The untold story of Roma’s supporters at Atalanta (Gianvittorio De Gennaro) When watching 2 mantises mate, it’s possible to see just how fascinating the natural order of things can be. From one angle, they seem to be dancing the long waltz of love, but it’s impossible to describe events from multiple perspectives by looking at just one angle; in this case, the view hides the fact that the female, in order to obtain the necessary protein for reproduction, is literally devouring the male. The pictures of Atalanta-Roma that were published by half the country’s media reminded me of this: while people watching on TV were indignant at the clashes in the car park outside the away end between a few Romanisti and the security forces, the partiality of television channels kept some other important factors and perspectives hidden. As a result, those confrontations crossed over from what our eyes actually see and what our heart wants us to see. And while lies fly halfway round the world while the truth is still tying its shoelaces, I decided to give the truth a hand by describing what TV production companies mysteriously omitted from this match in order to make their product more commercially usable. Because, just in case people have forgotten, violence isn’t something that needs to be defeated but should instead be strengthened and moulded to suit the scriptwriters’ needs.


Whether Romanisti supporters should be allowed to travel to the game was discussed at length: should the ban remain in place, or should they allow them to travel again after two years to the day – more or less – since they last visited? My last trip to the foothills of the Prealpi Orobiche was back in November 2014, which was marked by some unrest at the end of the game that led to a number of arrests, while the screw was turned yet further on the already oppressed Bergamaschi fans. I was therefore satisfied to learn that around 2,000 Roman fans would be allowed to travel to Bergamo. Denying someone’s rights in the fraudulent name of security, concealing an inability to act in the fact of supposed danger, is damaging in a democratic state, especially when you consider that it would defy the point of having things like the Tessera del Tifoso in place. Before we left, some people talked about it being a “test of Giallorossi fans’ maturity”, as if a year and a half of civil protests against the decision to militarise the Stadio Olimpico weren’t demonstration enough, as if a year and a half of travelling around Italy without creating any trouble hardly mattered. Others were convinced that it was a trap: to provoke them in order to reinvent a pretext to justify the authorities’ firm stances in the face of fans’, Roma’s and politicians’ long-requested relationship of give and take. Anyway, back to the match. Let’s skip over the account of how la Dea, alas, deservedly won the game on the pitch, and also the rivalry between the fans in the stands which saw some smoke bombs being let off by the home fans, a few mocking banners from the away fans, and a few mild skirmishes. People have been engaging in local squabbles throughout Italy for centuries, so the Bergamaschi fans’ rancour towards Romanisti – and vice versa – shouldn’t be that surprising.

Bergamo, Stadio Atleti Azzurri d’Italia, the away fans’ car park: lights, camera, action!

Private coaches and buses heading directly for the station had left a few moments before, while darkness had fallen on the city and the rest of the crowd were waiting for a sign that they could go to the Via Spino car park, a meeting point for fans who had arrived at the ground under their own steam. Suddenly there was the sound of an explosion, then another. People were hurriedly getting off the shuttle buses to find out what had happened. Some were looking worried, others were looking tense and ready to defend themselves; everyone’s heart was beating almost audibly and the atmosphere was getting increasingly heavy. A motley crowd of ultras, fired up fans, lone mavericks, fathers, mothers and children were retracing their steps back towards the street to see what was going on in the Viale Giulio Cesare, where some of the Atalanta fans had begun to congregate after the game, and who were swiftly joined by riot police and a number of TV cameras.

Have you ever seen canisters thrown over your head, only for them to break up into several pieces and release gas contained within them? The security forces’ reaction to a couple of cherry bombs thrown by Bergamaschi fans was to respond by throwing tear gas at head height. At the Giallorossi fans. Clearly they had problems with their aim. Unfortunately none of the journalists present talked about it, maybe they were busy preparing for a live broadcast or maybe they just weren’t interested in this unjustifiable violence initiated for no apparent reason. Some people were conspicuously crying, others were retching, others were running wild with fear, not to mention those people who were being hit and sustaining mild injuries. Like a beehive that has been hit with a stick, the swarm of Romans dispersed in complete disarray as they tried to get away from the toxic cloud. Although it has been used for years, Chlorobenzylidene-malononitrile is a chemical compound capable of causing heart, lung and liver damage; scientific studies, which call it ‘CS gas’, have classified it as a chemical weapon. It was an unjustified attack, which crossed the line from legal to illegal, but it was an individual’s choice that shouldn’t be judged by writers in retrospect. Too often people write as supreme judges, calling for public executions and for people to be made an example of, which are typical of totalitarian regimes. Though at this point, after reading statements and articles calling for everyone present to be cautioned and banned from travelling to away games for the rest of the season (which were quickly dismissed by the decision – which is not yet official – not to ban the entire Giallorossi fan base), I would be tempted to reintroduce the guillotine myself. After all, a three-headed monster can still survive without one of its heads.

Despite all the TV cameras, which were as numerous as they would have been for a terrorist attack (some journalists might have mistaken Bergamo for Paris), someone acted on animal instinct and tried to force open the yellow gates on the edge of the car park. By chance, I noticed that the gate hadn’t been properly locked, allowing it to be opened from the inside. Who knows what would have happened if, instead of it being left open, it had been securely locked, stopping anyone from getting through and escalating the situation into something potentially very dangerous. I might be being a bit cynical, but maybe the show wouldn’t have gone to air without that little detail. The idea of transforming a car park into a powder keg filled with gas and a few rowdy fans is so potent from a commercial point of view that, at this point, you might think it would make a great idea for a lucrative TV show. But then maybe it’s already been made.

I had just been able to wriggle free of yet another wave of people running away after being thrown violently against a bus because of a madman running scared like a crazed bull when I saw more of those evil canisters being thrown as I strained my head to try and get some fresh air. I watched them getting ever closer to me, stood still as if I were in quicksand, until with a few steps to one side I was able to avoid their impact. But I was close enough to hear the tears and coughs, the coughing and crying and swearing. Honestly, if I hadn’t already realised that I was just a bit-part actor in a wider production, I would have thought about reacting to it all. But often craftiness is often more effective in the long run than man’s most primal feelings. The wind had just taken the last toxic cloud with it when the shuttle buses once filled more filled with fans, one piled on top of another in complete disregard for any safety measures. In fact, this is an often overlooked factor when we follow football – supplying such a small number of buses for such a large amount of fans is a decision that has clearly not had any thought put into it at all.

“Either do what we tell you and we’ll identify you one by one, or we’ll flatten you.” Those words reverberated around strongly while one member of the security forces headed towards the first bus. “I’m telling you this to help you: the DIGOS in Rome and the Questore want you all to be checked and to go back after you’ve been identified. So either obey or we’ll have to use force.”

Every time I hear someone call for everyone to be condemned in order to educate 1, 2, or 10 people, I think of these words. If the collective has to pay the price for every individual who crosses the line, then it is reasonable to argue the same should be applied for every class of society. And since this is the reasoning of a primary schoolchild, and not, for example, senators, then maybe – maybe – it would be right to remember that individuals are responsible for their own actions and that every cross-section of society is a heterogenous body which needs to be examined carefully, never probed erga omnes. The mood of those 400 people goes without saying, forced to wait on a cold November evening while TV cameras filmed them up close before they were given their boarding passes and allowed to go back home. It was the final, symbolic curtain to a TV spectacle that gave viewers, clamouring for an exemplary sentence, the perfect ending. The thing that must be appreciated most is this ability to create the possibility of unleashing a wave of indignation, to be able to point the finger at an enemy that must be defeated in order to provide light to people who live in darkness, and to make them feel as though they are living in a fictitious, idyllic world. Like a bubble that rises towards the sky, looking at the world below it with pride, not knowing that its destiny is to burst when it touches the atmosphere.

Back in Rome, I couldn’t get to sleep, such was the disappointment I felt at witnessing such an absurd situation be made reality, and which only gave more substance to reporters’ negative stories. As a result, in the middle of the night, a conversation I had heard as a child came to mind, the words of a man ready to run away from the fiction of his life by avoiding the scriptwriter’s will. The people who passed in front of those TV cameras, supporting the work’s plot, reminded me of the first few scenes of that film. They were TV stars while I waited off stage, like Sylvia waiting expectantly for her Truman.

“Truman, you can speak. I can hear you.”

“Who are you?”

“I am the creator of a television show that gives hope and joy and inspiration to millions.”

“Then who am I?”

“You’re the star.”

Being the star – for better or for worse, though by now it’s only for worse. Because the display that the most passionate fans are able to create has been forgotten about in favour of a silent, colourless spectacle. And it’s now more convenient to fuel the fires of anger by trying to give the demanding public the most succulent of dishes.


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