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This is Calcio: Football Culture in Italy

©istockphoto/bkindler

©istockphoto/bkindler

It’s 3 pm on Sunday, and across the peninsula, the streets are empty. Banners and flags hang from doorways, brightly lit in shades of blue, white, red, black, pink, purple, and yellow. Bars crowd to the brim, while everybody intensely gazes towards the television, clutching their scarves, murmuring in hushed tones. Suddenly, Shouts of “dai!” (Come on!), “cross!” (Pass!), and “tira!” (Shoot!) fill the tense air—echoing across the walls. The groups sitting at the tables half-raise from their chairs, and the fans cautiously lift their arms, ready to celebrate. Someone yells “eccolo!” (There it is!), and suddenly hands unanimously shoot to the top of the head, as disappointed groans replace the excitement and the spectators sit back down berating each other over whose grandmother could have taken a better shot. Welcome to Italy’s football culture.

From August through May, association football dominates a weekend afternoon. For many, the fortunes or misfortunes of their home team determine their weekly mood. Watching a match across Italy is a show of passion, energy, excitement, emotion, and sometimes, bitter disappointment as teams fight for the scudetto, the Italian championship. The game grips the country so furiously, that it has caused heated arguments in the Italian Parliament. Football in Italy is a game that can unite, just as much as it can divide. Rivalries between cities stretch back to centuries of discord, while inter-city derbies, a match between two different teams from the same city or region brings out the best of the tifo, the electric displays of color and choreographed pageantry during the match.

When the final whistle blows, dedicated fans analyze every aspect of the game, listening intently to the moviola, the seemingly endless slow motion replay, as they discuss whether that player truly was offside, or if the ball really had gone into the net. In the summer offseason months, sport-specific newspapers with blaring headlines about the latest transfer rumors sell more than the daily political papers. While the Serie A season, Italy’s top flight of teams, only lasts a portion of the year, the fervor fills the remainder.

In 1898, English expatriates living in Genoa formed the first official football club, introducing the game to the country. With its success, new clubs were formed in Milan, Palermo and Turin, and with it, fans and loyalties to their teams. In the 1920’s, football spread across the peninsula, with teams established in Rome, Naples, and Florence. Stadiums were constructed like modern-day cathedrals, each club wanting to show its wealth, power, and glory. Italian football is known for its defensive characteristics, producing some of the greatest defenders to grace the field.

While most of the country is divided by loyalties to their favorite team or their city, the pride of the country is the Nazionale, the Italian National Team. Comprised of the best Italian players from across the spectrum of clubs, the Azzurri (Blues) have won the World Cup four times and the European Championship once. In 2006, the World Cup final between Italy and France was watched by over 25-million Italians. Rivals put down their colors and differences, celebrating under the tricolore flag together.

Attending a match at the stadium is the ultimate experience. Tickets are purchased beforehand at club outlets throughout the city, banks, or at the stadium. A ticket cannot be purchased the same day as the match, and for security reasons, every spectator has their name printed on the pass. The most vocal and dedicated fans are in the curve, the stadium ends, but the best views are in the tribune, along the field. There are only three requirements: scream loud, don’t sit down, and enjoy the passion.

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