The Barriers of the Curva Sud: 2015

On September 2nd, 2015, it was reported that construction was beginning on barriers in the Curva Sud. Not knowing what to expect of the barriers, the season ticket holders had little choice but to keep their prepaid seating, as they had done for countless seasons before.

Celebrating with masses of scarves raised and waving, pyrotechnics of smoke flares and rockets, drums and horns to keep pushing the squad, and choreography to support the players or antagonize the opposition, Roma’s Curva Sud has been the lifeline of support since the 1960s. “A History of the Ultra Movement in Italy” calls the choreography an essential aspect of Italian football: “Choreography came to be the hallmark of the Italian style: phantasmagoric, enormous, multicolored shows and spectacle on a vast scale, to great visual effect; the power of all-Italian fantasy.”[1] When the celebratory atmosphere of the Curva Sud was suppressed, Roma’s soul had suffered the same consequences – they were the lifeblood of the team.

The Plexiglas barriers at the beginning of the 2015/16 season were the forces behind the downfall of the Curva Sud. Rome’s prefect, Franco Gabrielli, commissioned the barriers for supposed safety reasons, which cost Roma and Lazio 600,000 Euros each. This decision contradicted statements by former Interior Minister, Roberto Moroni, who said, “I dream that within three years, (we will have) stadiums without barriers.”[2] It was ironic timing for the Curva Sud’s restrictions, since there was not one violent incident reported the entire year. As well, in the first derby[3] of 2015, between Torino and Juventus, a paper bomb was thrown into the home section, injuring 11 fans. Contrary to the situation in Rome, no punishments or fines were dealt by the FIGC or the city of Torino, and just one sole arrest was made. Further, there were no barriers built at Torino, or other teams’ stadia, or even warnings for crowd control. The question ensued: Why was it only Roma’s tifosi who received punishment and divisive barriers?

Just two weeks after the barriers were erected, and the day after the Champions League group stage match against World Champions Barcelona, the Curva Sud released an official statement on the internet via the capi-ultrà:

 

None of us want to be away from our Curva, but we will stay out as long as it is not liberated! We will stay out until we can cheer freely and not as trained dogs. We spent money, some of us made sacrifices, but this is not what we bought. There is no difference between us, we are all fans and in love with the club and we show it in our different ways…. We thank those who came out on Wednesday to sing with us, refusing entry into the stadium… Now more than ever, we unite to retake our dear Curva Sud. They can put as many barriers as they want, but they’ll never manage to divide our ideals…Avanti Curva Sud![4]

 

After almost a month under the restrictive conditions the Curva Sud remained joined, maintaining their stance that none of them would be returning to their section of the stadium. Those who entered did so under scrutiny, with banners around Foro Italico reminding them that they were accomplices to the enemy – the authority. In the few instances where some from the Curva Sud did attend home matches, they staged silent sit-down protests without any celebrating. Very few anticipated that these early events would send shockwaves around Europe for the next year and a half.

On September 20th, a force of approximately 500 gathered near Palazzina del CONI inside Foro Italico to petition the barriers. During the demonstration, smoke bombs, flares and banners – the typical fanfare – were used in abundance, as the police headquarters in Rome later reported. The demonstration was conducted without a prior permit, which resulted in various fines that were later overturned by the court. During the outflow from the Olimpico after Roma hosted Sassuolo, the demonstrators outside the stadium chanted abusive language against the spectators who did attend. Many were identified by video surveillance system, resulting in attendance bans, including the “Divieto di Accedere alle manifestazioni Sportive.” The “DASPO” measures require a prosecuted individual to check-in at the local police station multiple times a day during the match day of the team he/she supports. The DASPO was summoned for those who lit the flares. It was a severe reaction by the courts, and an abuse of its power in an attempt to quell and dissuade further reaction from the ultras.

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Although Prefect Gabrielli was acting under the city council to impose the sanctions against the Curva Sud, the tifosi expressed their disappointment and rage towards president Pallotta and the American ownership, accusing him of turning a blind-eye and even conspiring with the city council to limit their match day interaction. In an interview with Chris Porreca, long-time tifo in the Curva Sud, he shared the following on behalf of the supporters’ growing disappointment:

What the tifosi are protesting is the appalling silence our management has shown when the government is doing everything they can to destroy our soul – Our Curva. For the government to do it is one thing with their misguided notion that messing with the inside of the stadium will lower violence outside of it. For our owner to keep quiet is a totally different matter…

 

This silence is doing nothing but breeding an air of betrayal amongst us fans, as the only ones that have the power to protest this officially are Jimmy and company. Since they are opting to keep quiet, it all feels as if our own management is an accomplice to this crime, whereas the protesters’ objective is to spark a reaction form our management.

What’s sad is that before these barriers went, up before the security checks on 11 year olds at the Curva and the outrageous fines for not sitting at your assigned seat’, — there were no violent incidents inside the stadium –, failure to react to the obvious signs that have been here for over three weeks now that Rome is a pressure cooker and is getting to the point where it will blow up will be on no one but the management’s – And what’s saddest of it all is that when this does happen fingers will be pointed at the “Barbarians” in the Curva. Unless that violence is exactly what they want to prove their point once and for all, and go ahead with the Margaret Thatcher measures that killed any soul left in the English Premier League.[5]

 

During the stifling autumn, several former Roma players shared their sentiment on the restrictions: Vincent Candela, a member of the 2001/02 Scudetto-winning Roma stated, “They are doing everything to divide the fans, not just in the curva. The curva is a group and they will reason together. They must not give up… I hope they come back to the stadium to cheer because the team needs the Curva.”[6] Candela has acted as one of the louder voices of ex-players on behalf of the fans and against the restrictions.

Musical artist Antonello Venditti wrote “Roma, Roma, Roma,” after their 1982/83 championship-winning season. His songs are now used for the beginning and end of every Roma match. He also conveyed his sadness at seeing the Curva Sud empty, sharing, “Do not split up the fans, just divide those who betray the values!”[7] Venditti was referring to the select few thugs and violent ultras as those betraying Roma’s values. As well, many clubs’ supporter groups showed their solidarity with the Curva Sud: “United with the Curva Sud,” read on many signs held by supporter groups inside Italy and around the world, in cities such as Palermo, Genoa, Liege, Jakarta, Athens, Copenhagen, and Norwich. As of June 2016, almost 20,000 supporters signed a Change.org petition opposing the barriers.[8] The movement had blistered from Rome, but sympathetic fan groups around Europe – and even Indonesia – turned it into a revolution. A true revolt against intellectual property – no, property of the heart, that the ultras would not let any take from them.

The weeks leading up to November 2015’s Roma-Lazio Derby della Capitale were filled with skepticism surrounding whether or not the Curva Sud would be present. The Lazio ultras then joined the protesting as well. This most recent recent action of Mentalità Ultrà saw Lazio’s capi-ultrà from their Curva Nord also threaten their club to take an official stance against the security measures, or indefinite strike would ensue. The speculation prompted the ultras to release a statement regarding their intentions towards attendance. Part of the statement read, “Now it’s up to you, club, and whoever else is complicit in this travesty, to prove to EVERYONE your good faith and above all that you don’t want to cancel FOREVER the word PASSION from what has always been the fulcrum of the AS Roma support: the Curva Sud. NOBODY can buy us, because we are not for sale!!!”[9]

Just five days after the statement, Pallotta conducted a “Questions & Answers” session through Roma’s official Twitter and Facebook account. Another gripe by local fans, the website’s default homepage was in English, not Italian (even though Roma’s website has an option for Italian and the Twitter account has almost a dozen different languages to choose from). Despite this, many questions were asked and answered about a wide range of topics concerning the club. Anxious to clarify many of the ongoing issues between the tifosi and management, and most prominently the issues of the dividing barriers and restrictions, Pallotta countered the backlash:

 

I have always said that the heart and soul of Roma is the Curva Sud. In point of fact, if you look at our new stadium plans, the Curva Sud has its own section for 14,000 fans and is an integral part of the fabric of the new stadium. We don’t own this stadium and we don’t make any decisions on security and safety at the Stadio Olimpico.

 

That being said, we have been having discussions since the changes were made with the police to find a solution. The police have asked for stairs and security gates to be free, no flares and no bombs. The police are fine with chants and flags. It’s frustrating that our fans think we don’t have a view and that we haven’t been working behind the scenes to rectify this situation.

I want to stress that we are working hard behind the scenes and don’t think.[10]

 

He further mentioned that the absence of the tifosi was hurting the club’s product on the pitch and that their return was essential if Roma was to continue winning again. He further explained that possible solutions to the restrictions were not being made public because the issue was being dealt with between the club’s and city’s officials. Pallotta’s statements acted as a multi-faceted response to the waves of criticism: Roma was not acting with the city to divide the Curva Sud, he was working to ease the situation, and wanted focus back to supporting the club that had now been suffering in the standings.

Days later, Roma tifosi were spotlighted in the media for hooliganism. In a Champions League group round fixture[11] against Leverkusen, many fans made the away trip to Germany. During the flight, a group of teenagers and young men chanted choruses and interrupted the peace. They intoxicated themselves with bottles of beer bought at the gate before boarding, dismissing the flight attendant’s demands to cease their behavior.[12] In a time when Roma’s tifosi needed to stay out of the news, a pack of immature fans were complicating the argument for less restriction.

Contrary to the home attendance, the Curva Sud made a strong appearance in Leverkusen, out-supporting the home crowd with just the few thousand Romans. “Forza Roma Le,” and many other of the Curva Sud’s most popular choruses at Leverkusen’s “BayArena” were heard from Roma’s end that night. The tifosi were showing that they were undoubtedly still supporting the club, making the great effort to travel to Germany, but that their petitioning at the Olimpico was their way of demonstrating that home attendance would keep being sacrificed until stadium restrictions were overturned. Petitioning was just the means to their end.

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In the last half of October, two weeks before the derby, a judge overturned the rulings against the fans that had organized outside Palazzini del CONI during the September match Sassuolo. Upon judiciary review, the protests were ruled legitimate, and “the measures against the protesters were heavily discriminatory and unnecessarily punitive.”[13] The original ruling was a DASPO of five years, making it impossible for these ultras to attend Roma’s matches. Regardless of the positive ruling, the Curva Sud was left empty that night when Roma hosted Udinese[14].

On November 6th, the Friday before the derby, Prefect Gabrielli went on popular Roman radio show “Radio Radio” to comment on the empty Curva Sud and why the barriers would not be removed. He explained, “If the Curves go back to good behavior, and that does not mean being completely quiet, then we can find a solution…In this country, the concept of responsibility is little known and little used, I’m responsible for what happens in places of public entertainment.” He was then asked about a message he received, which wrote, “You have destroyed a Curva born in 1900. We will not go to the stadium, you have done incalculable damage.” He replied a solemn “Oh OK.”

Gabrielli referred to the political influence that has been prominent in the Curva Sud since the late 1970s: “Show us the facts that cheering is only a passionate participation in a sporting event and I for one am willing to revise certain positions. We have not built the barriers with reinforced concrete or to be fixed, we put them because clearly we must follow the measures in behavior. Show us that all this is unnecessary.” In the most pressing question of the interview, the City Prefect was then asked why thousands of non-violent fans should be criminalized with the barriers, and why 167-Euro-fines were handed out to those who were not sitting down “properly,” and in their numbered seats[15]. Gabrielli dodged the intent of the question, replying, “People who go to the stadium to watch the game and vent the repression of an entire week sometimes make insults cause it is fair to do so, but they can do it without violence and repression. The Curva is only one-eighth of the stadium.”[16] Unfortunately, this long-awaited interview gave little clarity on the future of the situation. Gabrielli’s intentions became more defined when he expressed his desire to ban political demonstrations and action against authority inside the Curva Sud. He was blurring the lines between stadium-security and freedom of speech.

Gabrielli-Prefetto-GettyImages-664583810.jpg

 

 

The Derby

The day before the derby, a video was posted on Youtube, titled “Senza Barriere[17].” It was released by username “Serie Romanista,” a userpage that uploaded a series of videos during the conflict, messaging the spirit and joy of what it meant to be a supporter of the Curva Sud. Senza Barriere is a sentimental short-film, centered on an older Roma tifo and his sons. For the days leading up to the derby, the man looks forward to the match, reminiscing past derbies and triumphs and people he met throughout his life as a Roma season-ticket holder. Once the man takes his seat in the Curva Sud though, he realizes that the barriers divided him from those he had always cheered and sang with. A woman fades away on the other side of the Plexiglas, symbolizing the loss of comradery. “How can you hug your wife with barriers in between… the barriers will always divide our emotion,” the narrator concludes, while the film ends with testimony from different patrons about the division the restrictions have created.[18]

On the day of the derby, Sunday, November 8th, protests were held at the Hotel Hilton in central Rome – purposely close to the Tiburtina train station, a major transportation hub. At least 500 ultras occupied the space, waving flags and banners, organized and singing. Preceding the match, the team-bus stopped and the players stepped off to clap and show their support and to demonstrate that there was a connection that could not be destroyed between the ultras and the players. A banner at least 50 feet long read, “(we stay) Outside for dignity and respect of the history, our cry will take you to victory!”

The morning after the derby, newspaper headlines read, “Without fans, without curves to sing, without choreography, without chants against the other team, without restrictions. Practically nothing.” Popular Roma journalist Paolo Signorelli wrote, “It was a victory for Gabrielli and a loss for every fan.”[19] A few days later, news was released that during the night before the derby, police raided homes of “potentially dangerous” ultras to search for weapons. Throughout the search, 20 children were awakened, searched, and treated like criminals, while the only successful findings were a few kitchen knives. Gabrielli tried to avoid publicizing the searches, and news of the raids only surfaced the day following the derby. Information on search warrants and contributing evidence to their judicial approval was not publicized, leading to suspicion that the warrants had may never been granted.

In early December, the Curva Sud united at the club’s training grounds in the Trigoria section of Rome. On 9 December, Roma prepared to face BATE in the Champions League as part of the tournament’s group stages. Roma’s primavera[20] team played the same fixture[21] against Bate’s primavera that day, in the mid-afternoon. The Curva Sud staged a large showing at Trigoria, continuing message that whatever the situation was between them and the authorities and management, that they would still be supporting the players. Although hundreds were kept out, the tifosi led typical celebrations throughout the match.

In the following month, more political jabs were held by the ultras, contesting that they were the least of the city’s worries in comparison to the infiltration of the Camorra[22] in Rome’s political and social structure, illegal counterfeiters in the tourist sections, and the undocumented immigrant crisis. Roma’s entirely redesigned, crowd-sourced official website was released that week, on December 8th. A fan-friendly website fueled with content by fans along with player editorials, it was idealized as a gateway between the club and its supporters, yet the celebrations of the long-awaited modern website were curtailed by the ongoing conflict.

In January 2016, banners were placed in highly visible locations around Rome, with one hung above the underpass to the Colosseum reading, “You can never take away our freedom to support the club!”[23] The positioning of the banner adjacent to the Colosseum was to symbolize the Curva Sud’s cultural connection to Ancient Rome. One sign targeted Pallotta, exclaiming, “An absent president: Gabrielli divides us, and no one does anything.”[24] Another drew on the irony of allocated resources in Rome’s criminal justice system: “Corruption, pollution, malpractice, but the Sud is the problem of the city.”[25]

Alessandro Florenzi is Roman-born and is seen as the heir to captain Roma after Francesco Totti and Daniele De Rossi. He gave an interview to Sky Sport after another absentee Curva Sud in a mid-December home match: “The Curva Sud isn’t absent for our doing, they have their own battle going on. We hope that in the New Year the fans will come back to the stadium and we will truly have the 12th man on the field.”[26] Without concerning himself with city policies, club statements, and/or fan reactions, Florenzi let it be known that Roma needed the tifosi back.

The Curva Sud wanted a positive gesture from the ownership towards their behalf: a reimbursement of season tickets sold under false pretenses, club statements towards city legislation expressing disappointment with the barriers, a demand that the FIGC take a stand on the issue, and an explanation as to why the fines only occurred in Stadio Olimpico’s Curva Sud, and not elsewhere in the league. Only a few insignificant interviews and statements were given by either the club or Gabrielli throughout the remainder of the season, which concluded in the middle of May 2016.

 

 

Conclusion

Walk-outs during matches became a popular sight in the last quarter of 2015. They were used as an expression of discontent, with not only the form of the team, but the organization as a whole. The protests were also a display of (political) power. As Roma’s winless streak continued, its “12th man,”[27] the Curva Sud, remained absent. Simek, columnist of editorial “When in Roma,” believes,

They are not merely a “fan base.” They are not a “target audience” or “core ticket buyers.” They are not untapped consumer demand lying in wait for better marketing, an international brand, or a more packaged game day experience. By walking out, the Curva Sud showed that they are not customers. For better or worse, they are Roma. And without them, the Americani have nothing.[28]

 

In a city where football is not simply a sport, but a fede[29] and a hundred years of political connection intertwined with support of the club, the disconnect between the team’s organization and its supporters was felt from stadiums throughout the world, the countless internet forums and posts on social media, international television broadcasts and commentators, down to localized discussion in cafes and pizzerias. Crucially, the mounting tension and restrictions in the Curva Sud were causing chaos in a city, where seemingly more important issues were being ignored. Yet the city chose to focus on Roma’s Curva Sud, while the ultras continued to fight against the State and team ownership, behind the grandeur of Ancient Rome, and the Romanità of the Stadio Olimpico.

 

2017: Barriers Removed

In the early months of 2017, rumors began to circulate that the barriers were going to be removed. Dates of the supposed removal flooded social media, and few were quick to believe, before photos were actually seen. In late March, a slew of them had retweeted many times through the popular Italian news outlets – the barriers were officially down. In an age of hyper security – reminiscent of George Orwell’s 1984 – the turn of events was a shock. When you are a Roma fan, you learn to live with struggle. Some might even say that it’s part of the emotional makeup of a Romanista. The club with only three scudetti to its name – the club with arguably the greatest fans in the world – had now been given a new lease on life. On April 3rd, 2017, Roma entered the field in front of 50,000 plus diehards. The opponent could be none other than Lazio. Although Roma would lose on aggregate, Curva Sud was back – and nothing seemed impossible anymore.

AS Roma v SS Lazio - TIM Cup

This story is an adaptation from my thesis. For citing, please see full project here https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Wayne_Girard

[1] “History of the Ultra Movement in Italy,” Feb 20th, 2012, https://libcom.org/library/history-ultra-movement-italy.

[2] Luca Monaco, “Ecco le Barriere all’Olimpico,” LaRepubblica.it, 2 September, 2015, http://ricerca.repubblica.it/repubblica/archivio/repubblica/2015/09/02/ecco-le-barriere-allolimpicoRoma13.html.

[3] Match against a rival.

[4] Curva Sud, il comunicato: “Staremo Fuori Finché non Sarà Liberata,” LaRoma24.it, 18 September, 2015, http://www.laroma24.it/tifosi/2015/09/curva-sud-il-comunicato-staremo-fuori-finche-non-sara-liberata.

[5] Chris Porreca, “A.S. Roma General News Thread,” Bigsoccer.com, 31. http://forums.bigsoccer.com/threads/general-news-thread.2025109/page-31.

[6] Chiara Biondini, “Candela: “Dipende Quasi Esclusivamente da Garcia la Vittoria del Titolo,” Tuttomercatoweb.com, 23 September, 2015, http://www.tuttomercatoweb.com/altre-notizie/candela-dipende-quasi-esclusivamente-da-garcia-la-vittoria-del-titolo-732122.

[7] AS ROMA Venditti: “Potremo mai più vedere la Curva Sud unita? Il tifo è speranza e riscatto per una vita che ci vuole divisi: non dividete i fratelli!” Gazzettagiallorossa.it, 22 September, 2015, http://www.gazzettagiallorossa.it/2015/09/as-roma-venditti-potremo-mai-piu-vedere-la-curva-sud-unita-il-tifo-e-speranza-e-riscatto-per-una-vita-che-ci-vuole-divisi-non-dividete-i-fratelli/.

[8] Pierfrancesco Fogliona, “Elimare le Barriere in Curva Nord e in Curva Sud,” Change.org, https://www.change.org/p/ministro-dell-interno-angelino-alfano-prefetto-franco-gabrielli-eliminare-le-barriere-in-curva-nord-e-in-curva-sud-angealfa

[9] Football Italia Staff, “Ultras Boycott Rome Derby,” 10 October, 2015, http://www.football-italia.net/74149/ultras-boycott-rome-derby.

[10] Football Italia Staff, “Pallotta: Fans Hurting Team,” Football-Italia.net, 15 October, 2015, http://www.football-italia.net/74360/pallotta-%E2%80%98fans-hurting-team%E2%80%99.

[11] The first bracket of the Champions League tournament divides the teams into groups of four, before heading to one-on-one advancement.

[12] “Tifosi Ubriachi su Volo per Colonia: Paura a Bordo per Passeggeri e Hostess,” LaRoma24.it, 21 October, 2015, http://www.laroma24.it/rubriche/la-penna-degli-altri/2015/10/tifosi-ubriachi-sul-volo-per-colonia-paura-a-bordo-per-passeggeri-e-hostess.

[13] Andrea Ossino, “Il Guidice dà Ragione alla Curva,” Iltempo.it, 28 October, 2015, http://www.iltempo.it/sport/calcio/2015/10/28/il-giudice-da-ragione-alla-curva-1.1472870.

[14] A mid-table club from the northern region of Udine.

[15] It is a common practice in supporters’ sections to stand throughout the entire match, singing and waving banners.

[16] “Gabrielli: “Se l’Atteggiamento dei Tifosi non Cambia Vedremo Molti Derby Senza Curve,” ForzaRoma.info, 6 November, 2015, http://www.forzaroma.info/news-as-roma/gabrielli-la-curva-e-solo-un-ottavo-dello-stadio-vogliamo-rifarci-a-un-modello-di-tifo-europeo/.

[17] “Without Barriers.”

[18] Serie Romanista, “Senza Barriere,” youtube.com, 7 November, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-_TE6we-BOo&feature=youtu.be.

[19] Paolo Signorelli, “Pre Derby: Perquisizioni a Casa dei Tifosi, Perche Nessuno né Ha Parlato?” Lultimaribattuta.itm 10 November, 2015, http://www.lultimaribattuta.it/35412_pre-derby-perquisizioni-a-casa-dei-tifosi-perche-nessuno-ne-ha-parlato.

[20] Under 21-years-old team.

[21] A single match of two, when two teams play each other throughout a tournament.

[22] Stemming from Napoli, the Camorra is the largest organized crime unit in Italy, spanning throughout the entire country and abroad.

[23] Redazione, “Tag: Striscioni Curva Sud: “un presidente assente: Gabrielli divide e nessuno fa niente!”romanews.eu, January 17th, 2016, http://romanews.eu/2016/01/17/striscioni-curva-sud-un-presidente-assente-gabrielli-divide-e-nessuno-fa-niente-foto/.

[24] Redazione, “Tag: Striscioni Curva Sud,” romanews.eu.

[25] Redazione, “Curva Sud striscione: “Corruzione, inquinamento, malasanità: eppure è la Sud il problema della città!”” forzaroma.info, January 15th, 2016, http://www.forzaroma.info/news-as-roma/curva-sud-striscione-a-muro-torto-corruzione-inquinamento-malasanita-eppure-e-la-sud-il-problema-della-citta/.

[26] “Roma-Genoa, Florenzi: “Questa Roma ha un’anima. Con l’abbraccio a Garcia volevamo dare un bel segnale,” LaRoma24.it, December 20th, 2015, http://www.laroma24.it/news/interviste-partita/2015/12/roma-genoa-florenzi-speriamo-che-questo-gol-ci-sblocchi.

[27] Supporters’ sections are typically referred to as the 12th man, as a football team has 11 players, with the supporters acting as the extra help needed for success.

[28] Peter Simek, “When in Roma,” SBNation.com, April 8th, 2015, http://www.sbnation.com/2015/4/8/8353199/roma-owners-serie-a-profile.

[29] “Faith.”