Why Roma-Lazio Is One of World Football's Fiercest Rivalries

Christopher Impiglia@@impigliatoFeatured ColumnistAugust 7, 2013

ROME, ITALY - APRIL 21:  AS Roma fans support their team during the Serie A match between AS Roma and Pescara at Stadio Olimpico on April 21, 2013 in Rome, Italy.  (Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images)
Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

World Football hosts many heated rivalries. Boca Juniors-River Plate and Celtic-Rangers immediately spring to mind. But there is no denying that Roma-Lazio is one of the most ferocious of them all. Let’s take a look at why.

Hatred in Rome was born in 1927, when three football clubs from the city were joined to form AS Roma. Effectively, it was an effort on the part of Benito Mussolini to have a single representative of Rome to challenge the supremacy of the northern teams.

Lazio, named after the region in which Rome lays, refused to join this conglomerate club.

Since then, the Derby Della Capitale’s athletic spectacle has been overshadowed by thousands of injuries, hundreds of riots and even several deaths.

With the creation of Roma, Lazio suddenly found themselves as outsiders.

Their fanbase became outnumbered by the three that came together in the formation of Roma. And, like any displaced population, Lazio’s mentality became imbued with the desire to reclaim what was once theirs. In this case, it was the city of Rome.

The derby therefore became a question of territory.

To Roma fans, Lazio became associated with the countryside. Thus, the term burini or “peasants” is frequently used by Roma fans to describe their rivals.

One Roma fan, courtesy of IT4’s documentary Football Rivalries, expresses this sentiment, by stating that Lazio fans are “pagans” and “ignorant savages” who live in caves.

Territorial issues are amplified due to sharing a stadium as well as both teams’ colors and symbols.

Lazio sport the sky-blue of Greece and their mascot is the eagle, the sacred animal of Jupiter.

Roma, meanwhile, sport the yellow of Vatican City and the red of Imperial Rome. Their symbol is the wolf, the animal associated with Mars, the god war. Mars was also the father of Romulus and Remus, the twin founders of Rome. The wolf, furthermore, harks back to the she-wolf that suckled the twins.

Roma have therefore ingrained themselves in the history and mythology of the city itself, with Lazio being ousted to the fringes of the capital.

But Lazio supporters remain defiant that they are the true team of Rome. As former Lazio captain Tomasso Rocchi said, as quoted in ITV4’s documentary, “They have the colors of a team from Rome, but Rome for us is Lazio.”

As the documentary suggests, tensions are increased because neither club enjoys a particularly large fanbase outside of the city. And with neither team having achieved too much success in the league, the derby becomes the most important game of the season.

This is essential in differentiating the Derby Della Capitale from other big rivalries across Italy such as Milan-Inter. It’s also what makes Roma-Lazio particularly heated.

Political issues also play a major role in the Roman struggle.

Lazio supporters are notoriously proud of their heavy right-wing affiliation, with Roma support traditionally trending to the left.

An extreme version of the Lazio mentality is embodied by their icon Paolo Di Canio.

A self-proclaimed fascist who believes Mussolini “was basically a very principled individual” who was also “deeply misunderstood” (as quoted by Yahoo! Sport), Di Canio infamously gave the Roman salute, adopted by fascists, following a goal against Roma.

The famous image can be seen on the right.

Di Canio gave the same gesture towards Livorno supporters, a club traditionally with strong left-wing affiliation, as The Guardian reports.

As Wright Thompson of ESPN reports, in a derby in the late '90s, the Lazio fans brought a special 160 foot banner to display to their crosstown rivals. It horrifically read: "Auschwitz is your town, the ovens are your houses." Other banners read, "Squad of blacks, terrace of Jews."

Despite this, it would not be true to state that Roma supports are entirely leftist. In fact, as Wright Thompson of ESPN wrote, ordinary ultras (or hardcore fans) of both Roma and Lazio have been replaced in some places with groups of a neo-fascist political ideology.

Thompson goes so far as to say that extremists from both sides “hate the government more than each other.” Club affiliation, therefore, is a way in which to direct their anger. And such anger can be devastating indeed.

Remember when Tottenham Hotspur fans were attacked during their visit to Rome for the Europa League match against Lazio in 2012?

Everyone suspected Lazio fans were to blame as Thompson reports, due to Spurs’ Jewish heritage. In reality, the attackers were actually Roma extremists.

It would be true to therefore say that as each player steps onto the pitch, they bring more than just a desire to take home three points. They bring a hefty baggage of fan expectation fueled by the political and territorial tension of the Eternal city.

This must be an incredibly heavy burden to bear, further adding to the ferocity of the derby.

This is all the more true with the footballing icons of the city such as Di Canio and of course, Francesco Totti. Unlike Di Canio, Totti’s never left his club.

If he had gone to Real Madrid, his trophy chest would certainly be much more vast, as Jeff Carlisle of ESPNFC notes. Instead, he set his personal ambition aside to lead Roma.

“I have given you my whole career as a football player, for one team Roma, playing for you, the fans,” he says, in the short film produced by his club, which I’ve posted on the right.

This just shows you the power of the Derby Della Capitale. It has essentially molded a particular human being into a demi-god rather than a modern footballer.

In a city like Rome, everything is amplified, as ITV4’s documentary notes.

Having attended Roma-Lazio, I can attest that it is indeed more than just a game and more than just a derby. Sporting spectacle and clever fan choreography form just a small portion of what becomes essentially a warzone.

More time was spent avoiding homemade bombs and ultras charging at each other and at the police with belts and clubs than actually watching the game.

Stadio Olimpico truly becomes the Ancient Coliseum. Winning the derby becomes a step closer to winning the city. Sport becomes an eternal military campaign.

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