The first derby del Campidoglio of the season takes place on Sunday night and will turn the Eternal City into a molten pot of deep rooted bitter rivalries and passionate, exhibitionist love for the sky blue and white of Lazio or the yellow and red of Roma. The Stadio Olimpico will explode with the two Curve’s blind allegiances being violently expressed in a sea of flags, flares and a chorus of chanting that will echo back to the macabre days of the Colosseum – the crowd want blood, the only result acceptable is victory, the methods by which it is obtained are irrelevant. League positions will be forgotten about as, to many, this game is more important than the Scudetto itself. However, so far it has been a very dark season for both teams – Lazio lie in a lowly 15th place whilst Roma an unacceptable 9th and both sets of fans will be looking for their gladiators to provide them with some light. The fans do not expect this game to be a classic and quite frankly they do not care, All that matter is the three points, losing in this game for fans of either side is unthinkable.
This deep seated rivalry has its origins in 1920’s Rome when the Fortitudo Pro Roma President decided that there were too many small clubs in the capital and that they needed a strong club to rival those of the north. Therefore, on 22 July 1927, A.S. Roma were formed – taking on the capital’s iconic Capitoline Wolf for its badge and the yellow and red colours of the city known as the Fortitudo. They would play their games at the Campo Testaccio in the southern neighbourhood and immediately drew the support of the working class. One club did not join the merger, SS Lazio – this club had been formed on the 9th January 1900 at the Piazza della Liberta and drew their colours from the Greek flag after being inspired by the Olympics games in Greece in 1886. Lazio as a general sports club drew support from the more affluent suburbs, and so a rivalry was born. The first Derby of the Cupole took place on 8th December 1929 and was always going to be a volatile affair. Fuel was added to the fire by the fact that Roma had in their ranks a player called Fulvio Bernardini, a product of Lazio, now sporting the yellow and red of the Giallorossi. Trouble was expected at the game and police were called in, the game was close to being called off but in the end it went ahead and was won by a Rodolfo Volk goal – first blood Roma, first dismay Lazio. Surprisingly, no trouble took place in 1929 and, therefore, the next game was not policed as heavily, however, the 1930-31 season game saw so many fights and overall violence that the game was called off and the rivalry was truly compounded.
“I played lots of derbies in Milan, Madrid and London, but it’s in Rome that the passion for the derby is strongest,” Christian Panucci.
In recent years the derby has been as glorious and as shameful as any in its 80 year history. Vincenzo Montella managed four goals in one game for Roma as they destroyed Lazio 5-1 in 2002, the only player ever to do this. In 2009 Lazio got a precious three points against Roma, winning 4-2 in an outstanding game that saw goals red cards and drama. Many more classics have been written in the past two decades alone, especially those that feature Roma Captain Francesco Totti, who has played in over 30 of the iconic contests. He is however, the face of one of the derbies most distasteful incidents. In the 2004 derby, rumours spread among Roma fans that a child had been killed by police outside the stadium, forcing the game to be called off after only 4 minutes. This happened in the most unusual way. When the Ultras from AS Roma Ultras, Boys, and Giovinezza heard about the rumour they clamoured for Totti to come over and talk to them. On doing so, Il Capitan was told to call off the game by three of heads of the Ultra groups, who had come onto the pitch. Totti obliged, later saying they had threatened his life. The referee called the game off, however, riots broke out in and around the stadium as the supporters attacked police resulting in 170 injuries. Ultimately, the rumour had not been true, but the derby had shown that a much darker side resonated in it and that this was now much more than a game, much more than football – it was a tool for the byzantine underbelly of Rome to exert its violent and political messages.
The match on Sunday will be to everyone be more than three points, the colour,
sounds and passion will be felt all over Italy in what is, arguably, the biggest derby in
Italy. Lazio’s mid week defeat to Salzburg will have to be put behind them as the form book does not help their cause. The Biancocelesti have not won since the second game of the season and are in dire need of three points. Roma have 10 points from the last 12 and will be looking to continue their slow but consistent push up the table. The Eternal City is bracing itself for a titanic clash that has had, and always will have, the power to divide, elate and destroy the souls of a proud people. While all the statistics point towards a Roma win, there is no form book in the Derby della Capitale, only hope and blind faith.