THE ROME DERBY
The Derby della Capitale is perhaps one of the world’s most famous local derbies, and a match that puts the eternal city on the other end for several days. The two major Roman clubs AS Roma and SS Lazio share the Italian capital and the Olympic Stadium between them.
SS Lazio is the older of the two clubs, but today AS Roma is the “big brother” with the most fans. The distribution in Rome is approximately 65-70% Roma fans and 30-35% Lazio fans. The center and the south of Rome are typical Roma areas, especially the old neighborhoods such as Monti, Trastevere and Testaccio (where AS Roma was founded by the way). Lazio’s fans come primarily from northern (and more prosperous) Rome, as well as from the suburbs and the Roman hinterland. Incidentally, the first Derby della Capitale was played on 4 May 1930 and ended with a Roma victory of 3-1.
The story of AS Roma starts with a merger of three Roman football clubs (Alba Roma, Roman and Fortitudo Pro Roma) in the summer of 1927. Behind the merger was the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, who wanted one strong Roman club to take on the northern Italian clubs . Lazio managed to avoid the merger and remain as an independent club, although it was actually about Lazio also being part of one big Roman team.
Again, it is therefore impossible to talk about Italian football, including the Roman clubs, without politics being involved. Something we are not at all used to in Denmark or Northern Europe, but the Italian football world is a reflection of Italian society. For better or worse.
As mentioned, AS Roma is founded in the south of Rome, specifically the Testaccio quarter, which is a well-known working-class quarter. Every year the club’s fans celebrate the club’s birthday in this neighbourhood. This was also where the club’s first stadium was located, namely Campo Testaccio, the remains of which can still be seen today.
Official site: asroma.com
Lazio is the oldest of the two Roman football clubs, founded on 9 January 1900, and has therefore long passed the 100-year mark. Società Sportiva Lazio was founded in Piazza della Libertà in the Prati district of Rome, not far from the center. A commemorative plaque for the club can be seen in the square today and every year on 9 January the club’s fans meet here to celebrate the club’s birthday.
Official site: sslazio.it
The battle to be most Roman
A fascinating aspect of the Roman derby is that the entire atmosphere surrounding the match bears the stamp of the city’s history and grandeur. A city that was once the center of the world and had conquered more than half of the known world. An empire that the city still lives on and that fans of both clubs have certainly not forgotten, but both claim as part of their heritage and history. Romanism runs so deep in both clubs and their fans.
AS Roma’s logo bears “la lupa” (the she-wolf) as a logo. The wolf that Rome’s founders, the two brothers Romolo and Remo, according to legend grew up with. Romulus kills his brother and founds Rome in 753 BC. The wolf is today the city’s symbol and present everywhere in the city. So is the eagle, which is Lazio’s logo. The eagle is also an ancient Roman symbol. A symbol of the Roman Empire and used to lead the Roman legions into war.
The wolf and the eagle are thus two Roman symbols that the clubs have adopted several thousand years later, which are part of the self-understanding of both the clubs and their supporters. Outside of Rome, in the rest of Italy, Romans are seen as arrogant and are not well liked. The Latin slogan for the city reads “Caput Mundi” (capital of the world).
And this is how the Romans perceive their city, as the most beautiful and important city in the world. And they take that with them to the stadium and especially to the derby, where it is important to claim Romanness and the many thousands of years of heritage.
The fan scene in Rome
The Roman derby has become an institution in not only Italian but European football. Not least because of the two clubs’ fans and the atmosphere during the derby. The Olympic Stadium has room for just over 73,000 spectators and, unlike many other large European derbies, the Romans have understood that the presence of the “away team’s” fans contributes to the overall experience for everyone.
Roma’s fans stand in the southern end “Curva Sud”, while Lazio’s stand in the northern “Curva Nord”. For derbies, the “away team” is assigned their entire “curva” + “distinti” (the sides), that is, the “away team” brings approximately 19,000 fans, which contributes to a very intense atmosphere. In contrast to, for example, “El Clasico” between Barcelona and Real Madrid, where the away team’s fans often number a few hundred.
Both Roma and Lazio are clubs with few titles and championships compared to the big northern Italian clubs. Perhaps this is also why the derby in Rome has developed into the most important match of the season for the clubs and their fans. They know very well that they are not going to play for the championship, and therefore the season will be decided on whether the derby is won.
The game itself on the field has not always been European top class. Bevares both clubs have won European trophies and almost always play in one of the European group games. But what attracts attention and interest to the Roman derby can often be summed up in one word, drama. The drama typically takes place both on and off the field, and often in both places.
The political aspect of the Rome derby
The most hardcore Italian fans are called ultras. Both Roma and Lazio have historic ultras fan groups that arose back in the 1970s when the Italian fan scene really started to grow and become organized.
The 1970s were a very turbulent time in general in Italy, with political terror and battles between the far right with fascists and the far left with communists. Largely in the middle of these political battles, many of the Italian fan groups are born and founded, which often bring the political battles to the stadium. Something that today is largely eradicated (and by the way, political messages are now banned in stadiums).
However, the legacy of this is felt through the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, where the political messages (both from the extreme right and left) were often very strongly present in Italian stadiums in general, and especially the Roman clubs are known for this.
Lazio is often strongly associated with fascist fans, particularly the ultras group Irriducibili, which was founded in 1987 but has now disbanded. The group was world-famous for extreme right-wing views, which they also displayed in the stadium, in the form of banners, flags, songs, tifos and the like.
Today, flags with, for example, swastikas and Celtic crosses are prohibited in the stadium, but through the 00s, for example, it was commonplace in Curva Nord. However, one should not be mistaken and think that Lazio no longer has fascist fans, and it is not unusual to see fans doing the “saluto romano” (the Roman salute – which is the Italian version of greeting with an outstretched right arm), as well as hearing the anti-communist song; “Avanti ragazzi du Buda” (an Italian support song for the Hungarian uprising against the Soviet occupying forces in 1956). A song which today is strongly associated with fascism and which has absolutely nothing to do with football.
The point is that Italy has never seriously distanced itself from the far-right history and thus it has remained socially accepted in many circles to sympathize with fascism. Especially in Rome, where in certain groups it blends well with the Roman Empire of the past and the city’s heyday. Much of this has therefore been brought to the stadium and Lazio’s fans in particular are known for this.
Three Roman Legends
It is impossible to talk about AS Roma without mentioning Francesco Totti. Perhaps the greatest of all Roman legends. He is known as one of the only top players in the world who has only played for one club. From 1992 to 2017, Totti played in AS Roma’s first team, in addition to a few years as a youth player at the club earlier. A record of 25 seasons, which will probably never be broken again, at the European top level.
Daniele De Rossi is another former AS Roma player. He got 18 seasons at the club from 2001 to 2019. In isolation, very respectable. De Rossi ended his career at Argentinian Boca Juniors after being sacked by AS Roma, which did not please the Roman fans at all, and resulted in several days of protests in front of the club’s headquarters with many angry fans. Had De Rossi not played at the same time as Totti, he might have been even more famous for his loyalty to the club, but in the end, Totti probably overshadowed his fame. Both Totti and De Rossi are real Romans and born in Rome. Which is extremely important for the club’s fans. Totti around the San Giovanni quarter, where today there are several murals of him, and De Rossi in the port city of Ostia in Rome. In many places in Rome you will be able to see the graffiti “DDR vanto di Roma” – which stands for “Daniele De Rossi, the pride of Rome”.
Paolo di Canio is, in recent times, Lazio’s counterpart to the two above. Di Canio is also Romani and grew up in the neighborhood of Quarticciolo, a neighborhood in eastern Rome that certainly doesn’t have the best reputation. Di Canio played for Lazio over two spells, the first time from 1987 to 1990 and again from 2004 to 2006. He became particularly well known for publicly declaring himself a member of the famous Lazio ultras group Irriducibili, mentioned earlier. He has told in TV interviews how he took them on away trips and was part of the group before he became a professional footballer. Lazio fans loved him for this. In his second term from 2004, he became especially known abroad because he made a so-called “saluto romano” (healed) to Lazio fans after a goal. Something that appeared in many international media. During his time abroad, he played the most matches for England’s West Ham, which has led to a strong friendship between Lazio’s and West Ham’s fans. In and around the stadium you often see Lazio fans with West Ham merchandise still to this day, And especially in the north of Rome young people are often seen with West Ham shirts every day, they are guaranteed Lazio fans.
2004: The “dead” boy’s derby / the aborted derby
On March 21, 2004, one of the most famous derbies was played in Rome. The derby is famous because it was never finished and especially Roma’s ultras interfered in the match. In the period at the beginning of the 00s, the Roman derbies and matches in general in Italy were often marked by spectator unrest. It was before the introduction of the so-called “tessera del tifoso” in 2009, which was/is a card for registering away fans, as a result of many years of fan unrest and a killed policeman in Sicily after the Sicilian derby between Palermo and Catania.
Back to Rome 2004, also on this day there were small disturbances before the match and during the first half rumors began to circulate at Roma’s Curva Sud that a boy had been run over by the police during these disturbances and killed. It later turned out that the boy was not dead.
During this period, both Roma and Lazio’s ultras groups were extremely numerous and very powerful, and tensions between fans and police were at their highest. As the second half has just started, three representatives from Roma’s ultras enter the field and demand to speak to Roma’s captain Totti. This leads to longer discussions between the three men, Totti and several Roma players in one goal area. Meanwhile, the match is interrupted. The three men demand that the match be called off, as a result of the dead boy, and threaten even more riots.
During the action on the pitch, both Lazio and Roma fans are very excited and set off large amounts of fireworks and start setting fire to the seats in their sections. Sure, the two sets of fans are arch-enemies, but the police are a common enemy this evening after all. It ends with Totti running towards the center line to speak to the match referee, as well as security and the police, who have arrived by this time. When he runs because of Roma’s coaching bench, he shouts the famous words to Roma’s coach Fabio Capello, “if we keep playing, they will kill us”. The match was interrupted and not finished. The Roman ultras had collectively demonstrated their power.
There are clips from the interruption of the match here:
2008: Gabriele Sandri’s derby
On March 19, 2008, Lazio beat Roma 3-2. But the derby will be remembered for something other than the battle on the field. It was the first derby after the only 28-year-old Lazio fan Gabriele Sandri was shot and killed by the police on his way to a Lazio away game in November 2007. Gabriele Sandri was with other Lazio fans on their way to an away game when, at a rest area in Tuscany, they accidentally meet some Juventus fans and the two groups of fans get into a fight with each other. The police arrive and shoot Gabriele Sandri, who dies. The policeman who fired the shot was later convicted and imprisoned for murder.
The derby in Rome in March 2008 is therefore the first time two clubs meet after the death of Gabriele Sandri. And the following brings another layer to the understanding of the Roman derby and football in Italy in general. Despite enmity between fans, there is also a solidarity between them, especially when you gather around a common enemy such as the authorities or the police. Perhaps culture and religion play a role, but for this match the hatchet was buried between the two sets of fans. Before the match, Roma fans and the club, represented by Totti, chose to show respect for the late Lazio fan. A group consisting of Totti, Gabriele Sandri’s brother and representatives from the Roma ultras, walked the running track along one long side from the Curva Sud down in front of Lazio’s Curva Nord with flowers and a banner in honor of Gabriele Sandri. They lay the flowers in front of a large picture of Gabriele Sandri and then spread out a banner with the inscription (translated): “Tears know no colors. Gabriele is one of us. Curva Sud”, to applause from all Lazio fans.
The entire stage can be seen here:
Today there is a memorial to Gabriele Sandri at the rest area in Tuscany (near the city of Arezzo) and at Lazio matches flags with his image can still be seen.
A derby that must be experienced
Derby della Capitale – the Roman derby is always an experience with more aspects than the actual 90 minutes on the field. Rome today has approximately 3 million inhabitants and the interest in the city for the two football teams is enormous. In the days leading up to a derby, the atmosphere builds, the newspapers make long specials about the match.
In order to understand the importance of the two clubs in the city, it can be mentioned that a newspaper is published every day (both in print and online) which is exclusively about AS Roma, called “Il Romanista”. Both clubs each have their own radio station, Roma Radio (for AS Roma) and Lazio Style Radio (for SS Lazio), which broadcast content exclusively about the two clubs every day. In addition, today there are countless pages on social media that only write about one of the two clubs.