Ultras culture is something people outside of Italy cannot comprehend and one has to admit it’s a bizarre aspect of calcio. It can sometimes be great fun, like the banners, huge choreographies, charity events and the fact fan groups can hold press conferences. In Genoa on Sunday we saw the uglier side of a group of people who truly believe they own the club.
With Genoa losing 4-0 at home to relegation rivals Siena, the ultras took matters into their own hands and threw fireworks on to the pitch. By clambering up the security fences and on to the tunnel towards the locker room, they effectively held the team hostage. This isn’t just an overblown comparison either – captain Marco Rossi personally negotiated with the furious supporters and even accepted their demands that the “unworthy” squad remove the jerseys. It was bizarre seeing Rossi walking around with a pile of shirts like a PE teacher.
Even stranger was what followed, as Giuseppe Sculli shouted his passion for Genoa in tears until he was comforted and cuddled by the same ultras who were hurling abuse. It was this moment, this bowing down to the will of the supporters and looking to them for forgiveness, that allowed the game to resume.
You may well wonder, what were the police doing exactly? Well, they were standing around in case things got out of hand. More out of hand than the match grinding to a halt for 40 minutes while the ultras took control of the stadium and gave orders to the players, that is. There were no arrests at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris. Instead, they were caught on camera by the television companies covering the game and will be identified at a later date. They will probably get a ban from the stadium for a year or so, but there will be no prison time. Is it any wonder the ultras believe they can act with impunity?
Lilian Thuram was famously stunned that Lazio ultras could organise a meeting with the Parma player during a training session in order to reassure him there would be no racist abuse if he accepted the transfer. The ‘reassuring’ meeting only frightened him even more. Only Italians seem to understand the sheer power these figures have in the football world and why it is considered perfectly normal.
In the Peninsula, Presidents, Coaches, players, they all come and go. The ultras believe they are the only firm points in the football world and the moral guardians of the club colours. The footballers and owners? They are just tenants in this precious old building and the landlords can throw them out at any time if the reputation of the locale is damaged. It’s the same reason why Lazio supporters run the official club shop and counterfeit merchandise is on sale outside every stadium. The ultras own the brand.
It’s not right, of course, but it does help explain the events in Marassi.