The Azzurri was not only used as a means of propaganda and a vessel for Italy to unite through, it was also symbolic as it represented Italy as a country and the regime which was shaping it. Naturally the regime’s close identification with the Italian football game as a whole meant that Italian clubs and the national team especially were perceived to be fascists. This was most evident when the national team played abroad, as during the 1930s disruptions and protests greeted the Azzurri whenever they travelled. In France for example during the 1938 World Cup, there have been suggestions that there were large-scale anti-fascist protests in cities such as Marseille, with protesters being held back by horse-back police as not only Italians but those outside of Italy saw the Azzurri as very much representative of the regime. To this day stereotypes follow the Azzurri whenever they travel, both in the media and in the terraces of the stadiums in which they play. Indeed in October of 2008, Italy’s game against Bulgaria was marred by pre-match clashes, flag-burning, fascist chanting and displays of neo-Nazi banners. Whilst inside the ground, Italian fans sang the fascist anthem ‘Faccetta Nera’ (Little Black Face) and chanted ‘Duce’ choruses in honour of the dictator Benito Mussolini. Furthermore, missiles were hurled and three Italians were arrested after a Bulgarian flag was set alight during the home team’s national anthem. As a result of all of this, Giancarlo Abete, the president of the Italian FA, decided against selling tickets for the national team’s away games for the foreseeable future.
This is not to say however that all modern associations with Italian football and fascism are negative. While it is certainly true that there has been much coverage of crowd disturbances and violent clashes with police within domestic football in Italy, other instances of fascist displays are not meant as provocative or insulting outbursts, but merely the historical culture of Italian football coming through. Going back to the example of Paolo Di Canio’s infamous salute in Part I of this feature, it must be noted that this was not the first time he had made it, as prior to the Livorno game he had made the same gesture in the Rome derby. However, he only received a 10,000 € fine on this occasion while not even the Italian Prime Minister condemned his behaviour, remarking only that Di Canio was merely an exhibitionist. Fascist influences have shown continuity through to the modern day, yet whilst it is true though that Di Canio is a self-declared fascist, it must be noted that he is not a racist, which is where the problem of fascism in football has brought us today. Such scenes as described earlier at Azzurri football games are not limited to international matches though, as racism has long been a problem that still remains at large within Italian football as a whole. In 1999, when Lazio played Roma – a team widely supported by Rome’s Jewish population – Lazio’s ultras unfurled a 50-metre anti-Semitic banner across their half of the stadium, while more recently in 2005, Ivory Coast defender Marc Zoro was reduced to tears and threatened to leave the pitch after Inter fans racially taunted him.
It is clear then that fascism has left a lasting legacy on Italian football both domestically and nationally, firstly in a positive fashion through a national identity that has shaped not only Italian football but also Italy itself as a country, yet it has also affected the country negatively through modern day racism. However, It could well be argued that the successes experienced by the Azzurri – both in the golden period of the 1930s and as the current world champions – would not have been achieved without the mentality which is historically entwined throughout all Italian football courtesy of its fascist roots.