Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Lazio 1 - 0 Parma

Do not adjust your set.

Yes, dear readers, in a spirit of investigative journalism (and/or the desperate desire to see some live football after nearly a month without) I took the possibly unforgivable step of going to see Lazio. Accordingly I have swelled Lotito's coffers by a full €15, and said a few Hail Marys when I got home.

This weekend saw the resumption of Serie A after the international break and the 'Sandri' break, and I wanted to see what the reaction of the Lazio fans would be. It was a perfect winter's football afternoon - grey, rainy, guaranteed to be dark by the time you leave the stadium. I'd decided to go in the distinti Est (cheap, close enough to "home" to not feel too weird) and as arriving rather later than intended was still rather gobsmacked at the emptiness of the ground. About 17,000 people according to the estimate in Il Corriere dello Sport the next day, but the Gazzetta suggested that it could have been as few as 12,000. Though one of the few games not closed to away fans, Parma had brought perhaps fewer than 100 people. Many home fans meanwhile had chosen to stay away - either independently, or as part of the 'fans' strike'.

The Curva Nord's protest was an almost entirely silent and for my money rather effective one. They were both making a gesture of mourning and remembrance, and protesting against a) police "brutality" or incompetence, depending on how you see it; b) the proposed and actual new measures to still further clamp down on ultras. Leaving the whole of the lower section of the Curva entirely empty, the black and white portrait of Gabriele Sandri last seen outside the church at his funeral was affixed to the barrier at centre of the stand, while a blue and white banner simply read "Lacrime Dolore Silenzio" - Tears, Sadness, Silence.

Parma players Corradi and Couto had placed flowers in front of the portrait before kick-off. Crowds of Lazio's ultras were packed into the staircase entrances at the top of the curva, trying to watch the game, but keeping the main body of the stand empty, while the Parma ultras showed solidarity in echoing this gesture. All 3 of them. Then after around 20 minutes the Curva Nord suddenly began to fill, stopping just a short way back. For about 7 minutes they sang and cheered - not, perhaps, as normal, since their chants were all either for Gabriele or, predictably, against the police. The rest of the stadium joined in with the brief Forza Lazio chorus, appluaded the first of the "Gabriele con noi" songs, and whistled and booed the anti-police chants. and unfurling another huge striscione.

"Ma Gabriele vorrebbe anche questo" it read - But Gabriele would also have wanted this - i.e. the support, the singing, the active participation of the club's ultras. The Curva Nord, and passionate support for his team, were an important part of his life. They're almost right, and those attempts being made to suppress the ultras movement in Gabriele's name shouldn't be given the time of day. But of course they are just as guilty of exploiting him, and claiming to speak in his name, as any of the most cynical politicians.

You may also notice that a new banner appeared at the top of the curva, under the big screen, reading "Curva Nord Gabriele Sandri". This looks like it may well be a permanent addition (similar to our banner which goes in the corresponding spot in the Sud proclaiming "Brigata Roberto Rulli" after the leader of the Fedayn who died young). So it's possible that the Lazio Curva will henceforth be informally known as the Curva Sandri. Meanwhile it was not until the Curva Nord ultras had appeared in this fashion did their Parma counterparts follow suit, unfurling a message to Gabriele made in their own club colours.

The game itself was just woeful. In fairness I shouldn't have been surprised, since Chelsea Boy was over and every game we have been to see together has been utterly shite. (Such highlights as Roma 0 - Lazio 0 or Chelsea 0 - Blackburn 0 spring to mind, or rather crawl limply and sluggishly to mind like a dying weasel). Parma were just 2 points ahead of Lazio before the match, both firmly ensconced in the bottom half of the table. In the first half Lazio created a few decent chances and hit the bar, but after that things declined into a deathly slow and clumsy affair. Rocchi looked like their best player, but since in the second half no-one ever gave him the ball, he didn't do much. Pandev and Ledesma were totally anonymous, Manfredini ran around a lot - well, a bit - and that was about it. The person whose performance stood out the most was the ref who was frankly awful. It seemed to be heading for a more than merited 0-0 draw when a scrappy scuffed shot from midfielder Firmani (looked like an own goal from where we were...) unexpectedly won the game for the home side in the 91st minute.

Firmani and Lorenzo De Silvestri - who was a close personal friend of Sandri - are the only two native Romans in the side, both Lazio through and through, and it was at Firmani's initiative that the team had all worn t-shirts bearing Sandri's image during the pre-match warm up. So when Firmani scored he immediately launched himself in a headlong run to the foot of the Curva Nord - followed by all his team mates - to embrace Sandri's portrait there and dedicate to the goal and the victory to him.

The almost entirely silent, largely empty stadium was really quite eerie. Of course, I have no standard of comparison, not having been to a normal Lazio match - the derby doesn't count for this purpose. So I don't know how much the fans in the distinti and the tribuna normally get involved, what songs they usually sing, etc. But if peculiar the atmosphere did at least feel appropriate, and it was certainly an interesting experience.

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