It’s 1pm on a spring Sunday in Italy. Across the country, weekend cooks are tossing stiff stalks of pasta into steaming pans of water and inviting smaller family members to set the table or change the channel; others are strolling to a trattoria, heading for brunch, or coming back from church. In yet other households, kids, couples and groups of friends are grabbing scarves and banners and preparing to crawl in traffic before arriving at the stadium for the big game, or huddle round TVs belonging to neighbours or friends.
Not in Testaccio.
In Testaccio, great columns of mustard-coloured smoke are snaking from hand-held marine distress flares and a deafening chorus of song has erupted from the tarmac in front of the abandoned Testaccio football ground. This former non-league pitch, paralysed by diggers in an aborted deal to turn it into a carpark, is still the symbol of football in this area. It’s where AS Roma, the city’s biggest team, has its roots. It’s where AS Roma fans still gather when they have something to say.
For today is Derby day, the moment of the biggest match of the year: the day when AS Roma play against local rivals Lazio. Tickets are like entry-passes for Willy Wonker’s factory: impossible to find and rare as eagles’ teeth. No-one misses the game unless they have a wedding or a funeral. Hardcore fans have been known to skip both (even their own) for the Lazio match.
Yet now, less than two hours from kick-off, the contents of the Curva Sud, AS Roma’s most vociferous kop, is contained in the streets of Testaccio as if this was the road to the stadium – no – as if the 3000 supporters were already in the stadium itself. AS Roma’s toughest fans have abandoned their team on the biggest day of the year in the name of protest: protest at their ranks being divided. They’re not divided now.
Since the start of the season, a Plexiglas fence has split the central section of the Curva Sud and the fans don’t like it. It’s ostensibly in the name of safety, but it’s interfering with the glorious ebb and flow of the crowd, the chaos and the wave of motion when the team scores. It’s interfering with the way that the different clusters of fan watch the game. They don’t want it, and they’re here to explain why. So, for one glorious Sunday, the fans are here in Testaccio, bunched in the great piazza within the former slaughterhouse, watching the game on a smallish screen, listening to radios and glancing at smartphones in customarily bawdy anxiety. Testaccio echoes to their cries as AS Roma still defeat Lazio by four goals to one, but surely the other highlight of the day is the fact that most of these fans are just minutes from their own homes at the final whistle. Butta la pasta.
On April 3, 2016, the Rome derby between AS Roma and SS Lazio finished 4-1, with goals from S. El Shaarawy (15); E. Dzeko (64); M. Parolo for Lazio (75); A. Florenzi (83) and D. Perotti (87). While the Roma fans went to watch the match in Testaccio, Lazio’s supporters headed for Tor di Quinto in an agreed, shared boycott. Less than 10,000 tickets were sold for the game, and the official crowd recorded was just 29,000, although in the absence of many season ticket holders, the numbers were significantly lower, in a stadium with a capacity of 72,698.