Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Ultra Football

Expanding our notion of “football” has been a fun part of this time in Italy, while still fully appreciating the American version. (Bravo, Seattle Seahawks!) One of the most noticeable contrasts is the fervency of the fans, even knowing how zealous US football fanatics can be. (Seahawks’ 12th Man!)  

In Genoa there are 2 competing football teams, each with its “Ultras” (hardcore fans) – fiercely loyal to either U.C. Sampdoria or Genoa C.F.C. This rivalry pits one of Italy's newest football franchises (Sampdoria) against Genoa's bragging rights as the oldest  having been founded in 1893, originally to represent England abroad. However, this year a common cause united the normally combative cadres: both camps were furious that their head-to-head match (called the Derby della Lanterna, named for the 900-year old landmark and main lighthouse in the port) was scheduled for early afternoon on Sunday, 2 Feb.  No, not because of the conflict with Super Bowl Sunday, but since playing “the Derby at 12:30 is an atrocious decision. We won't accept this outrage!” (Source: BBC.) According to both sets of Ultras, Genoa's Derby is all about the atmosphere, and a daytime game would be an unacceptable affront to the fan-fueled fervor that could only be achieved during an evening match!! This lead to threats of boycotting and blockading the game, summit meetings of city officials with fan representatives, and days of front-page headlines in the local paper.  At the 11th hour, sanity prevailed…and the game was moved to Monday night! 

Leading up to the Derby, the “standard” games had already been displays of extreme fandom. (Or in some cases, fan-dumb: such as the Ultras igniting flares to disrupt the game.)

But the games were sufficiently tame to bring the girls to a mid-season Genoa match. Even if a bit dazed, they had a fun time. Plus, they not only expanded their notion of “football”, but also – thanks to the surrounding fans their vocabulary of Italian expletives and related hand gestures!

The Derby was an entirely different experience, expertly (and thankfully) guided by friend Nicola. Like most die-hard Genoa fans, for Nic this is not just about sport, but about life!  

Perhaps the evening setting did make a difference, or maybe it was the hubbub leading up to the game, but it was a wild time. At the start of the game, huge banners hung across the Gradinata Nord section (home to Genoa's Ultra fans), as well as covering our entire section at one point with a massive depiction of Genoa's griffin symbol. 

However, in the end it was all for naught, as Genoa lost 0-1. A return trip might be required next year, to see Genoa exact revenge! 

1 comment: