Football Fanatics: Derby Capitolino’s politically tumultuous genesis

Whether crucially intrinsic to football rivalries in general or consequences of inherent human conditions, ideological differences and political contests rear their enigmatic head within most football rivalries. Socioeconomic classes and cultural or political discrepancies ultimately precede most football rivalries. As previously mentioned through my column centering on Spain’s El Clásico rivalry between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, such rivalries necessitate some type of differences or animosity, or else there would not be such hostility. 

Intra-city rivalries present heightened tensions due to immediate adjacency between bitter opponents, as opposed to derbies consisting of teams representative of different cities. Spectators witness identical sociopolitical dynamics in a confined and immediate setting. The two most coveted football clubs in Argentina, Boca Juniors and River Plate, borrow Buenos Aires’ full attention in the superclásico. The clubs’ immediate adjacency and rivalry’s extensive history explain the number of riots caused by the meeting. The Argentine derby is only one of the more predominant and comprehensive examples of inter-city rivalries.

However, although rare, a few intra-city rivals share stadiums with their forbidden adversaries. Interestingly, most of the well-recognized examples come from Italy’s top-flight football. From the heated Milan exhibition between AC Milan and Internazionale in the San Siro stadium to the burgeoning rivalry between Hellas Verona and Chievo in the Stadio Marc’Antonio Bentegodi, Italy is home to rare displays of intra-city rivalries within shared stadiums. However, Italy’s fiercest football intra-city clash occurs in Rome’s Stadio Olimpico between polar opposite A.S. Roma and S.S. Lazio, and will again steal headlines this Sunday. 

Rivalry Origins

The derby’s initial makings began in 1927 after a three-club merger that created A.S. Roma to compete with professional clubs hailing from Northern cities. The controversial unification alienated fellow Roman club S.S. Lazio, who resisted the merger and sought club independence. Although A.S. Roma and S.S Lazio fans predominantly share identical political ideologies, the media has noted a traditional, working-class profile among A.S. Roma fans, who hail from inner-city districts, and a far-right, wealthier identity among S.S. Lazio supporters.

Suffice it to say, the differences between club supporters originate from perceptions of the other group’s Roman identity: A.S. Roma fans identify as true Romans and perceive S.S. Lazio fans as outsiders and vice versa.     

Recent Clashes

Due to the rivalry’s cultural genesis and origin, respective supporters have clashed and been involved in acts of violence. In 1979, Lazio fan Vincenzo Paparelli was fatally struck in the eye with a flare directed by a Roma fan in the Stadio Olimpico, causing Italy’s first football-related casualty. Following a rumor that a boy had been killed outside the stadium during a 2004 meeting, riots began within the Stadio Olimpico stands. Fifteen supporters were arrested and 24 people were hurt as a result of the commotion. 

Unfortunately, especially among Italy ultra fan groups, racism and ignorance continue to be utilized as a vehicle for supporters. In 2017, Lazio fans infamously created stickers and graffiti art depicting holocaust victim Anne Frank donning a Roma jersey. One of Lazio’s highest regarded football players, Paolo Di Canio, was a self-professed fascist and Benito Mussolini admirer. In January 2005, Di Canio infamously celebrated a goal against A.S. Roma with a straight salute reminiscent of the contentious Nazi salute.  

The Rome Derby as a Microcosm 

Besides the belligerent clashes between Roman clubs fueled by cultural and socioeconomic class differences and racist sentiments among ultra supporters, the Rome derby, similar to all football rivalries, serves as a microcosm. Specifically, the derby arguably exposes the consequences of perverted, misplaced regional patriotism and again discloses racism stemming from territorial nationalism. 

However, an integral absence of knowledge may be obfuscating a genuine assessment of the derby. To many Romans, the rivalry may signify a much more profound meaning. Regardless, Italy’s fiercest rivalry will continue stoking resentment and hostility between the two Roman clubs.

Hector Almendarez is a junior writing about soccer clubs and their passionate fanbases. He is also a sports editor at the Daily Trojan.