“I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness, I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too, I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too shall end, that peace and tranquillity will return once more.”
Words of such ilk still ring true today. Yet there remains people from across the globe who choose to mock the brutality suffered at the hands of Hitler’s Germany. Anti-Semitism remains in the news on a weekly basis. Some people refuse to recognise history, choosing to create their own or believe in some made-up ideals of the right-wing. This then allows one to hold the belief that such tragic points in history can be made a mockery of – none more so than between rival football fans.
A fortnight ago, high-flying Lazio faced Cagliari at the Olimpico. One section of the ground was made a €1 ‘we fight racism’ section. This particular section was the end Roma ultras would normally fill during their home matches. It’s known that Lazio ultras bought the vast majority of discounted tickets, viewing it as an opportunity to leave rival fans stickers of Anne Frank fully kitted out in Roma colours. This rightly caused uproar throughout Italy’s domestic scene, and Europe as a whole.
“But they’d do the same to us also,” responded the Lazio fans when news emerged of their ill-tasted gifts to the neighbours. It’s the playground response you hear of all too often after such instances. This, though, is a club whose right-wing manners crossed the line a long time ago. Not all Lazio fans are anti-Semitic, granted. Yet a section of their crowd, mainly ultras, have too-long been associated with such beliefs.
Lazio President, Claudio Lotito, has attempted to tackle the issue since coming into power in 2004. So much so, he’s had bullets sent to him through the post and he now requires a police escort wherever he travels. But upon attempting to clear up their ultras’ latest mess, he himself would have been better-advised with his choice of wording.
Deciding to visit a Jewish memorial in Rome with a wreath in the days that followed, he described the outing a ‘show’. This was the icing on the cake for media outlets as they jumped on it.
Lazio have long courted criticism for their right-wing actions. From often being involved in monkey-chanting to actually scaring Lillian Thurman away from signing for them in 2001. The Irriducibili ultras even made a six-hour trip to Parma’s Collecchio training ground along with a journalist they trusted, in order to persuade Thuram that he need not worry about their racist reputation. Despite handing over Irriducibili merchandise and reassuring him that racist chanting was limited to opposition players alone, this, unsurprisingly, failed to cool Thuram’s reservations. He instead joined Juventus for €21million, before cementing his reputation as one of the modern-day game’s greatest defenders.
Such right-wing ideology isn’t restricted to the ultras alone. Lazio have also had players who immersed themselves too much in the fascist culture. None more so than Paolo Di Canio.
“I’m not a racist, I’m a fascist,” repeated Di Canio back in 2005 when attempting to defend himself. This was not long after he was widely pictured in the Curva Norde performing fascist salutes with club ultras. Despite recently attempting to pour cold water on the fascist links, the Mussolini tattoos that ink his body suggests otherwise.
A few days after their latest anti-Semitic debacle, Lazio were due at Bologna’s Renato Dall’Ara. Serie A officials decided that a minute silence would be held before each scheduled match, followed by passages of Anne Frank’s diary to be read out as an attempted show of respect.
Whilst at the Renato Dall’Ara Lazio fans would be seated in the section named after Arpad Weisz, Bologna’s twice league-winning Jewish coach prior to the break-out of WWII. During the war, Arpad was sent to Auschwitz and killed in 1944.
During the attempted minute silence and passage reading, sections of the Lazio support broke out in chants of me ne frego (‘I don’t give a damn’), a chant associated with Benito Mussolini’s blackshirts army. Yet this wasn’t the only showing of Serie A discord during the attempted show of respect.
Juventus fans also boycotted by turning their backs during the minute’s silence before their game against SPAL and singing the Italian national anthem instead.
Lazio and Italian football as a whole has long had issues with right-wing ideology. When thinking of football ultras, Italy’s tends to rank amongst the most ardent of the lot. But the anti-Semitic and racist downfalls has tainted the Italian following for far too long. It’s about time something was done to change this, but is it too late? And does the issues lie deeper in the country’s culture, way beyond football?
Time will surely tell.