The video went viral. If you are reading this article, chances are you’ve probably seen it. The video captured Lazio’s ultras, dressed in identikit clothing of denim jeans and black leather jackets, parading through Glasgow town centre giving the Roman salute.
Once the video hit the Internet it, not surprisingly, caused a huge backlash. The club were brandished as ‘Nazio’ (not exactly an original slur). Lazio released a statement condemning the behavior of these fans, and for ‘bringing Hitler into our club’.
Again, this is all hardly new terrain for Lazio, who are arguably the most politicised club in Serie A. Their connection to fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, whilst perhaps tenuous at best, has given them the label as ‘Mussolini’s club’, a stain on the club’s image that has never truly washed off.
The fetishisation of Mussolini by Lazio’s ultras has only added more fuel to the fascist fire. Scenes such as the one experienced by Glasgow shoppers are a regular occurrence in the peninsula. They even paid a visit to the square where the World War II leader was killed and held up a banner that read: ‘Honour to Benito Mussolini.’
Lazio complain about the unfair PR treatment they receive, running with the ‘few bad apples ruin the whole cart’ excuse. Yet what is the club doing to eradicate the problem? The answer is slightly less than zero.
President Claudio Lotito did, in begrudging fairness, initially take on the ultras upon becoming owner of the club in the mid ‘00s. They had enjoyed a free ride in the Sergio Cragnotti era – free tickets to every game, free to produce Lazio merchandise, and, incredibly, have a say in player movement (they talked Cragnotti out of selling Beppe Signori to Parma in 1996). Lotito put a stop to the gravy train.
But that was then. In recent years the club has desperately failed to tackle their image problem, a lack of willingness to once again butt heads with the ultras. The Irriducibili, Lazio’s biggest ultras group, are extremely politicised, and as the parade in Glasgow revealed, they aren’t shy in showing their feelings. Before a recent Rome derby, they printed stickers of Holocaust victim Anne Frank in a Roma jersey and left them around the Stadio Olimpico. This, deservedly, drew international condemnation.
So what can the club do? The easy answer would be to be ban the ultras, all of them. But the ultras are a double-edged sword, they create the atmosphere inside the stadium that otherwise wouldn’t exist if they were absent. Do you sacrifice the so-called ‘12th man’ for a cleaner image? Do you make a deal with other, smaller ultra groups, with the caveat being that politics will no longer be tolerated inside the Olimpico?
Juventus are currently in the middle of a battle with their ultras; with the club taking measures to ban any fans caught making offensive comments or gestures inside the stadium through the use of technology. However, that double-edged sword is evident when the ultras go on strike. You can audibly hear players shouting at one another during the game, the atmosphere turns mute.
There is no easy fix to the ultras problem, and until Lazio make attempts to quash, or at the very least sanitise their own hard-line fans, you suspect there will be more harm done to the club’s international image.
At least Lazio can safely say they are not the worst at dealing with ultra-right-wing elements in their fanbase, in a week where the coach, President and even Mayor of Verona tried to gaslight Mario Balotelli by telling him there was no racist chanting, even when presented with video evidence. Dealing with racism better than Hellas Verona is, one has to admit, a very low bar.