Flags, banners, songs and colour: Rome’s derby must be brought back to life

Corriere dello Sport (Marco Evangelisti) The Olimpico used to be the place of passion and intelligence, now it’s become an empty void. There is neither body nor blood in the curve, and there’s little soul. There are still some who fondly remember the days when no one stood alone in the stands. When the two sets of fans would secretly smuggle in their flags and banners into the ground the night before. It had to be secret, not because they had to hide them from the authorities, but because both rivals knew the importance of surprise. They were the days when the Olimpico was full, so full that people didn’t count tickets sold but the number of empty seats instead, one or two at a time. On 25th March, 2000, some think there were 74,074 fans there, some think there were 74,076, maybe because people counted at 2 different times and a couple of people had gone to the toilet. It hardly matters, the Olimpico was bursting at the seams. Lazio won 2-1 in front of what might have been the biggest attendance ever at a derby; it’s impossible to say for certain, as the stadium has been expanded, reduced, torn apart and rebuilt again numerous times throughout its eventful history. 

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History, incidentally, sometimes comes full circle. We haven’t quite gone back to the days of the first derby at the Rondinella (8th December, 1929) when Volk scored the winning goal for Roma in front of just 15,000 fans (though there was already a fierce rivalry), but there’s still time. Actually, let us hope that the times change for the better. History takes a strange path, and the desire to go mad with joy and to create something special, both in the stands and on the pitch, hasn’t gone forever.

Roman football was yet to really take off in the 1970s, Lazio were mediocre and Roma were not even that. But even then, when you entered the stadium you could see the Curva Sud sizzling, filled by a sea of red and yellow flags and banners, a perfect display of coordination and colour, every fan singing together as one. The Lazio end was bare, almost desolate. Then, as the teams appeared and lined up on the pitch ready for kick off, the Curva Nord suddenly produced a giant banner, its message simple but clear: “Send them down to Serie B”. Silence fell at the other end, flags slipping from the fans’ hands. Sometimes it would be the opposite, when Laziali would be silenced by a simple low blow from Roma fans, like when they displayed images of famous captains from their long history and claimed that Lazio didn’t have any of their own to display in return. It doesn’t matter if it’s true or not: supporters aren’t supposed to defend the truth, they defend their preconceived beliefs instead.

There has always been one big difference between Romanisti and Laziali. For Romanisti, the derby is a spectacular, exuberant event, with songs and loud support, the stands carpeted in red and yellow like the supporters’ coach that followed the team to away games throughout the 1970s. However, Laziali have always treated it as an occasion for artistic sarcasm, like Massimo Di Clemente’s choreography in February 1996, Charon transporting the damned souls of Giallorossi fans, and then the perfectly placed eagle in the curva in 2015. Laziali have always had a gift for irony, even when protesting, like after their historic Coppa Italia win in May 2013. They arrived late to the following derby, saying that everything that needed to happen had already happened, so they had stayed outside for one last beer. As Roma went on to win, Romanisti replied on the Internet that “you drank outside, but you got stuffed inside”. This back and forth is what the derby is all about. But then came the prefects, the quaestors, and since then the derby has completely disappeared.

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