The Curva Sud of Rome's Stadio Olimpico heaves with electricty during the Capital Derby. (Getty Images)
Il Derby della Capitale
Civic pride and bragging rights in the Eternal City are at stake when AS Roma and SS Lazio meet in Italian soccer's biggest grudge match
Last Updated Weds., Nov. 28, 2007
It's 90 minutes before kickoff, and you're more than a kilometre away, but you can still hear the singing and revelry coming from inside the stadium.
Thousands upon thousands of tifosi (fans) wave flags and chant at the top of their lungs as you walk across the Duca O'Aosta bridge high above the Tiber River, while at the same time hundreds of motorini (mopeds), some with banners attached to the back of them, cruise by at dangerously high speeds, dodging children and potholes.
Once you make it over the bridge, you still have to cross Lungo Tevere, a dangerous intersection where even the public buses are infamous for not conceding the right of way to pedestrians. But it's worth risking life and limb to cross because one of the most gorgeous views in the city awaits you when you get to the other side, that of the stadium illuminating the pristine autumn sky.
You're almost there. Just a few more steps and you enter the long marble corridor, festooned with classical Roman statues down both sides and Olympic caricatures inscribed in its footpath, which leads to the stadium.
There's only one city in the world where fans partaking in the normally mundane task of walking to a soccer stadium are made to feel as though they are making a Holy pilgrimage.
Welcome to Rome. City of Caesars and the seat of civilization, home of Fellini's La Dolce Vita, sun-splashed piazzas, Trevi Fountain and the Vatican.
Welcome to Stadio Olimpico, a modern-day Colosseum providing Romans with a ringside seat for a battle between two bloodthirsty gladiators.
Welcome to the Rome derby.
Twice a year, Rome's two premier soccer clubs, AS Roma and SS Lazio, square off in Il Derby della Capitale (The Derby of the Capital), the most heated and bitter rivalry in Serie A, the Italian first division.
Three valuable points in the league standings are up for grabs whenever Roma and Lazio clash, but something much more important is also at stake: civic pride and bragging rights in the Eternal City. The locals like to say that the derby is "much more than just a game," and considering the history of these two famous clubs, it's easy to understand why Rome, a bustling metropolis of three million people, grinds to a standstill on derby day.
The birth of a rivalry
Societa Sportiva Lazio was founded as a multi-discipline sports club by an army officer in 1900. Lazio started as a full-time soccer team in 1906, adopting the colours of the Greek flag as their own - hence the team's nickname, the biancocelesti (the white-sky blues).
Associazione Sportiva Roma, also known as the giallorossi (the yellow and reds) was established in 1927 when three clubs from the city of Rome merged: Alba, Fortitudo and Roman. The only major team from Rome to resist the merger was, you guessed it, Lazio.
On Dec. 8, 1929, the first Roman derby was held with Rodolfo Volk scoring the only goal to lift Roma to a 1-0 victory over Lazio. A rivalry quickly grew between the teams, with the bulk of Lazio's fan base coming from the northern (and politically right-wing) part of Rome, while Roma drew its supporters from the southern (and politically left-leaning) section of the city.
AS Roma captain Francesco Totti: as much a symbol of Rome as the Colosseum or St. Peter's Square. (Marco Vasini/Associated Press)
Today, Roma's ultras (hardcore fans) occupy the Curva Sud (south end) of Stadio Olimpico, and Lazio's ultras sit in the Curva Nord (north end).
"My grandfather once asked his father why he supported Lazio and not Roma. He told my grandfather that when he was a child, Lazio was the only club around," Franco Spicciariello, a freelance sports writer in Rome and a diehard Lazio fan, told CBCSports.ca.
Like so many other things in life, family is the tie that binds with regards to the derby. Even the thought of changing allegiances is an act of heresy, according to Spicciariello: "I'd never cheer for Roma. My father, and his father and his father were all Lazio fans. This is the only team I've ever known."
Roma's motto is "La Roma non si discute, si ama" (Roma is not discussed, it is loved), based on a song by local singer Antonello Venditti that is played before every home game. It's a slogan that many fans live by.
"I'm a third-generation Roma fan. This club is my life," said Roma supporter Aldo Pancaro, a fruit and vegetable vendor who works in Campo de' Fiori, the city's most famous outdoor market.
It's this type of passion, this type of devotion that fuels the Capital Derby. The words, "Forza Roma" and "Forza Lazio" are spray painted on every inch of available space on walls throughout the city. Men sit in cafes and debate the upcoming derby over their morning espressos. No less than 10 talk radio stations have lengthy call in shows that discuss the Roma-Lazio rivalry. Coverage of the derby is splashed all over the newspapers and it's the top story on television on the evening news.
Take a walk around the centre of Rome and you'll find few, if any, people wearing Roma or Lazio shirts. That's because in years past too many fans were beaten up for displaying their team colours, leading to a truce between both sets of fans.
"There is a general understanding that you don't wear your team's jersey in the city. The only place you can get away with it is outside and inside the stadium on the day of a game," warned Spicciariello.
More than a game to the fans
Roma and Lazio fans loathe and despise each other, and they will go to great lengths to taunt one another.
In May 2001, with Roma on the cusp of winning its first Italian league title since 1983, Lazio fans stuck it to their city rivals by organizing a choreography of blue and white placards which spelt out "ROMA E MERDA" (ROMA IS SH--) in gigantic letters across the Curva Nord during a derby game.
Earlier that same season, Lazio defender Paolo Negro scored an own goal in a derby game, and Roma ended up winning 1-0. The following week, giallorossi fans started wearing Roma jerseys with Negro's name and number printed on the back. Years later while playing for Siena at Stadio Olimpico, Negro was sarcastically applauded by Roma fans, who make it a point to mercilessly heckle ex-Lazio players on opposing teams.
Fans of Roma and Lazio wave their banners during the derby. (Photo Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images)
Another reason why the Capital Derby is so fiercely contested is because Roma and Lazio have not loosened the vice-like grip that the richer teams from the north have on the Italian game. Indeed, Roma and Lazio have won only five Italian league titles between them (Roma in 1942, 1983 and 2001; Lazio in 1974 and 2000). Compare that to the 27 scudetti (league titles) won by Turin-based Juventus, or the 17 championships won by AC Milan, or the 15 won by Inter Milan.
More often that not, Roma and Lazio are not in contention, which means the derby serves as their de facto league championship.
There are other forces at work here, as well, not the least of which is the devout regionalism that has historically divided the country. Italy is more of a loose collection of autonomous-minded provinces than it is a single, unified nation.
"What you have to understand is that Italy is just a geographical distinction," Franco Spicciariello explained. "Italy is not a unified country the way the United States is. People here think of themselves as being Roman, or Tuscan or from being from Sicily before they consider themselves Italian."
The Roma-Lazio rivalry takes on an entirely new meaning within this context, as fans view the derby as a battle between two clubs fighting for the right to represent the city to the rest of the country, fighting to see which team is more Roman.
Death of a fan
In one tragic case, the rivalry had deadly consequences. In 1979, Lazio supporter Vincenzo Paparelli was killed when he was hit in the eye with a flare thrown by a Roma fan.
Sadly, Paparelli's death isn't the only black mark in the history of the Capital Derby.
Seeking to deride the city's Jewish population that traditionally supports Roma, Lazio's ultras took anti-Semitism to sickening heights in a derby game during the 1998-99 season when they unfurled a 50-metre banner around the Curva Nord that read, "Auschwitz is your town, the ovens are your houses."
Two years later, Lazio supporters taunted Roma's star black players, Brazilians Cafu and Aldair, with boos and monkey chants whenever they touched the ball. They also displayed several offensive banners, including one that claimed Roma was a "Team of blacks followed by Jews."
After scoring in Lazio's 3-1 victory in January 2005, team captain Paolo Di Canio ran over to the Curva Nord and gave the Lazio fans a straight-armed Roman salute, a gesture made infamous by former fascist leader of Italy, Benito Mussolini.
Paolo Di Canio gives a straight-arm salute to Lazio supporters after scoring against Roma. (Giuseppe Calzuola/Associated Press)
Swastikas, fascist symbols and other extremist messages often decorated banners of the Lazio supporters, including one that read "Onore Alla Tigre Arkan" (Honour to Tiger Arkan). That banner appeared in the Curva Nord during a 2001 game after 'Tiger' Arkan, a general in the Serbian army accused by the United Nations of genocide during the Balkan wars, was killed the previous week.
It's important to note that these individuals make up a small (but vocal) minority of Lazio supporters and the club has distanced itself from these "fans" and fought to combat overt acts of racism in the stands, although some critics argue the club hasn't done enough.
Still, despite Lazio's best intentions, problems persist. Last month, Fiorentina striker Adrian Mutu, a Romanian, was serenaded by chants of "gypsy" by a section of the Curva Nord during a game at Stadio Olimpico.
Roma fans have also been known to hold up racist banners from time to time, and in one infamous instance, they caused the Capital Derby to be suspended.
The March 21, 2004 derby was abandoned four minutes into the second half when a riot broke out in the stands. The violence followed the spread of a false rumour that a police car outside the stadium had killed a young boy. The game was abandoned after members of the ultras walked onto the field and told Roma captain Francesco Totti of the incident, and that there would be further trouble if the game wasn't called off.
Fighting between fans and the police continued inside and outside the stadium. The game was replayed (without incident) at a later date and ended in a 1-1 draw.
Racism and fan violence aside, the derby is best known for its pageantry (the choreography of signs and banners, exploding firecrackers, and colourful songs produced by fans of both teams is a site to behold), for incredible individual performances (Vinzenzo Montella torched Lazio for four goals in a 5-1 win for Roma in 2002), and for the quality of its soccer, as some of the biggest names in the game (Totti, Pavel Nedved, Paul Gascoigne, Gabriel Batistuta and Hernan Crespo) have played in the derby.
And while soccer is the centrepiece, one shouldn't overlook the importance of Italy's ancient history in explaining the significance of the Capital Derby to the city of Rome and its citizens, either.
Ruling emperors placated and distracted impoverished Romans with free food and gory spectacles at the Colosseum, leading one satirist to mock them for selling their real freedom in exchange for "bread and circuses." Romans, like most Italians, enjoy a good spectacle, and the derby provides more drama and intrigue than the average soap opera on Italian television.
Italy has "an ancient culture where bread and circuses has always been important and where the idea of the spectacular has always been important," Paddy Agnew, a Rome-based reporter for the Irish Times, said in a 2004 interview with CBCSports.ca.
"What is the great modern spectacular? There is none, but as we all know, the world's most popular sport is football [soccer] and this ties in beautifully with something that comes easily to Italians, that whole sense of drama and spectacle, and football is the great modern drama."
Roma out for revenge
This season's first derby match, on Halloween, was full of drama and spectacle.
A week before the game, captain Francesco Totti, a lifelong Roma supporter who grew up in the city, injured his ankle in a Champions League tilt against Portuguese outfit Sporting Lisbon. In the buildup to the derby, the Rome-based Il Corriere dello Sport, one of Italy's leading sports dailies, provided readers with daily updates on the condition of il Capitano (the Captain), Totti's nickname. Page after page was dedicated to the derby, including a column penned by Totti himself, with the newspaper analyzing the contest in miniscule detail and from every possible angle.
"It's been two years since we won and it's time to start [winning] again," said Roma star Daniele De Rossi, a 24-year-old midfielder who was born in Rome and has been tabbed as Totti's successor.
"We're the stronger team, we're superior to Lazio. I say that without presumption, but in the recent derbies we haven't had the luck or the prowess to make our superiority show."
Last year, Lazio entered the season's first derby trailing Roma by 11 points in the standings. Most media pundits predicted Roma would win a cakewalk. Instead, Lazio won 3-0, its largest margin of victory ever against Roma.
AS Roma's Mirko Vucinic, left, and Lazio's defender Luciano Zauri fight for the ball during last month's derby match. (Andrew Medichini/Associated Press)
This time around, Roma entered the derby in second place with an eight-point lead on Lazio, which was languishing in 13th place in the standings.
The prospect of playing Lazio without Totti, as much a symbol of Rome as the Colosseum or St. Peter's Square, had most Roma fans worried. But Mirko Vucinic, the team's star striker from Montenegro, emerged as the team's saviour after scoring winning goals against Sporting Lisbon in the Champions League and AC Milan in Serie A the previous week.
With Totti relegated to watching the match from the stands, Lazio takes a 1-0 lead in the 11th minute when Tommaso Rocchi scores, capitalizing on a Roma defensive error. The Curva Nord erupts, while the Curva Sud is stunned into silence.
Eight minutes later Roma levels the score when Vucinic completes a pretty Roma passing play by hammering the ball past the Lazio goalkeeper. The Curva Sud is sent into a state of delirium when Amantino Mancini scores with three minutes left in the half to make it 2-1 for Roma.
With the Curva Sud throbbing with energy and electricity, Roma scores a third goal, this one by Simone Perrotta early in the second half and the game appears to be over. But Argentine star Cristian Ledesma scores on a beautiful, curling free kick with 21 minutes left in regulation to pull Lazio within a goal.
Late in the game, Vucinic is substituted and as he makes his way to the sidelines, the Montenegrin is given a thunderous ovation by the Roma tifosi after a brilliant performance. Lazio furiously presses for the tying goal, but Roma successfully holds on for a thrilling 3-2 victory.
Bedlam ensues after the final whistle. Roma fans set off firecrackers and smoke bombs, light flares and sing in deafening unison as Antonello Venditti's "Grazie Roma" (Thank you Rome) blares over the public address system. Lazio fans whistle in derision.
The Roma players walk over to the Curva Sud to thank their tifosi. The loudest ovation is reserved for Vucinic, who was voted player of the game. The Montenegrin tears off his jersey and throws it to a lucky fan in the curva as he soaks up the adulation.
Vucinic has emerged as a new gladiator for a victorious Roma, while a wounded Lazio, still being cheered by their fans at the other end of the stadium, will live to fight another day against their city rivals in the modern-day, fight-to-the-death battle that is Il Derby della Capitale.
- Associazione Sportiva Roma: More commonly known as AS Roma or Roma, the club was founded in 1927 when three local teams merged: Alba, Fortitudo and Roman. The team is also referred to as the giallorossi, the yellow and reds, after the team's official colours.
- Societa Sportiva Lazio: More commonly known as Lazio, the club was formed in 1900. The team is also referred to as the biancocelesti, the white-sky blues.
- Roma and Lazio both play at Stadio Olimpico (Olympic Stadium) in Rome and the clubs' twice-a-season contests against one another in Serie A (the Italian first division) are known as Il Derby della Capitale (The Derby of the Capital). Roma's hardcore fans, the ultras, occupy the Curva Sud (south end) of the stadium, while Lazio's ultras have staked out the Curva Nord (north end).
FACTS AND FIGURES
- Win-loss-draws-goals: 159 games played, 57 wins for Roma, 43 wins for Lazio, 59 draws, 193 goals for Roma, 154 for Lazio
- The first derby: Dec. 8, 1929 - Rodolfo Volk scored in the 73rd minute of a 1-0 victory for Roma. Lazio won its first derby, 2-1, on Oct. 23 1932.
- Largest margin of victory: a 5-0 win for Roma in 1933
- Most derby appearances: Francesco Totti for Roma (27 games); Pino Wilson and Aldo Pulcinelli for Lazio (19 each)
- Most consecutive appearances: Francesco Totti played in 18 straight derby games from Feb. 18, 1996 to Jan. 6, 2005.
- Most career goals: Dino Da Costa of Roma (11); 9 in Serie A, 2 in Coppa Italia. Silvio Piola leads the way for Lazio with seven goals.
- Most goals in a single game: Vincenzo Montella scored four times in Roma's 5-1 win over Lazio on March 11, 2002.
- Most consecutive wins in a single season: Lazio defeated Roma twice (3-1 and 2-0) in Serie A and twice in the Coppa Italia (4-1 and 2-1) during the 1997-98 season.
- Famous players who have participated: Francesco Totti, Paolo Di Canio, Paul Gascoigne, Rudi Voeller, Bruno Conti, Giuseppe Giannini, Hernan Crespo, Giorgio Chinaglia, Pavel Nedved, Alen Boksic, Christian Vieri, Juan Sebastian Veron, Gabriel Batistuta
- Players who scored for both Roma and Lazio: Arne Selmosson
FIVE DERBY MOMENTS TO REMEMBER
- Montella sinks Lazio: Vincenzo Montella sets a new derby record by scoring four goals to lead Roma to 5-1 victory in 2002.
- Gascoigne's late equalizer: English midfielder Paul Gascoigne endeared himself to Lazio fans when he scored deep into injury time against Roma during the 1992-93 season, helping the biancocelesti earn a dramatic 1-1 draw.
- Roma's unbeaten streak: Roma established a new Serie A record with a 2-0 victory over Lazio on Feb. 26, 2006. The win was Roma's 11th straight that season, eclipsing the old league mark of 10 held jointly by Juventus (1931-32), AC Milan (1950-51) and Bologna (1963-64).
- Di Canio scores for Lazio: Paulo Di Canio scores an incredible volley to help Lazio defeat Roma 1-0 during the 1988-89 season.
- Totti's cameraman act: The Roma captain was at his impish best when he celebrated scoring against Lazio in 2004 by commandeering control of a sideline TV camera and filming the celebrating Roma fans in the stands.