Today, the Tuscan seaside resort of Viareggio means two things, in footballing terms. Firstly it is the birthplace of World Cup winning manager Marcello Lippi; secondly it is the location of the most important youth tournament in the world, the Torneo Viareggio, also known as the Coppa Carnevale since it takes place during the pre-Lent carnival period each year.
The Torneo Viareggio, incidentally, is a fascinating thing. Though since its foundation in 1948 it has nearly always been won by Italian sides (Fiorentina and Milan lead the way with 8 wins apiece) it is an international competition. Dukla Prague won it 6 times in the 60s/70s, Ipswich Town were losing finalists in 1981 and 1982, Partizan Belgrade won it back in 1951 and more recently the Uruguayan side Juventud de Las Piedras won, in 2006. In 2008, I'm very happy to be able to inform you, Tottenham were knocked out in the group stages after drawing with Genoa and losing to Cisco Roma. Mind you, Empoli knocked out River Plate so it's not exactly indicative of much. The tournament has, though, been a launching pad for many of Serie A's stars over the years: recently players like Giovinco and Balotelli, but further back men like Giuseppe Giannini, Sandro Mazzola, Gianni Rivera and Giancinto Facchetti all made their mark in Viareggio.
But the town does have its own footballing side: F. C. Esperia Viareggio. This is the heir and successor of Viareggio Calcio which dissolved in 2002; Esperia Viareggio have worked their way back up from the amateur leagues into C2, though that status is now threatened since they will be competing in the "play outs" for relegation, starting on Sunday. They play in black and white stripes, rejoice in the original nickname "le Zebre" and won the Italian Amateur Cup in 2006.
Now, Viareggio is in the province of Lucca, the second largest town after the Lucca itself, and not surprisingly there is a considerable footballing rivalry between the two places. Viareggio's ultras' site welcomes you with the prominent declaration "LUCCA MERDA." Lucchese, originally Lucca Calcio, have a considerably more prestigious history and have played several seasons in Serie A. Even in their early days, there are signs they were a decent side: in 1919-20, playing in the second division (then known as Promozione, this was before the creation of Serie A & B) they won the Tuscan Regional Cup, and also promotion into the top flight. And in May of that year, as the season drew to a close, they went to play away at local rivals Viareggio.
The period 1919-20 was one of turmoil in much of Italy: it was known as the Biennio Rosso, as socialist, anarchist and communist councils came to power in towns across northern and central Italy. And as now, Tuscany was always a Red heartland. Minor episodes of violence were beginning to break out with increasing frequency between those on the left and the nationalist veterans' associations, the Arditi, and Mussolini's brand new Fasci del Combattimento. The state and its agents were caught in the middle, distrusted, ineffectual, attacked by both sides (sound familiar at all?)
On 1 May, as part of the celebrations of International Workers' Day, a woman poet came down from Milan and spoke in a packed theatre in the centre of Viareggio. "Don't you know that in Milan, the revolution has started?" she urged them. "They have taken over the factories. Long live anarchy." The town was in a state of turmoil... and on 2 May, hated local rivals Lucca arrived.
At some point during the match, perhaps unsurprisingly, violence broke out. Sources disagree as to whether it began in the stands or on the pitch, among the players. The barriers dividing the cheap standing areas from the pitch were broken down, and fans stormed aggressively onto the grass. The carabinieri, seeking to restore order, went into action and inexplicably opened fire on the crowd: many were wounded but only one man fatally. They had succeeded in killing the referee. His name is now sadly lost.
At this point all hell broke loose, and what became known as "le Tre Giornate", the three days, followed. A full-scale local revolution took place: barracks and police stations were besieged, an anarchist council established, representatives of the state fled in terror. Order was only restored three days later, in part through the arrival of a fully armed naval vessel designed to intimidate the town into submission.
The violence didn't stop there, as on 4 May protests against this incident of police brutality in Viareggio were held in nearby Livorno, another communist stronghold. Demonstrators in the city centre came into contact with the police, who chose to .... open fire, killing 48 year old carpenter Flaminio Mazzantini, socialist and father of eight.
When the media here tell us that today's football-related violence is unprecedented; when they tell us that there should be no connection between football and politics; when they tell us that the rioting after a policeman fatally shot an innocent man in a football context (see Gabriele Sandri) is a sign of the decay of modern society - well, I think they should take a closer look at Italian history.