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Rome prepares for the capital derby

A trip to the Italian capital before the match worth a whole season

Rome prepares for the capital derby A trip to the Italian capital before the match worth a whole season

"Football is the last sacred representation of our time. It is ritual in the background, even if it is evasion. While other sacred representations, even the mass, are in decline, football is the only one left to us." So wrote Pier Paolo Pasolini, whose birth centenary was celebrated a few days ago, referring to football, of which he was a great fan. PPP's passion for football began in the stands of the Dall'Ara, where he used to go to support his Bologna team, and was then reinforced during his years in Rome, where, as the great metropolitan observer that he was, he experienced football in its entirety, from the reality of the fields of his beloved suburbs to the stands of the Olimpico as a correspondent for L'Unità. It was from the stands of the Olimpico that he wrote a reportage on a derby between Roma and Lazio in 1957 with the emblematic title 'Er morto puzzerà tutta la settimana' (The dead will stink all week).

"Er morto puzzerà tutta la settimana". A metaphor. A particularly strong metaphor, true. But it fully expresses the spirit in which Rome faces the days following a derby. In most cases there is a "winner" and there is a "vanquished", "er morto" in fact, to whom pity is almost never granted and who for the whole of the following week (in the rosiest of hypotheses) will have to suffer teasing, mockery and every other kind of harassment from the fan of the team that won the derby. That said, it seems something quite normal, but in Rome almost nothing when it comes to football is normal or at least within the limits of the ordinary.

Rome lives on football, it is hungry for it, bulimic for it, and loving the city's lifestyle also means loving that grotesque and childish side that turns the most respectable of professionals into a six-year-old whenever Lazio and Roma are mentioned. There is no respite in the daily 'struggle' between Lazio and Roma fans, and every occasion is a good opportunity to make fun of each other and, even among friends, to affectionately insult each other. Whether it's a chance meeting, a dinner, a wedding or a funeral.

And if the week after the match is the week of glory for some and sadness for others, the week before the derby has a completely different flavour. No one speaks explicitly, no one explicitly mocks the other. As in a sort of Mexican standoff, everyone thinks something but few speak, almost no one. At the Foro Italico, at the foot of the Stadio Olimpico, there are those who are exorcising the anticipation of the big match with a run on the athletics track of the Stadio dei Marmi, while some workers begin to assemble the structures to welcome the fans outside the Curva Sud. One of them says, 'I'll make it two, at least'. The colleague next to him scratches his head, just in case.

Faith and superstition. These are the two key words of the week of the derby in the city, almost no one is unbalanced on a prediction, so as not to bring bad luck on himself. The attitude does not change on the Lazio side. Enrico from the Grottino del Laziale, the historic restaurant in Viale Romania, in the heart of the Parioli district, is also vaguely responsive as he serves us his cacio e pepe.

Mrs Liliana, the historic face of the Mercato Italia in Via Catania, in the Nomentano area, opens up a little more: "I've been a Lazio fan since I was born... I'll be fine, I feel it," she tells us under the gaze of the giant picture of Giorgio Chinaglia that she proudly displays along with many Curva Nord stickers at her vegetable stall.

In San Lorenzo, the historic fiefdom of Giallorossi fans, no one opens their mouths. The taunts on the walls, the road signs covered with stickers, the murals on Via degli Equi in front of the historic Boys San Lorenzo headquarters all speak for themselves. Here there is no room for any other faith than that of Roma and its colours. In another historic Giallorossi fiefdom, Testaccio, we stop for a coffee at the bar before reaching the headquarters of the historic 'Roma Club Testaccio'. "It will be an open game... and derbies are not predictable... they're games in their own right, it's the attitude that counts..." Bruno told us at the bar, adding: "Obviously we hope to beat these faded players. At San Calisto, a historic bar in Trastevere, the atmosphere is less sectarian: although Marcellino, the legendary owner of the bar, is a Giallorossi fan, his two staff members are very much Lazio fans. "Shhh, it's time to keep quiet, we're not like the 'peppers' who talk beforehand, they're always making all this noise...". "Peppers" because, like the peppers, yellow and red. "Faded' because of the white and blue social colours, which are not very bright. Peppers and faded are just two of the many ways of addressing each other, of good-naturedly teasing each other. A parallel language made up of phrases that only Romans understand and know how to decipher. A battle to the sound of spray cans on the walls of the city. "11 years in Serie B", the Romanisti criticise the Laziali, "27 years later" the Laziali reply, reminding their cousins that Lazio was founded before Roma. To name just two of the most popular.

The truth is that this rivalry, this perennial confrontation, this talk of Lazio and Roma in every place and occasion, essentially makes one indispensable to the other. Laziality without Roma would be something else, certainly a different and less "rich" feeling, and vice versa being Romanisti without Lazio.

Rome lives the week of its derby with its typical visceral, childish, desperate passion, of two fans rich in history who almost never experience moments of glory equal to their immense passion and for whom a derby win can radically change the meaning of a season. Rome, locked in its noisy silence between faith and superstition, is ready for the match, with a capital P, and whatever the winner, one thing is certain, as always: the dead will stink all week.