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The derby between Catania and Palermo is a derby that goes beyond the category

We went to the Massimino stadium in Catania to watch the match accompanied by Marco Biagianti

The derby between Catania and Palermo is a derby that goes beyond the category We went to the Massimino stadium in Catania to watch the match accompanied by Marco Biagianti
Marco Coniglione

Derby matches are complex. They are more complex than they should be, more than the ninety minutes that serve to decide a winner and a loser, to mark out the territory and to sanction who can rejoice with their hands in the air and who can despair with their hands in their hair. This is true regardless of the city, region and category in which the game is played. Seasons pass, players, protagonists and the ambitions of the two teams on the field change, but the importance of the match, accompanied by a mystical, almost religious atmosphere, always remains the same.

And in a region like Sicily, tremendously passionate, an island in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea where the impetuous force of volcanoes and the calm, slow blue sea coexist, the derby is something sacred. Despite the various teams in the area, the derby of Sicily has only ever meant Catania versus Palermo and vice versa. An ancient rivalry between the two cities for territorial supremacy that has defined the history of Sicily, a continuous struggle from every possible point of view: political, social, culinary, literary, architectural before sporting. A confrontation between cities some 210 km apart but united by a constant rivalry that never ceases to exist, and which twice a year is transferred to the football pitch. Two teams that have written part of the sporting history of Sicilian football, bringing it into the limelight thanks to cult players and coaches, who have inflamed the rivalry thanks to their feats and magic and whose names are still rattled like rosaries by their respective fans. 

In the season in which they finally return to the stadium, we went to the Massimino in Catania to watch the match and we were accompanied by a special guest who knows his way around Sicilian derbies: Marco Biagianti. A Florentine transplanted to Catania, he arrived in 2006 as a complete unknown from Serie C in the very season in which Catania returned to the top flight after 23 years and stayed for 12 seasons, all of which were spent wearing the number 27 on his shoulders. "In fact, everyone was asking, who is playing? Who is this Biagianti? Rightly so, and then from there everything started, my path, made of different moments, easy and complicated but always lived at 100%, I fell in love with this city from the beginning, with these colours and I have always put all this in front of me," he reveals.

Marco Biagianti tells us that the derby is a match that you can already feel weeks before, like the thunder before a downpour, experienced with an enthusiasm that knows no boundaries or masters. "Even if you're walking down the street or simply going shopping, people stop you and say: 'I recommend the derby on Sunday'. And he has played many derbies - more than played and won them, as he is keen to point out - some of which are still etched in the memory of all Rossoazzurri fans. For example, he was on the pitch in the historic 0-4 win over Palermo sealed by Mascara's goal from midfield - obviously one of his favourite derbies - played and won without any Catania fans at the stadium, a game he says is impossible to forget. In that goal also seen in Tonga as Trevisani exclaims live, Marco is on the left and tells us that he just called the ball before it reached Mascara, but we know how that will end.

Or the derby played a few years later, in 2010, when Siniša Mihajlović, who arrived in December to keep the team as far away from the relegation zone as possible, was on the bench. It was a hard-fought, hard-fought game until the very last minute and was decided by a brace from Maxi Lopez, one of the many iconic Argentinians who have graced the Massimino turf.

He tells us all about his memories as we walk on the Massimino pitch, the gardeners still levelling the grass and redoing the lines just hours before the kick-off. The city is already preparing for the eternal rivalry, the shops have their shutters down fearing that the arrival of the visiting fans might raise the temperature. In reality Palermo fans will never arrive due to a special loyalty card that has yet to be issued, which is why no visiting fans have been able to purchase it and be present at the Massimino.

Today, even though the two clubs play in Serie C, the Rossoazzurri are in a precarious economic and league position, hanging on by a thread, and the Rosanero on the other hand are enjoying one of their best moments in Lega Pro, a few points behind Bari in the hunt for the top spot. But as it often happens in every derby, in the end it is the team that started without the favours of prediction that prevails.

It was a nervous, physical game with three expulsions, two among the Rosanero and one for the hosts, in which Catania took little risk and scored the decisive two goals thanks to one of the fastest rising talents in Italian football, 20-year-old Luca Moro. His name is already in the notebooks of Serie A teams, a modern striker capable of attacking deep into the box, combining technique and physique, and he is now the tournament's top scorer with 18 goals in just 15 games. Arriving on loan from Padova almost by chance in the last days of the market under the slopes of Etna, he has proved more than fundamental for the destiny of the Rossoblu, consecrating himself in front of his public in the most important match of the season. At the end of the match, the hero of the day, in addition to the souvenir ball, also received compliments via social media from Papu Gomez, another of those Argentines who have made Catania dream for several seasons.

So that was the end of the first of two matches of the season that ideally pitted Mount Etna and the promontory of Monte Pellegrino against each other, with the 9000 Catania fans in delirium on the sidelines and those in Palermo forced to watch a stinging defeat on their televisions. Both of them will meet again in a few months' time for another chapter in a challenge that is impossible to encapsulate in 90 minutes.