AS Roma Match Program (Tiziano Riccardi) 30th May, 2015: Roma-Palermo, Matchday 38 of the 2014/15 Serie A season. It was the final game in Italy’s top flight, and it was a sweet epilogue, coming as it did 5 days after the Iturbe and Yanga-Mbiwa derby. That derby secured the Giallorossi’s direct qualification to the Champions League group stage at the expense of their local rivals. But the game against the Sicilians was the last time that the Curva Sud turned up in their entirety to support their team freely, without being troubled in how they entered the ground or being divided by barriers in the middle of the curva. After that Roma-Palermo game the Curva Sud was full for Roma-Juventus in the league and Roma-Barcelona in the Champions League the next season, but – with the construction of the dividing wall – the support wasn’t the same. It couldn’t be. In the first game the fans remained in silence in protest throughout the 90 minutes, despite the 2-1 win with goals from Pjanic and Dzeko. In the second game, some decided to abandon the prestigious European tie with the Spaniards (a 1-1 draw, with an outrageous goal from Florenzi from midfield) which, actually, began the general strike by supporters that officially started the following Sunday for the home game with Sassuolo.
19 months, or 675 days to be exact, have passed since then. A form of silent, obstinate protest, that has spoken for the country as a whole. Things will go back to normal on Tuesday evening for the second leg of the Coppa Italia semi final against Lazio. Almost 2 years of unrestrained calls and publicly stated positions by directors and players imploring the authorities to take a step back and allow the fans to go back to their curva. The decision was imposed on Roma in the summer of 2015, and the then quaestor Nicolo D’Angelo – now prefect of Viterbo – explained it as follows: “The aim is to guarantee legality and transparency. The curve must no longer be off limits.” The club didn’t like their implementation from the start, but were forced to accept it against their will as it was a decision taken by the Questura and the Prefecture. President James Pallotta was clear from the start; in an interview with Roma Radio on 31st August, 2015, shortly before the win against Juventus, he said: “I want to be clear about the separation of the curva, Roma have nothing to do with it, we have never supported it, never asked for it, you just have to look at the model of the new stadium which is built around the Curva Sud.” Even the former Prefect of Rome, Franco Gabrielli, made the club’s resistance clear in an interview with the Corriere dello Sport on 5th November, 2015: “There was tantrum after tantrum,” the current Chief of Police said – “Lotito was much more cooperative, Roma were suffering by themselves.”
But people claimed on the radio and on social media that Roma had approved and shared the decision without resisting it, despite all the Giallorossi management’s public declarations that they shared their fans’ unhappiness. General director Mauro Baldissoni expressed his own disapproval on more than one occasion. 26th October, 2015, Roma Radio: “We believe the time to return to normality has come, there’s no sense in football without fans. Even if we win, it wouldn’t be the same. When politicians believe it’s necessary to introduce extreme measures – such as I believe the Daspo is, which I think is at the limit of constitutional legality – they must do so by justifying it with a real and contingent necessity, while offering a solution that would re-establish normality. We often hear that we should aim to bring families, children and joy back to the stadium. It’s hard to do that if the journey to the stadium is like entering a military compound. It’s clear that this isn’t tolerable for anything other than a very short period of time, and it has probably already been too long. We all have to work together to try and get back to what I would call normality, which is the joy of going to the stadium without any particular restrictions. I would add something else: we have asked the politicians to consider an alternative that is internationally recognised to be normality, which is without barriers, without pre-filtering systems, without turnstiles.” In another interview with Roma Radio on 10th September, 2016, the general director went even further: “If the difficulty of using the Stadio Olimpico continues and if attendances keep dropping, maybe we’ll have to start to consider using different, smaller stadiums.” Even CEO Umberto Gandini spoke about the barriers after taking up the role in September 2016. “The fact that Rome has to be an example for the rest of the country in terms of security is difficult for the Roman people to accept,” he told asroma.com. Coach Luciano Spalletti underlined the important of the curva‘s support many times. “The people of the Sud deserve faith. If people put faith in them, they will know how to make an important statement. If they wanted to cause trouble then they would do that away from home as well, where they follow us every game.” Not to mention the numerous and repeated calls from the three Roman and Romanisti captains, Francesco Totti, Daniele De Rossi and Alessandro Florenzi. The number 10 said: “I hope they take down the barriers as soon as possible. We are one with the fans. We need them and they need us.” The 16: “I don’t support anarchy in the curva, but the rules must never attack the fans’ rights and dignity. They are right to protest, there can’t be one rule for some and another for others.” And the 24: “It isn’t right that this just happens in Rome and not in other stadiums. Hopefully the people responsible will do their job and give us our fans back.”
The most curious fact is that three quarters of the players in the first team squad have never really seen or heard the pulsating heart of the supporters. Wojciech Szczesny, Alisson Becker, Antonio Ruediger, Federico Fazio, Thomas Vermaelen, Juan Jesus, Bruno Peres, Emerson Palmieri, Mario Rui, Diego Perotti, Gerson, Clement Grenier, Mohamed Salah, Stephan El Shaarawy, Edin Dzeko. 15 players out of 23. 15 players out of 23 have never seen or heard the real Curva Sud. They will see and hear it for the first time on Tuesday 4th April, 2017 for Roma-Lazio in the Coppa Italia. At its best for the first time. To spur their team on towards the final, with no more barriers holding them back.