In the early hours of Sunday morning, police swooped (as the newspapers always like to say, raising the image of a strange aerial law enforcement squad who like to eat mice and can swivel their heads through 180°) to arrest a group of Lazio ultras who were about to set off for Bergamo. Mass arrests of this kind aren't that common, and the laziali were obviously preparing something special. Why's that? well, it could be because Atalanta were founded in 1907, and this is their centenary year. Specifically, a notte bianca, an all-night celebration, was planned for the night after the Lazio game. And next month Gigi d'Alessio will sing at a special concert for them. Now, everyone tells me that laziali are just as nice a bunch of people, on average, as anyone else. And in token of that, clearly these lads were keen to join in and help give Atalanta a birthday to remember.
So just what kind of party was being prepared by the 66, yes that's sixty-six, arrested lazio ultras?
Here's a clue:
(photo from La Repubblica)
Ah yes, the machete, a less conventional gift than flowers perhaps, but nothing says 'I'm thinking of you' like grievous bodily harm. I'd also like you to notice the forethought with which the lads (and two girls) had planned the affair, providing themselves with a steel knife-sharpener. And people say kids today don't think ahead.
Of course, Atalanta's ultras are notoriously 1) violent and 2) left wing. Hence the hardware. I think it's easy to see what was planned. Unless, of course, all 66 of them were off to start a new life in Bergamo, a famously friendly and welcoming city, collectively running a small weapons store. The police have raised another possibility which is that there was an appointment with Napoli ultras, en route to Empoli, at a motorway service station in Tuscany. Italy's Autogrill restaurants have for years been the scene of organised hoolie meets - every weekend, once upon a time, though much less often now.
My favourite part of this story is the where: Piazza Vescovio, literally 5 minutes from where I used to live up in the north-eastern corner of town. The square, and surrounding streets, are covered with a mix of Lazio and neoNazi graffiti (it's a delightful mix) and is known to be the meeting point for a politically motivated hardcore of ultras. The police found some 70 ultras there - they'd all turned up in their cars, cleverly choosing an inconspicuous way to congregate at 4.30am - and arrested most. Less smart, my present area, but better in some regards. And a query to my friends: why no machete for my birthday, hmm?