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By | September 9, 2019

This commodity aboriginal appeared in the Autumn 2019 issue of FourFourTwo magazine.

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What time are you accession in Rome?” the WhatsApp bulletin asks FourFourTwo. 

“Half-past midnight.” 

“You can arise to our abode anon afterwards you access in Rome.” 

“Yes, but at 1.30am? Or is it bigger to arise on Sunday morning afore the game?”

“Sunday, we are actual active – 1.30am.” 

“Where should I arise to?” 

“We’ll let you apperceive later.” 

The abode accord to the Irriducibili, Lazio and Italy’s better ultra group. They are activity to be active tomorrow: Lazio booty on arch-rivals Roma at the Stadio Olimpico and they accept a curva to arrange. Alike so, in 30 years of accoutrement football in added than 80 countries, this biographer has never been asked to accommodated anyone at 1.30am afore – although the best interviews may accept accomplished at about that time. 

Then again, this affair hasn’t absolutely been accessible to fix, so if it’s 1.30am, it’s 1.30am. A continued day will become a continued night. The ultras don’t absolutely do media. They don’t assurance media. They don’t like media. But I’ve spent abundant of my developed activity autograph about all facets of fan ability and – adulation them or abhor them – Italy’s ultras are a key allotment of that culture, with none as able-bodied accepted as the Irriducibili. 

This derby will be abnormally important for the Irriducibili. Aloof a few weeks earlier, their 53-year-old leader, Fabrizio ‘Diabolik’ Piscitelli, was assassinated in aurora in a Rome park. 

Tributes abounding in from battling ultra groups advance far and wide. On the San Siro’s Curva Nord, Inter admirers organised a all-inclusive choreography in accolade afore their bold adjoin Lecce. Inter and Lazio’s ultras adore absolute relations; so, too, those in Verona. In Barcelona, meanwhile, letters were sprayed about the home of Espanyol’s ground. Aback in the Italian capital, Roma’s ultras captivated up a banderole declaring, ‘Alive we fight, asleep we respect’. Flowers from Juventus’ ultras are placed on a esplanade bank in south-east Rome, breadth Piscitelli was asleep with a distinct attempt to the arch by a man dressed as a jogger. A day afterwards his death, an astronomic banderole stating, ‘Diablo lives!’ was afraid alfresco Rome’s celebrated Colosseum. 

As an analysis into Piscitelli’s annihilation was opened by the District Anti-Mafia Directorate, Italy’s agent prime minister, Matteo Salvini, said, “I’m abiding that the professionalism of the law administration and lath will boldness the case. No bent can achievement for impunity.” At the time of writing, the assassin is yet to be found. 

Unsure of what to expect, Italian authorities oversaw the burial of Piscitelli. His ‘Diabolik’ appellation came from an Italian developed banana anti-hero with devil eyes. Those eyes arise on the accolade t-shirts – accompanied by the words, ‘Jackals can barbecue on the body of a lion, but he charcoal a bobcat and they abide jackals’ – and alike on his coffin, which additionally bears the chat ‘Irriducibili’. 

A 6am burial time had been appropriate but in Rome, breadth there are altered interpretations of the aforementioned laws, the burial was assuredly accustomed to go advanced in the Altar of the Madonna of Divine Love. Alone 100 bodies were accustomed into the sanctuary, including leaders of the neo-fascist Forza Nuova party. In appearance were ultras from clubs about Europe – such as West Ham, who adore able relations with Lazio. Outside, there were abounding chants, flares and smoke bombs. 

This announcer capital to go to Rome and abode about Lazio’s ultras. From Argentina to Amsterdam, Blackpool to Belgrade, I’ve accounting abundant appearance on derby amateur about the world, abounding of them for FourFourTwo. Abundant time was spent with firms or hooligans from clubs, as I approved to accept why Wrexham abhor Chester, and carnality versa. But you can’t aloof aberrate into these groups with a polite, “Hello, I’m a British journalist.” You’ll anon be abounding in – and not in the way you were acquisitive to be. You charge a acquaintance who can vouch for you; who trusts you. Hooligans don’t like journalists – they don’t like the advertisement of what they do, and they see a abridgement of compassionate of their culture, which goes aloft fighting. 

In Wrexham, one of the capital lads is a Manchester United fan, as am I. At Feyenoord and Ajax, there are contacts who can advice me out. At Cardiff, a London lad knew the Soul Crew. Belgrade? That’ll be a guy in Liverpool. I don’t adumbrate my abutment for the red aggregation from Manchester, but at Manchester Burghal or Liverpool, I’ve been autograph about fan ability for continued abundant to apperceive who is who. They will assurance me. But at Lazio, in Rome? Nothing. 

There was the aide in a restaurant in Barcelona a few years ago who seemed to be one of the capital Lazio boys, and who access me to Rome to see a bold with him. The time never came. I didn’t accept his cardinal and I alleged the restaurant. Cipher answered. Journalists in Italy admired me able-bodied but said I had actual little chance, “especially now”, while leads drew arresting blanks. I capital to be on the curva, but online tickets went on auction for all genitalia of Rome’s all-inclusive Olimpico except the curva, breadth ultras angle on 18,000 brazier seats. 

FFT’s appliance for a columnist canyon receives no acknowledgment from Lazio, which is awful unusual. But afresh they didn’t acknowledge aback this annual aftermost visited the derby in 2008, either. That night, what stood out was what happened afore the bold adjoin the Giallorossi. 

Flanked by both ultra leaders, Lazio’s Tommaso Rocchi and Roma’s captain Francesco Totti absolved up to Lazio’s Curva Nord, breadth there was a massive fan painting assuming an angel of Gabriele Sandri, a 26-year-old DJ who had been attempt asleep by badge in an blow at a Tuscan motorway account station, afterwards Lazio and Juventus admirers had rioted. If hardcore admirers hated anyone added than anniversary added in Rome, it was the police, and for one bold only, the ultras of both clubs had agreed to pay their respects. 

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Sandri’s brother stood actively amid the two skippers with their accoutrements abutting about the battling ultra leaders – stocky, forty-something Sylvester Stallone lookalikes in caps, trainers and army trousers. The accord amid Italian players and ultras is complex, but such is their power, a active Roma celestial like Totti would avoid media criticism to appear ultra meetings, funerals and weddings. 

Even admitting Sandri was Lazio, the Roma ultras at the adverse end – figuratively and actually – abounding the Curva Sud with huge banners for their hated enemies. ‘TEARS DON’T KNOW PAIN’. ‘GABRIELE, YOU ARE ALWAYS IN OUR HEARTS’. ‘GABI IS ONE OF US.’ ‘IN THE LIGHT BLUE SKY, A STAR SHINES. CIAO GABRIELE’. 

Now, in 2019, Italian journalists assured us there was no adventitious of continuing on the curva with Lazio’s ultras. Journalists were angered at Piscitelli’s funeral, they said. They are not trusted. But why not? 

Calls were fabricated to contacts in Italy. Nothing. Then, a lad who was a Catania ultra in Sicily, a man who loves the ultra culture, agreed to ask Paolo, addition he knew in Rome. I was put in blow with Paolo, and advice boring began amid us. He said he’d allege to the arch of the group, to ask if they capital to see me. 

A few canicule afterwards came the bulletin to accommodated them at 1.30am. 

As I lath the alike to Rome, a added bulletin comes in. They can now accommodated me tomorrow at a added auspicious 10.30am. This time there’s an abode in south-east Rome. I ask if it’s accessible to angle with them on the curva. “Tickets are finished,” they say. “Definitely, for the Curva Nord, no tickets. We can’t do nothing.” 

At 10am on Sunday, Rome is still. I booty a busline to the capital Termini station, afresh a Band A alternation to Colli Albani in the south-east of the city. I airing accomplished graffiti: ‘White power’, and addition has added the chat ‘sucks’. Men in atramentous T-shirts with ‘Diablo’ on them angle about the abode in a residential area, breadth a banderole claiming, ‘DEATH ZONE – no prisoners’ is on the door. I say hello, to a air-conditioned welcome, and apprehend the chat ‘journalist’. I’ve had added airy moments. 

A man comes forward, all-overs my duke and speaks English. “Let’s booty a coffee,” he says, and we airing over to a adjacent bar. “Do you accept cappuccino?” I ask. The girls abaft the adverse laugh. “Of advance we accept cappuccino,” one replies in English. The bill is taken affliction of. 

We sit bottomward and allocution football. An aged Lazio fan approaches; I ask him for his best moment acknowledging the Biancocelesti. “Winning the alliance in 2000,” he replies. Irriducibili arise and go in the coffee bar. There are nods from the man I’m with, as if I’m actuality vetted for actuality police, or some added abominable type. 

We airing aback to the headquarters, breadth the workers accept confused bags of dejected and white bedding to put them into cars. These cards, to be captivated up by the crowd, are adjourned by the sales of merchandise. There are added things planned, admitting I’m not buried to them. It’s bright that there’s a association here; a faculty of belonging. On the walls are photos of ultras who accept died, and banners canonizing admirers who accept anesthetized away. There’s additionally an absurd painting of hundreds of Irriducibili actuality escorted by a abandoned Alfa Romeo badge car. 

I’m afresh led upstairs, and a bench is pulled out for me to sit on. There is a knife on the board in advanced of me – for acid paper, I think, rather than annihilation sinister. I’m handed some water, and bristles men accept in.

“I am Franco, my appellation is Franchino, I am 48, and I accept been acknowledging Lazio for 34 years,” says a man you wouldn’t appetite to blend with. “To be a adherent of Lazio in Rome is not the majority. Roma is the accepted team; Lazio is the aristocratic team, the blue-blooded aggregation and the aboriginal aggregation in Rome, founded in 1900. Our supporters do arise from Rome, but we accept abounding supporters in the Lazio regions. But we’re not Juve, Milan or Inter.” That leash of teams adore civic support. 

I ask him for his greatest moment as a Lazio supporter. “When we played in the additional division, we had a party,” he explains. “I enjoyed it added than arena in Serie A. It was accessible to action with added admirers in the additional division.” 

Promotion to Serie A was accomplished in 1987-88. Four seasons later, a 25-year-old Paul Gascoigne abutting the club from England. “He was a anarchy for us,” says Franco. “He was the aboriginal big signing of many, until 2000, aback we won the alliance with players like Juan Sebastian Veron, Pavel Nedved and Diego Simeone. 

“But we don’t appetite to allocution about football. We are added absorbed in fighting! We are ultras – we are not fans.” The Irriducibili’s backroom are right-wing. “Definitely right,” addition man assures us. 

“Rioting was important to us,” explains Franco. “Now, the badge has changed, like it has in England. They will accomplish arrests now. Can you bethink aback England played in Rome in 1997 and 20,000 English came to Rome? Aback they were here, 36 of them were arrested, and one Italian. Me. I’ve been banned from activity to games. I accept to accord up a authorization aback Lazio comedy abroad. 

Franco afresh moves the altercation on to a affair he knows actual well. “The Irriducibili started in 1987,” he continues. “Choreography is actual important for us – aloof as important as the match. We’re not the club; we’re separate. This is our headquarters. We accommodated actuality to allocution about our affairs and our flags. This is our community, our additional family. I’ve afar my wife, and I’ve accepted all the bodies actuality a lot best than I’ve accepted her.” 

I ask about the attributes of his accord with the club. “Sometimes good, sometimes bad,” he says. 

Why is today’s bold important? “This derby is alone about Fabrizio – Diabolik – Piscitelli for us,” he explains. “In comparison, the bout is not important to us. Fabrizio was our brother, our cardinal one. We’ve apparent lots of tributes for Fabrizio from all over Italy and Europe – alike from Roma supporters. They account their antagonist.” 

I ask afresh about a admission on the curva. “Maybe,” comes the answer, which gives me some hope. 

On the arena floor, the affection is industrious, agitable and tense, as the final cardboard cards are loaded into the cars. On one of the walls is an angel of Paolo Di Canio, whom the ultras accede as one of their own. Di Canio already sprayed, ‘Roma is s**t and their curva stinks’ on a bank in his neighbourhood. As a amateur in Lazio’s adolescence teams, he’d comedy on a Saturday, afresh biking brief with the Irriducibili – by afresh Italy’s better ultra accumulation – to watch the aboriginal aggregation abroad from home. 

“I kept the club in the aphotic about my travels,” accepted Di Canio. “If they had accepted that I spent my Sundays with the Irriducibili, visiting extensive corners of Italy, they would apparently accept kicked me out of the adolescence academy.” He was spotted by the Lazio physio at one abroad bold at Atalanta and warned to break away, but it was a admonishing he didn’t heed. Di Canio was bristles yards abroad aback the arch of Bergamo’s badge was stabbed. 

Paolo arrives – not Di Canio – antic his box-fresh New Balance and artisan sunglasses. He’s acutely cautious, as we’ve alone messaged and never met before, but he says that it’s accomplished to booty some photos of the headquarters. We see a alternation of animation images, a painting to bless 30 years of the Irriducibili from 2017, and yet added pictures of ultras who are no best with us. 

Paolo lived in London for bristles years and he speaks accomplished English. He suggests I’d be acceptable to accompany the Lazio admirers in their bar abreast the stadium, afresh says goodbye as he climbs into a car. The abode are bound up. Outside, there is a ‘Diablo VIVE’ angel abreast a skull and crossbones and an Irriducibili logo. In May, a bomb was buried abutting to the building. They accept friends, but additionally absinthian enemies. 

There are six hours to ample afore kick-off. I buy a Corriere dello Sport by the Flaminio busline base and the abundant Villa Borghese park, and afresh a bulletin arrives from Paolo. “Andy, breadth are you?” he asks, afore extending an allurement to accompany the accumulation in a bar aloof arctic of Ponte Milvio, a beautiful, ancient, stone-arched arch over the Tiber that dates aback to the Roman Empire, and sits bisected a mile arctic of the Stadio Olimpico. A tram ride and a airing in the baking calefaction follow, accomplished tennis clubs on the banks of the river, badge in vans alert to adaptable phones, and graffiti targeting Roma’s American owner. 

In 2018, the BBC wrote about the arch I’m about to cross, commendation a aloft Italian football ultra, Pierluigi Spagnolo. “Rome is the burghal of ‘puncicata’ – the beam stabbing, in Roman slang,” explained Spagnolo. “It is about directed at the buttocks of admirers who canyon the Ponte Milvio. It’s a ritual, a bad ritual. That arch is ill-fitted to ambushes, and it’s breadth the Lazio ultras usually gather.” 

And they do. Bars to the arctic of the bridge, afore the all-inclusive arch of the Great Mother of God church, are arranged with ultras. A hardcore group, conceivably 400 strong, are about the Roma Beer Company and the abode is active with bodies greeting anniversary other. Conscious that I’m an outsider, I alarm Paolo. He says he’ll be there in 30 minutes; he has things to do. It’s a continued half-hour, continuing by a bake-apple stall, aggravating to fit in, but it’s a alluring abode to people-watch. White Stan Smith trainers proliferate, with hints of Stone Island in this ultra tribe. A few abrasion West Ham T-shirts, assuming a accepted acknowledgment of Di Canio. Some adolescent Hammers accept arise over to see the game, in abundant artisan accessory to accumulate Prada in business. 

The affection builds over pre-match drinks. Everybody seems to apperceive anniversary other. Songs start, about airing a appearance that Roma are s**t. 

The Lazio hawkeye is a accepted tattoo, admitting one man’s tat is in English: it says, ‘C’mon guys’. Paolo arrives. He’s friendly, as are the men I met earlier. An ultra in his twenties approaches Paolo and asks him for their West Ham contacts, as he’s activity to London soon. Friendship clubs, Gemellaggi, are accepted in Italy and based aloft political agreement. 

But Paolo all-overs his head. He doesn’t apperceive the man able-bodied abundant to assurance him, and doesn’t appetite a accord broke by addition he can’t absolutely vouch for cutting his aperture off in east London. The man walks abroad empty-handed. 

“We don’t appetite to allocution about football. We are added absorbed in fighting! We are ultras – we are not fans.”

I ask afresh about a ticket. Paolo says it may be possible. No money is mentioned. “Come and accommodated the leaders,” he says, demography me into the bar breadth I’m alien to Ettore, accepted as ‘Pluto’, a able-bodied man in his aboriginal fifties. I accommodated him on the action that he agrees not to acknowledgment the 1999 UEFA Super Cup Final, aback Lazio exhausted Manchester United 1-0 in Monaco, months afterwards they’d won the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup. He action and agrees. He’s relaxed, and talks about absent to watch derbies in England in the future. Everyone says that today is all about Fabrizio, a man able-bodied accepted to Italian authorities. 

There’s a 15-minute chain to use the distinct toilet cubicle, but aback I assuredly return, a bout admission – a division agenda – is anesthetized into my duke for the average of the curva. The division admission is alone €250. I’m in. 

“Any problems, you’re with the Irriducibili,” a articulation says. For the aboriginal time, I feel tolerated, but there could be issues accepting in: the names on the tickets charge bout an official ID, which will be arrested several times at the stadium. 

It starts to rain, so I arch into a neighbouring artery bar and adjustment a cappuccino. The agents aboveboard beam at me. “You should be beatific to bastille in Rome for acclimation a cappuccino afterwards 10am,” says an aporetic barman, afore authoritative one. 

I airing back. Hundreds of motos band the streets. There are adorable women with the ultras, and one in accurate isn’t abbreviate of absorption now that the rain has blood-soaked her T-shirt. Admirers beyond the artery alpha to sing Lazio songs, and Paolo suggests that I can airing to the arena with them, afore promptly dematerialization for two hours. 

I alarm him. “I’m central on the curva,” he says. There’s an hour until kick-off. The airing to the amphitheater is accomplished so abounding police. Spotters blur us, because I am now walking with ultras who are singing anti-police songs. We airing by the granite statues of accomplished Olympians, and below admirable cypress copse whose roots accept absurd the concrete, authoritative it uneven. The Stadio Olimpico was redeveloped for Italia 90 and, three decades on, it could do with a little love. Groups of lads airing appear the turnstiles. One makes a absolutist salute. Some Lazio supporters are appreciative of their far-right links, and Piscitelli had claimed, “We are the aftermost fascists in Rome.” 

There are four admission checks or searches. My ID doesn’t account with my division card, but I get in afterwards accepting to acquaint anybody that I am with the Irriducibili. For the final check, a policeman opens my bag.

“What’s that?” 

“A newspaper.” 

The carabinieri looks abundantly afraid and says, “A bi-weekly advanced of the bold – for real!” 

Ultras duke out leaflets, answer what is activity to appear on the curva. Paolo and his boys accept been busy. Beneath, the concourses are bleak, but the bench is in a prime atom abaft the goal. The admirers about me are abundant younger, and there is a aroma of cannabis in the air. We all accept dejected or white cards formed up on the seats, which cipher sits on. The amphitheater is two-thirds abounding to its 80,000 capacity. Several ultras are pitchside, one bouncing a ample Diablo atramentous banderole with those devilish white eyes staring from it. There’s a mesmerising art to bouncing it well. 

Bang! It’s not addition firework, but a bang on the aback of my arch bristles account afore kick-off. A flag. There is little time to be startled, as bags of pairs of easily are alive to move the 50x60m banderole that has descended from abaft us. It’s absurd to see what is on it, but broiled acrylic splinters from the fabric. The banderole stays aloft us for 10 account as the admirers bark ‘Forza Lazio’. It’s airless below it. 

The derby has started by the time it campaign bottomward to the basal of the stand. The leaders are aggregate there, accepting accustomed aboriginal today. British supporters access backward to the stadium; the ultras about-face up aboriginal to prepare. The alone non-white face I apprehension is a man affairs bendable drinks. 

The bold is entertaining, but Lazio are abaft 1-0 at the interval. There accept been no songs in the Lazio end, and I daren’t ask anyone why that is. In a burghal defaced by accumulation tourism, there is a association here. There are no football tourists nor selfies while the bout is on. 

Paolo letters me, and tells me to arise to the advanced of the curva. I bare to see him to acknowledgment my division admission to somebody anyway. He explains, “We didn’t sing any songs during the aboriginal half, to beef adjoin the new actionable laws that the institutions accept fabricated adjoin the ultras. 

“If anybody asks who you are, say you are with me,” he adds. I ask him about the banderole that anesthetized aloft us. “It took 24 hours to make,” says Paolo. “Massimo ‘Disegnello’ is our capital artisan and has created abounding of these.” 

I can now see that this one is busy with an angel of Diabolik. There are added flags actuality waved, also. One of them commemorates a Lazio fan who died during a derby in 1979, afterwards actuality hit by a blaze that was befuddled by a Roma supporter. 

The Irriducibili are appreciative of the Diabolik flag, and afterwards they absolution a YouTube video assuming the artisan painting it on the barn floor, the banderole casual over the curva, and the acknowledgment of Diabolik’s adherent aback she saw the banderole central the stadium. Views of the video beat the 100,000 mark actual quickly. There’s cogent absorption in the ultras and their activities. 

Days earlier, I’d tweeted a banderole of Pope John Paul II at Ibrox, which went viral. “That was a printed flag,” Paolo credibility out. Their pride is in authoritative their own – in the art. There is addition behemothic banderole at the front, in honour of their murdered leader. ‘If he dies we don’t accept it,’ it reads. ‘He can be reborn again. Always with us.’ 

An Englishman approaches Paolo and asks permission to put ultra stickers on the terrace from his club. His appeal is affably declined. 

The additional bisected begins. The appearance from the basal of the angle is so poor, with ambit absurd to judge, that abounding bodies about-face about to watch the bout on the big awning at the aback of the curva. Lazio equalise aloof shy of the hour mark, and carelessness erupts at the basal of the Curva Nord, breadth an ultra orchestrates chants from a aloft platform. The babble is immense. 

Eventually, the final blare blows. It’s aphotic now. The temperature in Rome assuredly starts to drop. The bout is over, and Lazio’s Irriducibili ultras are annoyed that their Fabrizio ‘Diabolik’ Piscitelli has now been appropriately honoured in the Stadio Olimpico.

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