Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Town Ain’t Big Enough for Two: Italian Serie A and Two-Squad Cities

On the eve of the commencement of another fine Italian—Champions League-defending—Serie A campaign and following an interesting conversation today with my Italianist colleagues Ilona Klein and Rod Boynton, I want to dedicate this post to exploring a rare phenomenon, unique to Italian soccer: politically-divided, two-horse soccer towns. (Knowing how much Corry loathes il calcio, I’ll make a concerted effort to share one of the many reasons I love the thoroughly corrupt, hands-in-the-air, ref-baiting, pleading, begging, flopping beauty of Serie A football!)

Indeed, the EPL does have a handful of inner-city rivalries: Man U/Man City, Liverpool/Everton, a cluster of clubs in the midlands, and anywhere from 4-8 teams in a given season hailing from London. Still, politically speaking, none of these rivalries really cross the football divide. The Scottish Premier League, on the converse, has a Glasgow duo in “The Old Firm”: Catholic Celtic FC and the Protestant Rangers FC, whose mutual hatred transcends football and extends to centuries of religious conflict. The German Bundesliga has one fine example of this phenomenon in right-wing Hamburger SV and the left-leaning, anti-fascist FC St. Pauli. Allegiances in the French Ligue 1 are quite often divided between the pro-immigration fans of Olympique de Marseille and the generally racially intolerant and right-wing Paris Saint Germain—despite the 800 km that separate the two major cities of the Hexagon. The closest thing France has what I see in Italy, nonetheless, is the rivalry between my Olympique Lyonnais and Les Verts of AS Saint Etienne. This battle of two neighboring southeastern cities, who compete yearly in the Derby du Rhône, is traditionally seen as a fight between working-class ASSE mountain men and the industrial magnates of cosmopolitan OL. A similar dynamic exists within the limits of multiple Italian cities, with divisions quite often clearly drawn between the political right and left.

Four exemplary Italian metropoles, representing 8 squads, stand out to illustrate this two-team dynamic: Turin, Milan, Rome, and Genoa. The Piedmont “Detroit of Italy” boasts the peninsula’s most decorated European club, deep-pocketed powerhouse Juventus (owned by the Agnelli family of Fiat fame) and the working class Bulls of FC Torino (who have sadly been relegated to Serie B for the past few seasons). In essence, Turin’s momentarily discontinued yearly battle pits international stars purchased with auto industry Lire/Euros against the regional club supported by local men working the assembly line, building the cars, in the Fiat factory. Further south, the fashion center of Milan offers two very different teams, both of whom historically vie for vastly different versions of the Italian left and both of whom (with Juve) represent the perennial superclubs in Serie A: AC Milan is the baby of Christian Democrat populist media giant Silvio Berlusconi and, as such and in spite of its fashionable snobbery, is the working class club; whereas Internationale, despite its communist-sounding name and original politics of cultural open-mindedness, is now the ultra right-wing, maybe even post-Fascist, squad of Italy.* Inter Milan does not, however, hold a monopoly on right-wing racism; Rome’s SS Lazio (and Florence’s ACF Fiorentina) also share the distinction as Italy’s most intolerant squads. The highly Anglophilic, smug, and Vatican-minded supporters of Lazio have a very different crosstown rival for the yearly Derby della Capitale, in AS Roma, who, on the other hand, is notably Roman and adopt a comportment more germane to that of the leisurely urban denizen. Finally, the Ligurian port city of Genoa claims both Italy’s oldest club Genoa CFC as well as UC Sampdoria. These two contestants for the Derby della Lanterna are both, oddly, traditionally left-leaning in this long-wealthy and cosmopolitan city of bankers. Still, Genoa, with its mascot of the Griffin, appeals to the enlightened liberal intellectual elite of the city whereas rival Sampdoria, with an old sailor as its emblem, is the team of mariners and fisherman. In Genoa, allegiances are divided between the bleeding-heart bourgeoisie who aim to assuage the plight of the working man and the actual proletariat who live it.

As distinct to Italian soccer as simulating fouls and cattenaccio defense, the tradition of two-horse towns and the exciting “derbies” they engender represent much of the joy of trademark Italian calcio. Just as in Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns, Baxters and Rojos cannot coexist--but we're all entertained when they duel. All the same, even when one does not have a team to support, politics can always help facilitate a decision. Viva Italia! Viva il calcio! Viva il Vecchio Balordo! Viva i Rossoblu! FORZA GENOA!!!

*For more on Milanese football, see Frank Foer's fine chapter "How Soccer Explains the New Oligarchs" (Ch. 7; pp. 176-92).


Anonymous said...

Nicely written, and well analyzed. Thanks for a good read. And, of course ... "Forzaaaaaaaaaaa Romaaaaaaaaaaaaa! For-za Ro-ma, for-za lu-pi, sso'-ffi-ni-tii-tem-pi-cuuuuuu-piiiiiiiii!!!! :)

Corry Cropper said...

A nicely written, informative piece that demonstrates many of the lingering social fissures in Italian society. But none of this makes up for the bad soccer....

Kampy said...

Mi è piaciuto l'articolo e voglio che tu a scrivere su uno spaghetti.