meeting, held incongruously in the heart of the fascist-era EUR district, was a chance for organiser Walter Campanile and his team to reveal their plans for the first two years of activity. The priority from the start has been the purchase of shares to give supporters a voice in the running of the club, but other ideas include improving communications (notoriously poor at AS Roma), reworking ticket sales arrangements, promoting initiatives which will get young fans more involved, and trying to solve the problems created by the government’s fan ID card proposal, the controversial ‘Tessera del Tifoso’. One of the key aims which Campanile has identified is that of involving overseas supporters: Roma fans can be found in France, Greece, the UK, Indonesia, Australia, the USA, Saudi Arabia… why not involve them too? Many overseas fans would jump at the chance to get involved in running the club they love. Of course they will strengthen the project financially but beyond that, the trust aims to build a genuine sense of a global supporters’ community. The international dimension influenced the name chosen for the trust, MyRoma, which was selected by users of the website.

Antonia Hagemann, of Supporters’ Direct Europe, had flown over from London to participate in the meeting (while I got the chance to practice my English to Italian interpreting skills, endeavouring to turn her speech into some kind of comprehensible Italian for the audience!). Her first observation was that this was the most elegant occasion of its kind she’d ever attended to: no replica shirts here, just chic Italian tailoring all the way! She spoke about the importance of pressure on clubs over governance both from below – ie through Supporters’ Trusts like MyRoma – and from above, through SD itself and from bodies like UEFA and the European Commission. Support from SD has been vital for Campanile’s team and it is very clear that while many distinctively Italian – or even distinctively Roman – touches have been incorporated, the basic model to be adopted is one imported from abroad. The lawyers have closely studied other European structures, in particular those from Spain and Germany, and Campanile has been on a variety of visits both to the Arsenal Supporters’ Trust and to an international conference in Brussels to meet other fans further down the same road.

Inspiration and encouragement came from Jens Wagner, vice-chairman of the trust at HSV Hamburg (where the club is 100% owned by the fans), who spoke about the ways in which trusts can improve relationships with the club. Beyond the obvious priorities of stability and good governance, he addressed issues like rights for disabled fans, programmes for attracting young supporters and the role of fans in upholding & maintaining club traditions. His experience was clearly fascinating for the assembled fans, demonstrating the potential that supporter ownership really offers. On the other hand the audience were perhaps a little disconcerted by Wagner’s casual, indeed rather deadpan announcement that the Hamburg trust’s measures had included the creation of a dedicated supporters’ graveyard. That might be an import too far.

As for the 83 founder members who made up the Constituent Assembly (one for each year of Roma’s history), these were romanisti chosen from all walks of life to create as representative as possible a cross-section of the club’s support. The name which grabbed most attention was that of legendary player Giacomo Losi, nick-named ‘Core de Roma’ (386 appearances for AS Roma, 1954-69). The list includes members of parliament, presidents of fan clubs, office workers, computer programmers, actors, shop owners, lawyers, barbers, singers, graphic designers, air traffic controllers, playwrights, factory workers, university professors, historic leaders of the main ultras groups from the Curva Sud: all these and more besides are represented among the 83 founder members, to reflect the democratic, inclusive aspirations of the Trust.

Next up come practicalities: the association needs a headquarters, a bank account and some kind of secretarial services before it can start enrolling paying members. In the short term, MyRoma will be run by an appointed steering committee of lawyers, accountants and administers, with Campanile as President. Once the association is up and running, elections will be held for all roles. The impression given right from the start has been that this is a serious project, and a large group of people have volunteered considerable amounts of their time and expertise already. Annual membership doesn’t come cheap, at €150 per adult (though there are reductions for overseas members and under-18s). While this is understandable given the need to raise cash to buy shares, it’s possible that this may prove a deterrent to some possible members, especially given the tough economic climate in Italy at the moment – and it’s worth noting that at Hamburg, members only pay €48 a year. Only time will tell whether this pricing policy works out or whether it proves simply too expensive – let’s hope not.

After the meeting and a brief Q&A session the new trust’s board and founder members adjourned downstairs for a short ‘brindisi’ or toast. As local press photographers milled around in the spring sunshine, we were offered nibbles and a prudent half glass of prosecco (well, it was only Thursday lunchtime). A cautious and low-key celebration perhaps, but one which reflects the reality that we were celebrating only the beginning of something, and as yet nothing more. In many ways the hardest work still lies ahead.

The new Trust’s website is at MyRoma.it but is still being assembled. Complete documentation is online in Italian, English versions are imminent, with French and Spanish translations to follow.


Why Turkey Should Host Euro 2016

A little buried under World Cup hype and Robbie Findley hysteria is the fact that UEFA will be selecting the host for Euro 2016 this Friday at its Executive Committee meeting in Nyon, choosing between Italy, France and Turkey.

We can rule out Italy from the three final bidders, with UEFA already having offered serious reservations about ticketing, transportation and stadia infrastructure plans in their bid. France might seem an obvious favourite with Michel Platini heading UEFA, but Platini cannot vote or take part in the final debate (and nor can his Turkish or Italian counterparts, of course).

Turkey would be a bold choice and would better match, in fact, Platini’s own efforts to  reach out more away from the traditional western European strongholds of UEFA.

And remember, from 2016, the European Championship will expand to a slightly absurd 24 teams, increasing the demands on the host considerably. This piece gives us a good overview of the financial states of each bid, and it’s perhaps surprising to learn that Turkey “only” needs to spend 920 million Euros to prepare for the finals, compared to 1.7 billion Euros for the French, who hosted a World Cup just twelve years ago.

Despite this, the general consensus appears to be that Turkey is the riskier choice, but with much greater upside for European football than choosing France to host their third UEFA championship. The biggest event Turkey has hosted is the 2005 UEFA Champions League final.

World Football Insider has a good overview of Turkey’s bid, concluding that:

Expansion of UEFA’s flagship tournament into a new territory and the chance to grow the game in Turkey makes this the most attractive bid. But it’s also the most risky, with seven stadiums planned and massive infrastructure projects to complete. Turkey would be up against the clock if it were awarded the championships. But the government’s guarantees to provide 100% of the estimated total investment are an important and persuasive element of the bid. However, the Ukraine factor may ultimately count against them. The 2012 co-host’s trouble-hit preparations have been a major headache for UEFA and the governing body might look for a safer option this time around.

Concerns over Turkey because of Ukraine’s rather unique problems are harsh, however.  Giving Euro 2016 to Turkey would be a major spur for the sport in that country. France has hosted two World Cups and two European championships already; little is to be gained for football’s development by going there again.

Supporter Ownership in Italy

mister-mi

In recent years the model of fan ownership exercised through supporters’ trusts has been increasingly high-profile in British football, not least thanks to the sterling work of the national body Supporters Direct (SD). Meanwhile, very different yet nonetheless successful models of fan ownership exist across the continent, as seen throughout the Bundesliga or alternatively with the ‘socio’ model as at Real Madrid or Barcelona. Though the scale varies along with the specifics of the structure, all of these systems share the basic features of greater fan participation in the running of the club. But until recently few projects of this kind have been found in Italy. Now at last that might be beginning to change.

The reasons for the Italian situation, which is in some ways anomalous, are many and varied: the traditional model of club ownership has always been that of the wealthy industrialist family (car makers, oil barons, shoe manufacturers, food processing plant owners, bankers, newspaper magnates, shopping centre owners, building giants, the list is endless). Club presidents and chief executives are simultaneously running other major commercial enterprises, while their boards are stuffed with wives, brothers, cousins, aunts… incidentally, Italy has been more open to female club presidents or directors than you might expect – when they’re the daughters of original buyers.

In this paternalistic model, where fewer clubs are quoted on the stock exchange than in the UK, fan ownership has rarely been seriously discussed until recently. Moreover the legal situation in each country differs such that models are not universally transferrable: in Italy cooperatives may be the most helpful way to structure collective ownership, but many Italians have feared that the idea is impracticable here.

In the last decade, though, there has been a continual stream of clubs going into administration or disbanding entirely at all levels of Italian football from Serie A through to D, and an increasing resentment among fans at the caprices of the wealthy few at the expense of the many. Perhaps the moment for supporters’ trusts has arrived.

Modena Calcio and AS Roma

Modena Calcio, currently playing in Serie B, are leading the way in this regard with a project for fan ownership, launched in December 2008 by former fanzine editor Andrea Gigliotti. The project in Modena is currently raising funds in order to buy shares in the club while also developing closer ties with the current administration. Meanwhile the Modena Sport Club Cooperative also hosted the first Italian conference on fan ownership – known as ‘Azionariato Popolare’ or ‘popular shareholding’ in Italian. Supporters’ Direct Europe is also helping them out: this is a section of SD dedicated to helping clubs across Europe to set up Supporters’ Trusts, created with the encouragement of UEFA and the European Commission. With the assistance of SD Europe, similar moves are afoot in other Italian clubs like Bari and Pisa, but the largest club where this idea is currently being discussed is Roma.

AS Roma

Burdened with over €300 million of debts incurred not by the club but by its parent holding company, Italpetroli, Roma has been in trouble for some time now. The current owners, the Sensi family, have resisted approaches from several foreign buyers in their efforts to hang on to the club which remains one of the family’s main assets; they are also notoriously incommunicative. The club has had little or no cash to spend on the transfer market for several years – making its performance in the Champions’ League in recent years particularly impressive – but supporters’ patience is exhausted. This is the ideal backdrop for motivating people to set up their own Supporters’ Trust, since the values of accountability, transparency and democratic decision making which fan ownership promotes are precisely those qualities most lacking at Roma right now.

The project coordinator Walter Campanile, however, is keen to emphasise that his project is “pro-Roma not anti-Sensi”. Rightly, he emphasises that long term stability and participation should be the goals of a supporters’ trust, rather than quick fixes. A website has been created to gather potential members and lawyers are investigating the Italian legal implications of the model. In theory at least there is no reason why a system which is successful at Bayern or Barcelona can’t work in Rome as well, a city of over 4 million people of whom at least half would claim to support the Giallorossi (at a conservative estimate!) Perhaps the greatest obstacle will be public scepticism: Italians are convinced that their country is special (it is) and uniquely difficult (it isn’t) and that Italian football is entirely unlike any other football anywhere in the world (hmmm).

At this stage Campanile is simply recruiting moral support through online and media campaigns, and slowly but surely interest is being generated within Rome and, just as importantly, elsewhere. I should here declare my interest: as the official English translator of the project I am not precisely a neutral observer. It was impossible for me not to support the idea, as an AFC Wimbledon sympathiser and a believer in direct democratic action. It is true that there are lot of ingrained interests at risk in Italian football, from political connections to ultras’ groups, which may make it harder to promote the supporters’ trust model here. But it wasn’t precisely easy in England to begin with, and few things worth doing are ever easy. Watch this space.

The Sweeper: Mario Balotelli and Racism in Italian Football

Mario Balotelli

Big Story

Last season, Juventus were forced to play a game behind closed doors after fans racially abused Inter’s Mario Balotelli. On Saturday, Balotelli was abused again — this time by Cagliari fans — and the match went on, a decision criticised after by both Massimo Moratti, President of Inter, and by Italian Footballers Association president Sergio Campana. Campana believed the referee should have stopped the game, saying “Faced with this type of behaviour, referees should suspend the match, something which did not happen in Cagliari. In these cases the rules are very clear. Suspension of matches are part of the rules and rules have to be respected.”

Unfortunately, the referee can only do this if the official in charge of public safety at the stadium orders it and this is conveyed to the referee.  It would work better if this is a two-way process, as the referees (especially the fourth official) are best-placed to notice racial abuse of a player: they should be able to take the initiative to abandon a game.

Meanwhile, Cagliari president Massimo Cellino — who was not even at the game — has claimed the abuse was not because of Balotelli’s race. “It’s wrong to take the whistles and interpret them wrongly,” he said to Sky Sport 24. “It was just a small episode that should not be made more important than it is. In Cagliari people aren’t racist.” Many Cagliari fans have taken this tack, claiming the abuse was because of his personality.

If the authorities conclude otherwise, they should ensure precedent is followed from last season and force Cagliari to play behind closed doors as well as beef up the ability of referees to take prompt action.

Worldwide News

  • Turns out the MLS Cup final isn’t a bigger draw for network television than Desperate Housewives: due to its primetime spot, Disney are putting MLS Cup on ESPN instead of ABC this year, the SportsBusiness Journal reports. It’s not news the game is on a Sunday night, and ESPN is hardly Mun2, so all the fuss about this seems a little overblown.
  • Ronaldinho has denied reports he’s to quit the game. The Brazilian’s decline hasn’t had the dramatic serious substance-abuse drama of Maradona, Best or Gascoigne, but in its own way, his story in footballing terms is just as sad: a decline based on malaise and money cutting in its prime one of the sport’s greatest ever talents.
  • Adidas and Puma have finally ended their feud! Meanwhile, Adidas extended their major sponsorship deal with UEFA through 2017.
  • A touch of trouble broke out in Australia’s A-League, between fans of the Melbourne Victory and Adelaide United. The Roar points out just how minimal it was, but offers the familiar warning that just the whiff of violence could turn off the general public in Australia.
  • It’s about time: the Football League have finally announced they are investigating the takeover of Notts County. We pointed out many weeks ago that the mystery behind the financing of the club needed to be solved by authorities.
  • Which top flight European team has had the most disappointing start to the season?  It simply has to be Hertha Berlin, in title contention last season but now humiliatingly rooted to the bottom of the Bundesliga.

The Sweeper appears daily. For more rambling and links throughout the day every day, follow your editor Tom Dunmore @pitchinvasion on Twitter.

The Sweeper appears daily. For more rambling and links throughout the day every day, follow your editor Tom Dunmore @pitchinvasion on Twitter.

Breakaway League: Serie A and the Crisis in Italian Football

The Italian season opener, the Supercoppa Italiana (Italian Super Cup), between Serie A champions Internazionale and Italian Cup winners Lazio, is taking place abroad again at Beijing’s Olympic Stadium the Bird’s Nest. It’s a showy step in Italian football’s attempts to keep pace with the Premier League’s branded behemoths — and one that also includes a breakaway league reminiscent of England’s league transformation in the 1990s. Yet these flashy moves can’t hide the underlying crisis in Italian football.

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The Italian Super Cup has been played in Washington D.C., New Jersey and even Tripoli in the past, but the early kick-off and lack of Italian television coverage this time has led to criticism, such as this scathing commentary from Four Four Two’s Riccardo Rossi.

In fact, the Football League’s decision to move the game to China has not only penalised the genuine Inter and Lazio fans, but also taken the game out of the realm of an Italian sporting event.

The League may see their coffers swell by something in the region of 2.5million euro for the pleasure of Inter and Lazio having to trek across a few time zones to feather the Bird’s Nest stadium.

However, the spectacle will be played in front of a crowd that, in all honesty, will not be too concerned who they support as long as they get full value for their 21 euro entrance fee.

“We are exporting the ‘brand’,” pleaded the League in their defence, before demonstrating a total disregard for their core followers back home by pithily adding: “fans who are interested will find a way to watch the game.”

Serie A powerbrokers are unlikely to be concerned by these views, with their focus on the branding battle as a league worldwide with the Premier League and La Liga, one Italian clubs have been losing for the past decade. The increasingly poor performance of Italian clubs in the Champions League and UEFA Cup and in their status as global brands has led to a crisis of confidence and a dramatic attempt to kickstart the top flight. Five years ago, Italy boasted two of the top five clubs in Deloitte’s Football Money League; this year, the top five all came from England, Spain and Germany.

Lega Calcio Serie A

Exporting the global brand of Italian football isn’t the only way Serie A clubs are attempting to keep up with the Premier League. In April it was announced that, much like the Premier League in the 1990s, Serie A would break away from Serie B to form “Lega Calcio Serie A”. 19 of the 20 clubs in Serie A voted in favour of the move after negotiations with Serie B broke down, and the new league is scheduled to launch next year.

Lega Calcio Serie A will sell collective television rights for the 20 clubs. Currently, the top clubs manage their own rights, but do share revenue to support Serie B. The collective Serie A sale ought to assist well-managed upper-tier teams below the likes of Milan and Juventus such as Udinese, on the fringes of Champions League qualification and likely to be able to increase their revenue substantially, which may improve the pitiful recent performance of mid-tier Italian teams in the Europa League (formerly UEFA Cup).

Though they will no longer directly sell their own rights, the Italian Champions League elite will hope the new deal will kickstart the same rich-get-richer revolution the English game has felt since the launch of the Premier League. Clubs such as Roma and Lazio are on the market for new owners and/or new stadiums, and will see this as a shortcut to solving their problems — which may be a rather too simple assumption.

But for teams less secure in Serie A, as well as those stuck in Serie B and below, the break-away is only like to exacerbate the serious economic difficulties plaguing almost every club in Italy — similar to the effect on Football League clubs that the Premier League’s breakaway had in the 1990s, instantiating a greater inequality throughout the football pyramid.

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Serie B and Lega Pro

The Serie A break-away will surely only add to the serious financial crisis in lower league Italian football that has recently shredded several teams with history in the top flight; Serie B has struggled selling its television rights in the past two seasons, and it’s unlikely to get any easier now. A greater gap between the top clubs in Serie A and those below could be the final nail in the coffin for many, especially as the Italian lower league system has not been as firmly established as the Football League structure in England.

Indeed, economic crisis is already apparent in the division below Serie B, now known as Lega Pro. Four former Serie A clubs — Treviso, Venezia, Pisa and Avellino — have all dropped out of the third tier this summer due to economic difficulties, failing registration requirements. Out of Lega Pro’s two divisions (the third and fourth tiers of Italian football), no fewer than 16 teams failed the (too?) strict Covisoc financial criteria test.

Pisa, relegated from Serie B,  reportedly went bankrupt with 7 million Euros of debt and will have to start over at the amateur level.

If the Lega Calcio Serie A breakaway goes ahead, it’s surely only going to lead to more reckless spending by Serie B clubs in the scramble to be part of the jackpot television revenue one tier above them — something we’ve seen in England many times since the formation of the Premier League.  Serie B clubs may well spend more to try to reach the promised land above, even though this will mean risking their registration and relegation to amateur football should they end up failing in financial difficulty.

Fancy exhibitions at the Bird’s Nest and aping the Premier League’s breakaway and branding at the top won’t solve the deeper problems in Italian football.

North Korea’s fairytale in the 1966 World Cup

North Korea have clinched a place in the World Cup finals for the first time since 1966. That appearance in England remains one of the most extraordinary in the history of the finals — perhaps as extraordinary as the fact that the North Korean team of today is almost as much as an enigma emerging from a closed society as that of their predecessor over forty years ago.

North Korean goalkeeper Li Chang Myung and defender Shin Yunk Kyoo block Eusebio. Credit: FIFA.com

North Korean goalkeeper Li Chang Myung and defender Shin Yunk Kyoo block Eusebio. Credit: FIFA.com

Heading into the 1966 finals as Asia’s sole representative just over a decade after a war that had devastated and divided their country, North Korea were 1000-1 outsiders to win the World Cup, despite the proud boast of their specially composed World Cup anthem that proclaimed “We can beat everyone, even the strongest team”. North Korea had qualified by beating Australia in a playoff, after many other Asian and African countries had withdrawn in protest that only one team from the two continents would be granted a place in the finals.

Getting entry into the United Kingdom proved to be a considerable challenge in itself for the North Koreans. Lacking diplomatic relations with Great Britain since the Korean War, the British Foreign Office took their time granting the Koreans entry clearance, and only relented when it was agreed their national anthem would not be played before games. The British Post Office even had to redesign a planned commemorative stamp and remove the North Korean flag after the Foreign Office objected to the design.

The North Koreans entered the tournament an enigma to the British press. The Times‘ 1966 World Cup finals preview said that “the North Koreans, offering a string of names that have the sound of waterfalls, remain for the moment a mysterious, unknown quantity.”  The Times‘ correspondent expected Italy and Russia to waltz through the group that also included the North Koreans and Chile, as the Italians have “the cut and look of finalists”. And despite the preview already admitting the North Koreans were an unknown quantity, the Times’ correspondent was dismissive of their chances:

Unless the Koreans turn out to be jugglers, with some unexpected ploy like running with the ball cushioned in the crook of their necks, it looks as though Italy and Russia should have the run of the place.

The shroud of mystery was lifted from the North Koreans in their first match, a 3-0 loss to Russia that earned them plaudits as plucky underdogs (or the “little Orientals”, as The Times called them), who won the support of the Middlesborough crowd.

Pre-game handshake, Portugal vs. North Korea. Credit: FIFA.com

Pre-game handshake, Portugal vs. North Korea. Credit: FIFA.com

At Ayresome Park again for the second match, North Korea earned a draw with Chile, with The Times waxing that “rarely have supporters taken a team to their hearts as the football followers of Middlesborough have taken these whimsical orientals.” Their teamplay and effort was praised to the hilt, but quite why the people of Middlesborough embraced the Koreans so strongly was a mystery to the players themselves.

“It still remains a riddle to me,” North Korea’s Ring Jung-sun told the BBC in 2002. “The people of Middlesborough supported us all the way through. I still don’t know the reason why.”

But it was against Italy, who needed a point themselves to qualify for the knockout stage, that North Korea staged one of the greatest upsets in the history of the sport in front of 19,000 awed and partisan fans at Ayresome Park. A goal by Pak Doo Ik, struck sweetly into the bottom-right corner of the net in the 42nd minute, was roared in by the crowd. Perhaps more importantly, just minutes earlier the Italian captain, Giacomo Bulgarelli, was stretchered off and did not return. The Italians could not break down the Koreans in the second half, with the press praising Pak Seung Zin and Ha Jung Won’s monumental workrates.

3,000 fans from Middlesborough followed North Korea across the country to Everton’s ground Goodison Park  for their quarter-final match-up against the legendary Portugese.  The Koreans raced out to a remarkable 3-0 lead after thirty minutes, only to be pegged back by Eusebio’s genius, the Portuguese coming back to win 5-3.

What happened to the North Korean team once they returned home was for decades as shrouded in mystery as the team had been on their arrival in England. The 2002 BBC documentary, The Game of Their Lives, attempted to answer this question, with rumours swirling for decades that the team had been sent to labour camps for allegedly womanising in Middlesborough.

It was clear that their time in England, and the connection the North Koreans had made, had left a lasting impression on the players, as the filmmakers Dan Gordon and Nick Bonner recount in this interview:

If you interviewed football players of today, you would get the usual “Yeah, it was a good game of two halves” response. But what we got from our interviews was wonderful. Rim Jung Son and his quote: “We saw lightness out of the darkness.” Pak Do Ik and his quote: “I learned that football is not only about the winning. Wherever we go . . . playing football can improve diplomatic relations and promote peace.”

The filmmakers found no evidence that the players had been mistreated in their return to North Korea, and Dan Gordon concluded that “I know for certain that they were heroes on their return and are heroes now.”  Seven members of the team returned to England with the filmmakers, where they received standing ovations at Middlesborough and Everton matches.

North Korea’s appearance in the 2010 World Cup is unlikely to repeat such a fairytale, but it’s a history worth remembering for perhaps the greatest underdog story ever in the World Cup finals.


Tessera del tifoso: Italian fans face ID check

Since the death of police inspector Filippo Raciti in February 2007, the world of Italian football has been in a state of institutional flux. A series of legal measures intended to prevent and punish violence more effectively have also been accompanied by changes in stadium organization and management, but the process is not complete so far as the authorities are concerned. The next step, to be implemented before the start of the 2009-10 season, is the so-called ‘tessera del tifoso’. This is a scheme not wholly dissimilar to Margaret Thatcher’s compulsory fan ID card scheme in the UK in the 1980s, which was finally shelved after Hillsborough and the Taylor Report; here in Italy it is seen by some as the answer to all the problems of calcio.

The tessera del tifoso is the brainchild of the Osservatorio Nazionale sulle Manifestazioni Sportive (ONMS), the department of the Ministry of the Interior which is responsible for security & public order at sports events. The final proposal was approved in April 2008, and is yet to be fully implemented, but current Minister of the Interior and Lega Nord charmer Roberto Maroni is extremely enthusiastic. In fact he is endeavouring to turn what was initially supposed to be a voluntary scheme into a compulsory one, in the belief that this will effectively stamp out football violence. It is due to be imposed not only in Serie A & B but also, potentially, in the Lega Pro 1 & 2 (the old Serie C1 & C2) – where average gates rarely get above 2000.

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The main idea is simple: in order to buy match tickets you will need to present your tessera del tifoso, an electronic ID card which contains all your personal details (name, date of birth address, identity document number). It is issued directly by the club, so your Milan card will allow you to buy Milan tickets only, and so on; this way there is no chance that fans of one club can buy tickets for another. To be more precise, it guarantees that away fans can’t circumvent a ban by buying “home” tickets.

Obviously fans with a banning order (DASPO, they are called in Italy) in place won’t be issued with the all important card. The equation is simple, apparently: fans subject to DASPO = violent hooligans, so football + tessera del tifoso = a peaceful paradise. The ONMS website suggests that any DASPO or “stadium-related offence” in the last five years will not be allowed into the scheme, while many other sources have suggested that ANY penal precedents will prevent the issuance of the card. In other words, convictions never expire, meaning that a ban is for life, irrespective of the actual original sentence (banning orders range from 1-5 years, most commonly). If as a hot-headed idiot aged 18 you committed a one-off stadium offence and were unlucky enough to get caught (unlucky in the sense that many people get away with all sorts of offences all the time), then you can forget about taking your kids to a match twenty years later. This may or may not be constitutional.

Apparently, the system should simplify the process of buying tickets and of entering the stadium through the creation of dedicated turnstiles, along with (potentially) the concession of privileges and/or benefits to card holders on the part of participating clubs. It’s also possible that there will be no restrictions applied to the sale of tickets for card holders (i.e. on those occasions when away tickets are not on general sale under ONMS safety measures). Indeed the head of the Lega Pro claims that the tessera “will increase overall attendance figures” since no more matches will have to be played behind closed doors, a fine example of spurious reasoning. The overall aim is apparently ‘to reward virtuous behaviour of fans’ through ‘a process of customer loyalty building through the creation of a new profile for fans, as “representatives” of their Clubs, and a reinforced sense of belonging to a “privileged community” of “official supporters”.’

Tessera

There are a number of potential practical problems with the scheme: what if you are an occasional fan or if you just happen to fancy going to a game one weekend, do you have to go and apply for a card which can’t be issued til the local police approve it? What if you like to regularly go and watch more than one team? How is the scheme to be effectively administered? The idea is even more impractical at lower levels, since the expense for clubs will be not inconsiderable and the necessary infrastructure (in terms of electronic turnstiles) is often absent.

As a plan to defeat violence, the tessera del tifoso ignores the single most important feature of all contemporary hooliganism: it doesn’t take place inside the ground. Not since the 80s – and maybe even before that – has football violence in Italy taken place primarily inside stadiums. When it happens, it takes place in areas around the ground, around train stations and (above all) at motorway service stations. Stopping hooligans going into the game will do nothing to stop hooliganism for the simple fact that the game is separate from the violence – indeed some of them don’t even try to go to the game at all.

So, it’s impractical and won’t meet its purported objective. It’s also profoundly objectionable in terms of civil rights: what other group of people are collected onto a police index in order to pursue a leisure activity?  Are they going to draw up a police-approved register of people permitted to enter nightclubs? Because, you know, people go and get drunk and fight in and outside nightclubs every weekend?  It’s massively unpopular with ultras across the country and with many ordinary fans as well. Protests have been many and vigorous, and later in the month a major national ultras’ meeting is planned to demonstrate against the plan.

Above all many people are troubled about the language in which the project is couched and the supposed advantages listed above: the scheme ‘follows the logic of customer loyalty schemes’ in the words of the ONMS. It can include a Visa or Maestro feature, it can act as a points-collecting card to earn fans discounts or prizes, it in every way conceives of the fan as primarily a customer to be “fidelizzato” or incentivised to display (financial) loyalty.

This year Milan (curiously supportive as a club of this government initiative) have been running the scheme as a trial: the “Cuore Rossonero” card offers a rechargeable Maestro payment facility, earns you “Star Points” which prove how loyal you are and earn special offers, and also allows you to collect points towards rewards like a tasteful key-ring or, a black and red hand-wash dispenser. If you collect enough points you could earn discounts on tickets, a day at the training ground or even dinner with the team. And points can be collected with specially selected commercial partners, so while you are buying petrol or trainers you are saving up for an exclusive branded cup and saucer set! Be still my beating heart.

It’s pretty easy to see the potentially vast economic incentives for clubs, and equally that the system will be able to effectively penalise those which don’t chose to sign up (if, for instance, only clubs with the tessera are allowed to sell tickets to certain high-risk matches). Meanwhile Hellas fans at a service station were recently assaulted by a group of over 70 hooligans returning from watching…. yes, Milan.  Good to see the fruits of the scheme in action. It’s pretty hard not to be cynical: is this really about public order or an exercise in state control dressed up in crude commercialization? Just what football needs.

Read more from Vanda Wilcox at her blog, Spangly Princess

Photo credits: Vanda Wilcox; AS Roma Ultras


Respect and Refereeing in Italy

Refereeing has been at the heart of much media debate recently. In the Premier League this has focused on respect, after Ashley Cole’s sterling efforts to make sure that his innate loathsomeness on the pitch be as universally acknowledged as his abhorrent behaviour off the pitch. In Italy, the focus has been on the issue of quality. As I’ve mentioned before the Italian media relentlessly assess the performance of Serie A referees, and in the last two months there has been a severe crisis – whether perceived or real – of refereeing standards.

In particular, the public were scandalised in February by the publication of an “adjusted” league table. Based on the conclusions of the six main national papers on refs’ decisions on penalties given or denied, offside goals wrongly allowed to stand or onside goals incorrectly ruled out, a new league table was drawn up based on what results “should have been”. Leaving aside the many inherent problems with this approach – since when, in any sport, has unchallengeable perfection ruled? And how can we know what other effects a different decision might have had on a game? – the results were surprising, to say the least. In the first 24 games of the season, 171 points had been wrongly won or lost across the league. The Serie A team most penalised by referees this season? Juventus.

I don’t think this is an effort to compensate for past corruption. I don’t even think it’s a conscious attitude. I think, rather, that since calciopoli referees have been anxious not to permit any hint of favouritism towards Juve appear, and in an effort to show that they are not corrupt, they have ended up being unfair. This is similar to the theories that used to abound about pro-Juventus decisions, before we knew about Luciano Moggi and his amazing phone habit. It used to be held that refs were unconsciously influenced by the power, the tradition, the aura of invincibility that surrounded Juventus. Some feel that this deferential tendency has now been transferred to the new pre-eminent power in Italian football, Inter. One way or another, Pierluigi Collina’s job improving standards has got a lot harder since these revelations.

I’ve been musing recently on the connections between the current debate in Italy and that in England. What is the relationship between the quality of refereeing decisions and respect for the referee? If referees are put under pressure by players, fans and the media how far does this (consciously or otherwise) affect their judgement? Brian’s recent post on the issue, and the discussion that followed, highlighted some of the tensions around it: we, as fans of the sport, need to believe that the game is fair but when at the same time, as fans of a team, we become invested in one side or another, we also want our side to win.

Respect the referee

Here’s the crunch question: how happy are you for team to win unfairly? Obviously this depends on how unfairly: I don’t think that when the calciopoli scandal broke that any Juventus fans were happy to learn what their club had been up to. But how about winning from a dodgy penalty: does it take the gloss off the game? What about if an opposing player is sent off in dubious circumstances – can you honestly say you’re not even a teeny bit relieved, in your heart of hearts? Maybe it’s the Arsenal fan in me – or maybe the cynical Italian – but there’s a part of me that thinks “Well, a win’s a win, right?” And if you beat your local rivals 1-0 through a wrongly given penalty in the 92nd minute: come on, you’d laugh and laugh, wouldn’t you?

So my feeling is that as fans we don’t always whole-heartedly support the referee at all times. For players the issue is a little different – it should, in theory, be more clearly in their interests that refereeing be universally, consistently impartial. But the desire to win often gets in the way. How often do players protest if they are awarded a penalty they know they don’t deserve? Not exactly often. Does this matter? I think it does: lack of respect for the referee can’t help but put added pressure onto already fraught decisions. But of course the problem is circular: the more frequently referees make bad decisions – and the more these errors are highlighted – the more likely it is that players will feel free to argue with the ref, to question his judgement, to challenge his authority.

Last night’s commentators on the Liverpool-Arsenal match on RAI, the Italian state TV, took this analysis one step further. Highlighting the lack of protests by Arsenal players against the penalty denied them at the Emirates, and the similar acceptance of the (equally wrong) penalty decision against Arsenal at Anfield, pundits speculated as to the cause and consequences of this failure to argue with the ref. The cause, it was widely agreed, was English sportingness and fair play. (Try not to laugh). The consequence is a more interesting question: pundits hypothesised that the referee’s job is easier and that his decisions are of a better quality where he is accorded respect, or at least unquestioning obedience. The better the referee is able to direct the game, it was argued, without challenges to his authority, the more likely he is to run the game fairly, effectively and with balanced and accurate decisions.

I think this is an interesting argument, if not wholly unproblematic. It emphasises the psychological dimension of refereeing at the expense of simple human error, which is after all universal. Nor does this approach solve some other issues arising. If referees are fair, impartial, skilful and respected, then players and managers might have to take a bit more responsibility for their own successes or failures.

In the run up to the World Cup in 2006, hard on the heels of calciopoli, a satirical song, in a southern dialect, became an unexpected smash hit across Italy. Like the best satire, it cuts so close to the bone that it is perhaps the best expression of the very ideas it satirises:

“Cornuti, siamo vittimi dell’albitrarità /a noi contraria / ecco che noi cerchiamo / di difenderci da queste inequità / così palese / grande Luciano moggi / dacci tanti orologi agli albitri internazionali / si no co’ cazz’ che vinciamo i mondiali.”

“We are the unlucky victims of refereeing biased against us. That’s why we try to defend ourselves against this manifest inequality. Great Luciano Moggi, give plenty of watches to the international referees, or else how the fuck will we win the world cup?”

This song became the anthem of the Azzuri’s World Cup victory. Respect for the referee? Confidence in refereeing standards? Support for impartiality? Give it time.

Photo credit: Melhus Fotball on Flickr

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.

Shall we sing a song for you: Italian football songs, Part I

Jennifer Doyle’s interesting post on Tottenham Hotspur and the Battle Hymn of the Republic got me thinking about the kind of songs we sing here in Italy. Music is such a powerful force that the singing is often one of the most direct emotional aspects of going to football. When you go to any match in a country where you don’t speak the language, it’s very easy to feel excluded. After all, even if at home you wouldn’t join in another team’s chants, you would at least understand them. But of course each country has its own traditions when it comes to football songs, a mix of the familiar and the bizarre, and it can take time to learn your way around.

The first major difference from the English game is that nearly all clubs have their own official Hymn. This isn’t a song which has been adopted, in the fashion of “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, but a specially written dedicated piece, usually by some prominent singer-songwriter who is a fan of the club in question. And they are almost without exception spectacularly cheesy, both musically and lyrically. Though I am of course entirely biased, I think that Roma has one of the best (below), though Inter’s is not too bad (and has the merit of acknowledging the team’s inconsistency in its chorus “Crazy Inter” – a new celebratory version was recorded last year). The hymns of Lazio, Juve, Milan and Napoli are perhaps more representative of the typical awfulness of most such efforts. The lyrics are essentially banal sentimentalism of the laziest kind expressed with a sprinkling of local dialect, accompanied by cheesy europop beats and a climactic modulation to create a sense of emotional elevation. But if it’s your team and your anthem, it is almost guaranteed to give you goose-bumps when belted out by 40,000 people.

Roma Roma Roma

There’s no compunction about stealing other people’s national anthems. The Marseillaise, curiously, gets used from time to time, and you’ll also hear John Brown’s body – the Battle Hymn of the Republic – usually known to Italians as “Glory Glory Hallelujah.” It’s sung at Lazio, as “Forza Forza Grande Lazio” and on the other side of the fence as, you’ll be amazed to hear, “Forza Forza Grande Roma”. Some groups are also unable to resist the compelling tune of the Red Flag, even when they violently disagree with its political sentiments. British visitors will find plenty of other familiar tunes – rather bastardised versions of “Sailing”, “Bread of Heaven”, “Guantanamera” and so on. Meanwhile Roma sing anti-Lazio songs to the tune of Don’t Cry for Me Argentina, the Popeye theme tune and best of all, Old Macdonald had a Farm. Verdi is always a favourite, with both “La Donna è mobile” and the triumphal march from Aida cropping up across the country.

The international language of cheesy pop is of course a major source of musical inspiration. OMD’s “Enola Gay”, “That’s the way I like it” by KC and the Sunshine band and of course “Go West” are universal favourites, while several clubs also use “Yellow Submarine”. Plenty of classic Italian pop songs also get an airing. I often have the disconcerting experience of learning a song in the curva and only subsequently hearing the original version (which is usually a terrible disappointment). Juve sing a version of “Andavo a 100 al ora”, a 1962 hit by Gianni Morandi which is great (below), while Marcella Bella’s 1972 song from the San Remo festival of Italian song “Montagne Verde” is also used at Reggina and elsewhere. The shock of encountering Raffaella Carrà’s 1978 masterpiece “Quanto è bello fare l’amore” in a tacky nightclub was considerable given that I had only ever heard a rather different version asserting that “there’s no priest or woman for me, in my heart is only you: AS Roma”.

New tunes are picked up from the charts or often from adverts on TV: the “kinder chocofresh music” (Inter), the “Grana Padano parmesan advert” (Roma). And of course fans borrow from one another. In February 2006 Roma played away at Bruges in the UEFA cup. The visiting fans were impressed by the Bruges’ supporters use of the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army” and the following week back home they adapted it to their own ends: PO-PO-PO-PO-PO-POOOO-POOO, making an anti-Lazio modification by adding “biancazzurro bastardo”[blue and white bastard] to the end. It became a Roma favourite in no time but quickly spread beyond to become the theme of Italy’s 2006 World Cup campaign (without, obviously, the anti-Lazio addition). Roma, of course, abandoned it once it became associated with the Azzurri.

If the tunes are a combination of the familiar and the more obscure, the words cover more or less the same themes as football chants the world over. In two-club cities, songs tend to exult the status of one particular club in the city. Juve fans sing “Torino, what a beautiful city! Torino is our city! Torino is black and white, and black and white it will always be!” (This song is mendacious on at least two counts). Chievo sing “We are not Hellas! We are Chievo!” which I suppose is at least straight to the point. Sampdoria sing “We are Genova” while Genoa retort “How the fuck can anyone support Samp?”

Another universal theme is the impossibility of staying away from your club. Torino fans sing “Torino… always at your side… I know why I won’t be staying home.” At Empoli, it’s “I’ll never grow tired of you, you’re the most beautiful thing there is,” a statement which stretches the boundaries of credibility if you take a look at their defenders Richard Vanigli and Vittorio Tosto. For Cagliari, simple geography makes loyalty a bit more demanding: they sing “We’ll take the ship and follow you.” Genoa (and others) sing a song as if by a resentful girlfriend: “Why do you leave me alone every Sunday to go to the stadium to watch the match? Because… because I support Genoa alé alé!” comes the answer.

Of course, a major part of any club’s songbook consists of chants against other teams. This links into the regional prejudice I’ve mentioned before, and will be the subject of my next post.

Italian texts for many songs can be found on tifonet.it

The Loss of Trust in Italian Football

Che scandalo!Now, as it so happens I was never a small boy who played football. I fail on both counts, in fact, since the closest I’ve come to playing football is a kickabout in the back garden with my little brothers (Vanda’s exclusive top tip for footballing glory: don’t wear high heels. Here endeth the lesson).

However I am willing to hazard a few guesses about the conclusions to which small boys playing football usually come when they lose a match. And my gut feeling would be that by and large they don’t include paranoid conspiracy theories. We are constantly being told, here in Italy at least, that children are the soul of football, its last hope, its glorious future, the true keepers of proper sporting values, the enemies of cynicism, cheating and corruption.

Well, let’s take a look at that.

Describe a game of football between your class’ football team and another class’ team…

Ciruzzo’s shot went out and not in, but the referee was under the influence of the teacher, so the teacher won the cup. Us, our class, we should have won, but instead it was Professore Esposito’s class what won, because he gives him Christmas presents and my teacher who is poor doesn’t give him any. But it’s not right.

Then Professore Esposito when he had won the other games against the other classes was acting like the cock on the rubbish*, but if we’d been there there’d not have been any rubbish.

If Capretto hadn’t pissed that ball away we would have won the cup in the end but the referee made Professore Esposito’s team win if not he wouldn’t give him any presents any more.

But it’s not right. Now I don’t know whose tyres to let down, the ref or Professore Esposito.

* Traditional Neapolitan expression for bragging, acting the big-shot over weaker opponents
(From “Io speriamo che me la cavo”, ed. Marcello D’Orta, 1991)

This is a genuine primary school essay from a kid in a suburb of Naples, taken from a book I’ve been discussing over on my own blog. As well as being terribly funny – my translation does no justice to the beauties of the original – this story is really rather alarming, on several counts.

Is the idea of bribing referees really so deep-seated in Italian football? And regardless of the accuracy or otherwise of the allegations against Professore Esposito, is it axiomatic that when your team loses, it must be the ref’s fault? I would also draw your attention to the inherent threat of violence against referees and opposing managers with which our narrator concludes. Best slap a banning order on that lad pronto.

More seriously, this reminded me of some of the reactions to the calciopoli scandal. While outside Italy some expressed surprise at the idea of leaning on referees to influence matches, here the only surprise was that something was being done about it. In Italy it’s not cynical to think biased refereeing goes on; it’s hopelessly naïve to think that it doesn’t. If even small boys playing in primary school tournaments take for granted that teachers are bribing the ref, how can we doubt that it goes on in Serie A where, after all, the stakes may be higher? (though the chance of having your tyres let down is probably the same). After all, at Christmas in 1999 a number of leading referees were given brand new Rolexes by owner Franco Sensi (Roma’s very own Professore Esposito, it would seem).

Here on a daily basis we accuse one another of cheating and corruption. Rarely of outright bribery, nothing so crude; but of intimidating the ref with status and power (see the furore over the penalty Inter was given against Parma last month) or of improperly using financial clout and big-club status (see Palermo president Zamparini’s lunatic diatribe against Roma’s ball-boy last week). Being “furbo” – sly, cunning – is a positive attribute, a vital element of the winning mentality. It’s part of the normal, even essential, daily discourse of Italian football. And perhaps things have changed since 1990, but if not, these attitudes permeate all levels of footballing culture, right down to primary schools.

Italians are notoriously bad losers, often redefining gracelessness in their petulant refusal to accept defeat. But that makes perfect sense if you think that everything is most likely a fix. This mentality especially applies to the national side. When the Azzurri lose, it’s everyone’s fault but the team’s. Is this paranoia, though, or the cynicism born of experience? Domestically, everyone “knows” that’s how the “system” works. At an international level, some supporters in other countries naively think that matches are determined solely on the pitch, and fail to take seriously Italian conspiracy theories.

The true problem is that such paranoia becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: if everyone else is doing it, then you better join in, or you really will miss out. Far worse than the reality of corruption in Italy – and it is present – is the perception of its ubiquity. Italian football is a system from which trust has been eroded completely.

Photo credit: mirkocorli

Selling Tolerance in Football

Editor’s note: Continuing the discussion on this and other blogs over racism in Italian football, we welcome Supriya Nair — aka Roswitha from the excellent blog Treasons, Strategems & Spoils — who considers what it will take for a real stand to be made against it.

Can tolerance be sold? As we consider the embedded racism in Italian football brought up by Martha’s recent post on The Offside: Italy blog and Vanda’s follow-up post here on Pitch Invasion, we need to consider how it’s best addressed: will it be solved by an advertising campaign to kick racism out of football, by the levelling tendency of corporate globalisation, or does it need more radical and direct action by those on the pitch and in the stands?

Martha, like most of us calcio fans from outside Italy, got to the very heart of the question that often puzzles us. It’s not the why of the racism — it’s the why not, as in “Why aren’t there more measures challenging it?”

This is a difficult question for those of us dependent almost wholly on mediated images and sounds for our Italian football fix.

Why can’t we see people doing more to stop the offensive chants and the hate speech that crop up continually in stadiums across the peninsula? It’s agonising, as from this distance it seems it could be dealt with by a sustained and prominent campaign against racism.

But in our heart of hearts we know, ruefully, that advertising is not the answer to everything, even if it can help kickstart change.

Kick Racism Out of Football

Real change

I’m suspicious of the media industry that has sprung up around public forums on racism and discrimination. There is a give and take between social and brand awareness – but the imbalance of the two limits any potential success. Nor am I sure of the long-term value of commercial spots against racism. Maybe the nature of the cause celèbre industry is such that more money goes into pimping the brand than the cause. I’m reminded of the recent Apple/U2 anti-AIDS initiative, costing millions of dollars promoting Apple and Bono but a huge failure as no one turned up to buy their red iPods after all.

And the corporate social responsibility bandwagon is an industry. It’s far more edifying to see sportsmen advertise anti-racism measures than it is to see them do cola ads, but it isn’t less manipulative, for all its moral rectitude. I’m convinced that they are not the yardstick by which real social change can be measured. Is it really possible to sell the idea – and not merely the appearance – of tolerance?

Real change needs emotion and spontaneity, rather than an institutionalised campaign. Stadium violence in Italy is linked to a deep frustration with the failure of social institutions and a society in which offenders are traditionally suspicious of their government, their media, and their footballing establishment. A stadium ban, a fine, a police clampdown, and a multicoloured wristband can only achieve limited success.

In November, Juventus fans smuggled a banner into their game against Inter which called Zlatan Ibrahimovic a foul gypsy. The offenders were dealt with quickly, and the incident faithfully reported in measured tones by papers like La Gazzetta. And yet, apart from a short statement by Javier Zanetti in the post-match conference, the Juve case prompted little personal response. To the best of my knowledge, Zlatan’s own response to this demeaning abuse is yet to be recorded.

Italian banner

Which is fine; the man has the right to stay quiet, or simply decide that he doesn’t give a damn, if that’s what it is. After all, the Italian Football Federation seem to be doing a better job now in punishing such incidents.

But the ossification of these incidents into the administrative platitudes of Isolated Racist Behaviour and They Are Not Real Football Fans served up with a We Have It Under Control assurance is not what Italian football needs. It requires, instead of corporate social responsibility-fulfilling TV spots, the sight of a football team — or perhaps both football teams — refusing to continue a match until an abusive chant is silenced. It requires the players to walk up to the sidelines and ask fans what the fuck they think they’re doing: a popular rebellion is needed, and possible. One Marco Zoro may have been a lone voice in a storm. But four or five, acting with intent, can be effective.

Standing Up

Lilian Thuram once told of his experience playing for Parma around the turn of the century.

‘It was at a Parma-Milan match,’ he says, ‘when our Parma fans were chanting racist slogans against Ibrahim Ba and George Weah (both Milan players) that I thought how sick this was. The press officer tried to stop me, but I went to see the fans at our training ground and told them what I thought. The next week there was an apologetic banner at the match saying, “Thuram, respect us please!”

Lilian ThuramOf course, times have changed and naïveté has never been an excuse for bad behaviour, but the Thuram example remains important. The average racial abuser, in our imaginations, has a particular profile: he is white, male, often young, usually unemployed, or disenfranchised in some way (and usually, especially if you’re from outside Italy, in a Lazio jersey). The sort of guy who feels safe in a mob, who will duck and cower if you confront him. Accurate? Maybe, maybe not. Has anyone ever tried a confrontation, though? Not from behind a desk or a truncheon, but face-to-face, like Lilian Thuram with his home crowd?

Which is why football stadia should be good places for players themselves to set the ball rolling. There is a visceral connection between fans at a stadium and the team they are watching. And if, without choreography, without tokenism, without performing behind the safety screen of a symbolic gesture, someone stood up and asked for change, I think they could get it. Protest movements may not work against war and empires anymore, but they can work in sport. Perhaps a Newcastle player shushing his own fans would have stopped his team’s own fans calling Mido a ‘terrorist’. He might have made a difference where Rio Ferdinand holding a placard on a TV screen couldn’t.

Of course, footballers (and fans, who can make the same sort of grassroots-level difference, à la Perugia) are only human. It would hardly be easy, especially in a mob activity like football, to tip the world upside down.

But it’s dangerously wrong to expect the mass media to substitute for the visceral effect of individual actions. It’s just another way for corporations to subjugate political impulse. Perhaps it’s too Hollywoodish to expect a movement to awaken the guilt of privilege, so dormant in societies without a modern history of colonisation or oppression. But what is football but drama? And why not expect change that comes about in sporting arenas to percolate through the rest of the world?

Photo credits: watt.stuart; smuykpp1plaju

Embedded racism in Italian football

Last year I was invited to a dinner party by an English friend living in Rome. Among the guests was an Eritrean woman brought up in Italy and now attached to the Embassy of the League of Arab nations. The other guests, all Romans, peppered her with excruciatingly embarrassing questions: what do your family eat at home? Are you really a Muslim? Does that mean you’re not allowed to talk to men? Are you sure you won’t have some wine, it won’t do you any harm? When she left, the Italians all commented on how “delightfully normal” she was. “That’s the first time I’ve ever had an actual conversation with a black person” was the unanimous reaction. “Of course, you see them selling things on the street…but I’d never spoken to one before.”

These people were all educated middle-class Italians in their early forties — architects, university lecturers, lawyers. All blithely unaware of having said anything remotely unacceptable.

Adrian MutuThis episode returned to my mind as I read Martha’s very interesting post over at The Offside: Italy, and the subsequent discussion, on the issue of racism in Italian football. The racist chanting by Parma fans against their former idol Adrian Mutu earlier this month was just one of many incidents which has illustrated that despite years of hand-wringing, racism is an enduring problem in calcio.

As several readers commented, this cannot be separated from the issue of racism in Italian society, any more than violence in Italian football can be considered wholly distinctly from other forms of casual violence. The same paper which reported the (mild) stabbing of three Catania fans outside the Olimipico before kick-off against Roma this Sunday also reported that a group of five youths set upon a municipal policeman who was attempting to enforce a minor traffic law elsewhere in the city, and kicked him into a pulp.

If we want to understand why there is senseless violence among young male Roman football fans, we might also want to consider senseless violence among young male Romans more generally. Nor do I think Rome is in any way remarkable in this regard. Football doesn’t exist in a vacuum, nor do football fans; and racism in Italy is sadly not limited to the world of calcio.

A Racist Society?

Italy is not a multicultural society. It is barely a multiracial society. There are no black politicians, business leaders, newsreaders. The largest ethnic minority population is Albanian, chiefly living in the south, followed by Romanian; the largest non-white group is probably Chinese, chiefly visible via ubiquitous restaurants and a huge number of “99cent” shops, selling cheap plastic tat. Immigrant populations of Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis can be found in large cities working in menial jobs and playing cricket in dusty piazzas in scruffy areas on summer evenings. The black population is largely visible as vendors of pirate DVDs and fake designer handbags. Non-Caucasian adults are almost always first generation immigrants, not Italians; and they are almost always socially excluded.

Not only is Italy not a multicultural society, but it is frequently a racist one. Racist rhetoric is deployed not only by the numerous fringe neo-fascist political groups but by mainstream rightwing parties, the Lega Nord in particular. Racist and anti-Semitic graffiti is a commonplace sight — looking out of my bedroom window I can see two swastikas and a fasces spray-painted on the building opposite. Gypsies and Romanians are a regular target of racism, as well as being frequently confused with one another. Racist beatings, stabbings and murders are sadly a regular feature in the news. So we shouldn’t be surprised that there is racism in Italian football: quite the contrary, it would be extraordinary were there not.

IbrahimovicAction taken within the world of football isn’t going to radically change Italian society. But that’s not to let the footballing world off the hook, nor to say the football authorities haven’t got a role to play. After all, footballers are among the only black celebrities in Italy, a country obsessed with the antics of the celebrity world, and football is the arena in which Italians are most likely to have any sort of positive contact with people of other ethnicities. This year, punishment for racist banners and chanting has increased, as in Juve’s case after their fans called Ibrahimovic a “foul Gypsy”. But fines hit clubs not fans, and unless they make a greater effort to control their fans’ behaviour the exercise is pointless. A more effective tactic is closing grounds, or a section thereof; this was used against Inter’s Curva Nord back in October and at least directly tackles the people whose behaviour is being punished.

But the Inter incident raises another point. Pre-match announcements via the PA system and big screens remind matchgoers of the legislation against “all forms of racist or territorial discrimination.” The identification of territorial prejudice with racism is a forward-looking move in a land where regional divisions are at times virulently hostile. Napoli fans are particularly likely to be abused, with popular chants including such charming sentiments as “Neapolitan, dirty African, you are the shame of all Italy.” It was for this type of discrimination that Inter were punished, with banners suggesting the visiting Napoli fans were bringing cholera and tuberculosis with them.

But while linking territorial prejudice with more conventional racism is a laudable attempt to tackle the former, I can’t help but think that it merely serves in practice to downgrade the importance of the latter. Most Italians find the regional and territorial stuff innocuous; and the message seems to be “racism is no worse than regionalism”. Of course, the prejudices of the north against the south are borderline racist – elderly Milanese aristocratic types have informed me that “Africa begins south of Florence.” But I think the conflation of the two forms of discrimination may prove counterproductive.

Marc ZoroTaking Action

Institutional efforts to tackle the issue are patchy and uneven. The reaction after the Zoro incident in 2005 was encouraging but all too soon it was business as usual. There is an Italian equivalent of the English Kick it Out! campaign, which indeed shares the same name: Dai un calcio al razzismo. But their website hasn’t been updated since May 2007, and I’d never heard of them before I went hunting for them. The Italian section of the FARE network (Football Against Racism in Europe) makes itself heard only intermittently.

Action is left to individual clubs – like Sampdoria whose players took to the pitch with a banner displaying an anti-racist message last year, while one of the club’s most important ultras groups organised a multi-ethnic fans’ tournament, having uncovered, implausibly, a north African supporters’ club: Maghreb Samp. Meanwhile many left-wing ultras groups, notably under the umbrella organisation Progetto Ultrà, have also organised demonstrations against racism in football.

These projects are worthwhile. But racism is a much wider issue in Italy than the world of football alone. The idea persists that racism is only a problem for those at whom it is directed: it would be good to see white Italians — and white footballers — speaking out about the issue for once. And as time passes and immigrant communities grow more integrated, the casual racism born of ignorance and unfamiliarity will diminish. Maybe, one day, a black footballer will turn out for the Azzurri: possibly Stefano Okaka, Roman-Nigerian. Then perhaps, neo-fascism and anti-Semitism won’t be flourishing in half the curve of Italy, either. But it won’t be easy, and it won’t be happening any time soon.

Photo credits: WeLcoME To mY L!Fe; maurobrock

Photo Daily | January 7 | Italy 2-0 Germany, World Cup 2006

This week’s photos will cover a tragically unexplored topic in the world of football: fans’ celebrations in cars. It seems there’s some primeval urge, after your team wins, to go out driving. Today, we see Italian fans celebrating their 2006 World Cup semi-final win over Germany in a very small car.

die Partei von pizzaioli !!!

Photo credit: reportergimmi™ on Flickr, via the Pitch Invasion photo pool.

The Lower Leagues in Italy

Editor’s note: As we’ve spent all week looking at non-league football in England, I asked our columnist in Italy, Vanda, to explain the world below Serie A and B there.

Lega CalcioWhen it was suggested that I could write something about lower and non-league football in Italy, my initial reaction was Eek. Most Italian football fans are very ignorant about their own lower leagues, and football here is if anything even more top-heavy than in England.

Attachment to the ideal of the local team, irrespective of league placing, is a less deeply rooted tradition than in England, and below Serie A and B there is little popular or media attention to the game. The structure of lower league football in Italy is pretty complicated too, so perhaps it would help to take a look at the pyramid, such as it is.

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The Capello Effect: Watching Them Watching Us

Fabio Capello
Since it will take some time for the footballing effects of the appointment of Fabio Capello as England manager to become apparent, it is currently most significant as a media event. In Italy, the news has been greeted with almost as many column inches as in England (or perhaps that should be column centimetres, for those of us not stuck in a ridiculous and vainglorious past).

Italian reaction to the appointment has been largely very positive: it is seen as a great feather in the cap of Italian football that England, still respected here as the home of the game, has turned to an Italian. (Whether the appointment of Sven Goran-Eriksson was a similar compliment to Swedish football is, however, another thing altogether; I somehow suspect that was also seen rather as a mark of the importance of Serie A).

And it’s not just about the appointment of an Italian manager to a foreign national side: it’s specifically England-related. While the actual style of play in England (and in the national side in particular) are often derided as wholly lacking in skill, nous, tactics or sophistication, the mystique of England and of the game’s origins remains considerable here. The history and tradition of the English game are respected and mildly envied; English attendance figures are cited with awe and astonishment; the historic stadiums are especially admired. Italians wax lyrical about the magic of Wembley as though they were auditioning for a job commentating on the FA Cup for ITV. The idea that England, home of football, has turned to an Italian, is major news indeed.

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The referee is a buffoon

RefereeAbusing the referee seems to be a universal tenet of global football culture. In Italy, the daily newspapers grade them mercilessly and not even Pierluigi Collina can help his beleaguered brethren.

The word “wanker” doesn’t translate directly into Italian. Rather, Italians are likely to chant “buffone” at the ref when he makes a bad decision. And yes, pleasingly, that does mean “buffoon.” Be they rude or just silly, I’m fairly sure that there are anti-ref chants in every footballing country across the world. After all, everybody loves a good moan about the referee, don’t they? Not least pundits and commentators. A dodgy decision really helps liven up a dull game, and a few incorrect offsides or penalty claims wrongly denied are a godsend to hacks trying to string out a column about a joy-sapping 0-0.

Like so many things in life, the Italians like to take this to a new and extreme level. All the sports dailies – in themselves manifestations of this same kind of excess – go into exhaustive detail over the quality of refereeing of each week’s games. Every Monday there are features analysing the performance of the match officials in each of the weekend’s Serie A games. And like the players, each ref is given a pagella, a score out of ten.

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Catania – Palermo, Ten Months On

calciocatania.jpg

Editor’s note: Most of you will have noticed that we often linked to Rome-based blogger Spangly Princess during the recent crisis in Italy. Well, she’ll now be writing regularly for Pitch Invasion, and today brings us an update on the Catania-Palermo rivalry, ten months on from the death of a policeman that marked the previous crisis in Italy.

Last Sunday, Catania beat Palermo 3-1 in what is one of Italian football’s most high-risk encounters. Given the ban on away fans, it was strictly a red and blue affair inside the stadium. The game passed off peaceably enough apart from a brief incident outside, where eggs and oranges were thrown at the Palermo team coach as it arrived – clearly even in times of strife Italians like to promote local produce, and Sicilians are very proud of their oranges.

A banner was displayed inside the ground reading “Catania boys are fans of peace and legality”, so perhaps the chaps outside were just trying rather ineptly to make a cake for the visiting team.

The relative calm is worthy of mention since the last time this match was played at Catania’s Massimino stadium was exactly ten months ago, on Friday 2 February: the riots which followed left a man dead and brought the whole of Italian football to a standstill.

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Photo Daily | December 1 | Italian Fans Celebrate at the Circus Maximus

soccer revolution
A day late, we conclude this week’s series on the 2006 World Cup by looking at fans celebrating at the Circus Maximus (Circo Massimo in Italian), Rome. Over 700,000 packed the site of the ancient Roman hippodrome the night Italy won the World Cup for the fourth time.

Photo credit: hidden_vice on Flickr, via the Pitch Invasion photo pool.

Gabriele Sandri’s Funeral

It seems that all I do is link to Spangly Princess, but that’s because her writing about the death of Lazio ultra Gabriele Sandri in Italy on Sunday and its aftermath surpasses anything I could do even if I lived in Italy as she does. Today she writes about attending Sandri’s funeral, and it’s a reminder both of the fact that a young man actually died (lest we forget) and of a remarkable solidarity amongst ultras.

Shortly after 13h renewed applause tells us that the service is over, and shortly thereafter the coffin emerges from the church. The massed ranks of ultras – black bomber jackets, baseball caps and sunglasses all round – break out into a chant of “Gabriele uno di noi” (one of us). Then a group start singing a tune I don’t recognise – la la la, they’re clearly doing the instrumental introduction – and it takes me a moment to realise that it is Vola Lazio Vola, their club song. (I’ve only ever heard it before from inside the Curva Sud, drowned out by the giallorossi around me).

The Lazio fans across the piazza begin to sing, loudly, and the woman in front of me with the ruined handkerchief starts to sing in a wavering voice, and it suddenly comes on to rain very hard. And everyone is holding their scarves over their heads and I find my eyes begin to water and the woman in front of me breaks down sobbing, and the chorus “Lazio sul prato verde vola, Lazio tu non sarai mai sola, Vola un’aquila nel cielo, piu in alto sempre volerà” seems to have been written with a funeral in mind. And I am glad I had the forethought to bring some tissues with me.

After the singing, there are a few more choruses of “Gabriele sempre con noi” and then one or two voices try to start up an anti-police chant. But it lasts only seconds before being hushed and quietly booed, if such a thing is possible, and then someone launches into the national anthem. The Irriducibili and the Banda Noantri next to me all make the Roman salute throughout, predictably, but that’s that. No political sloganeering at least.

And then gradually people start to file away, through what is now a downpour. The Lazio players pass in front of me to climb onto their coaches, and then sit in the heavy traffic waiting to move away. They wipe away the condensation on the windows, and stare out at us. Mudingayi (I think) practically presses his face up against the glass. We stare back. A small boy waves and claps. The crowds disperse almost as silently as they came, for the most part. But the group of Lazio ultras, a couple of hundred strong, set off towards the Olimpico. Up to a thousand ultras, apparently, gathered below the Curva Nord there to chant Lazio songs, before dispersing peacefully.

The mentalità ultra is many things, some good, some bad. But one of them is this. It is those ultras who travelled down from Milan, from Turin, from Udine; or up from Naples, Taranto, Palermo; who spent hours of their own time and who knows how much of their own money, to come on a Wednesday afternoon in November, to stand in the pouring rain in silence for nearly two hours, to pay their respects to a man they never knew. And after standing in the rain, and applauding the family and mourners, and chanting the name of a man they’d not even heard of this time last week, they departed peaceably. Now, you might find that barking mad. But it’s hard to see that you could find it objectionable or violent.

Read the rest here.

More on the Aftermath of Gabriele Sandri’s Death and the Riots in Italy

Unfortunately I don’t have the time (or the knowledge) to construct a thoughtful post on the aftermath of yesterday’s terrible events in Italy this morning. But I can again urge you to read the commentary from two people on the ground there: see ursus’ latest comment today on our post regarding what happened with the actual shooting (it looks like the cop is being thrown under the bus by the authorities as he may now face a manslaughter charge) — and more from Spangly Princess in Rome on the response of the bereaving family, who posted a sign in their shop reading “Yesterday a disgusting bastard murdered my son. May you be cursed for all time.”

Lazio Fan, Gabriele Sandri from Rome, Shot Dead Today; Riots Break Out

[singlepic=18,260,195,right]Gabriele Sandri, a well-known DJ from Rome and a Lazio supporter, was shot dead by the police this morning at a gas station in Badia al Pino, Arezzo. This followed an incident in which a group of Lazio ultras had attacked Juventus fans in their cars, the latter appealing for help from passing police; the shooting that followed is being reported by the media as accidental.

Today’s Lazio-Inter game has been postponed, and ultras are protesting throughout the country — rumours are circulating the internet wildly already, with claims that Sandri was shot multiple times. The Atalanta v Milan game was stopped due to fans breaking down a glass barrier, and Lazio fans have unfurled banners reading “Assassini, assassini” against the police. Many ultras are furious the rest of the day’s games were only delayed for fifteen minutes rather than cancelled altogether.

This may well all get a lot worse before it gets better. Two bloggers are on the case, Martha from the Italy Offside and in Italy, Spangly Princess.

Update: Be sure to read the comments below, with updates coming in from readers ursus and Ben.

Update 2: As I feared, things did get a lot worse: rioting broke out in Rome. Go read Spangles on the latest from Italy.

And again, “politics not football”:

Trouble started around 18h in the residential quarter on the other side of the river at the local headquarters of the squadra mobile (rapid response investigative police, who often deal with football related criminal activity). The crowd, variously estimated at from 200 to 1000 people, moved off when their initial siege was held off, rampaging around the area and finally crossing over to the stadium where they attacked the headquarters of CONI, the governing body for all sports in Italy. An incendiary device was thrown into the building, windows were smashed, vehicles and wheelie bins were overturned and set on fire, and according to some reports several hundred people broke into the building. Dozens of policemen and carabinieri have been treated for injuries of varying gravity.

It was, in essence, the pre- and post-match violence of a super fraught fixture, only without the match.

Driving past half an hour ago, the streets are littered with rubble, wrenched up road signs and abandoned 2m metal poles used as weapons. Overturned bins lie in the road. Fully armed riot police are still conspicuous by their presence. The whole area is lit up like an even less salubrious Blackpool – the stadium floodlights are on full, and as we drove northwards from the centre we ould say the whole area glowing a fierce white. The place was eerily empty of non-police. But it looked like a war zone.

Update 3: Gramsci’s Kingdom discusses the remarkably widespread and rapid response to the events, pointing to the failure of Italian state as the root cause of the rioting. As he puts it, “Today’s events, fundamentally, are not about football. They are about a society in deep, deep trouble. No one trusts authority. No one believes that any guilty party will be punished. And, without the reassurance that justice will be done, they take matters into their own hands.”


Ultras video – Irriducibili

Lazio’s ultras, Irriducibili (Unmovables), are known for their extreme right-wing views and the imprisonment of their leaders last year. This was the culmination of serious failures by the club to deal with the disturbing behaviour of their hardcore fans. As Rob Hughes explained as far back as 2001:

The ultra-extremists of Lazio, calling themselves the Irriducibili (Unmovables), unfurled a banner that read “Auschwitz, your country — ovens your home” at the 1998 Roman derby match against Roma. When Lazio was fined $2,250 last season after the Irriducibili, harangued Bruno N’Gotty, a black defender who plays for Venezia, Dino Zoff, who was then assistant to Lazio’s club president, said: “I don’t know whether you could really call that racism. It’s more a question of people making fun. Fans pick on someone tall, short, gray-haired.”

Here they are in action, with obligatory bombastic music.

Ultras video – 06.14.07 – Curva Nord

The power and resilience of ultras culture today in Europe is interestingly demonstrated by one of the smaller continental team’s fans: the Atalanta ultras. Despite the relative anonymity of their team in Italy, they are renowned for their passion and organisation, as can be seen in this video.

Below the fold, more on the Atalanta ultras.

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