This weekend, I was lucky enough to travel to the Rome Derby first-hand with Homefans, the experts in these sort of trips to the world’s biggest derbies, and was finally afforded the chance to watch a club I’ve liked since I was a kid, since Totti’s headband and Montella’s wings and Batistuta’s guns and Cafu’s engine, and Hidetoshi Nakata and Emerson and Marco Delvecchio, a player whose name still echoes around my head in Peter Brackley ever-imitable voice.
Homefans’ tagline was “It’s not a match. It’s an experience” and, to be fair to them, they delivered. We sat just a little east of the Curva Sud, its terracotta and mustard flags bearing Roma wolves and Lazio rats waving throughout, the Roma anthem rising like the smoke from the Ultras’ joints, before the Derby della Capitale against arch-rivals Lazio, and it all stirred in me a love for football of a very primitive variety: activating a part of my brain, something deep and reptilian and instant, that transported me back to somewhere else, to my living room floor, to the pixels of PES, while somehow also keeping me fixed in the moment, in this place I’ve never been before, but feel like I know so well.
The drive from our hotel to the stadium was painless, crisscrossing the Tiber, the third-longest river in Italy, stained green by moss, along beautiful old bridges, until we reached a crossroads leading to the stadium, jumping out among fans in orange and red and the multitudinous shades between growing larger and larger, mixing with the vans selling picante panini and jumbo Peroni and warm, fresh(ish) doughnuts and ultras stickers proclaiming ‘IL CAPITANO’ and ‘LAZIO MERDA’.
For some reason, I expected the Stadio Olimpico to be dusty and dilapidated, a tired remnant of Italia ‘90, a concrete bowl in a concrete wasteland. But it’s picturesque: set among trees, glistening in the sunshine, a complex white steel latticework enclosing the stands like a wreath and, as you walk along the bridge that serves as its red carpet entrance, it is genuinely breathtaking. Context helps: it helped that the weather was beautiful, the sky a perfect blue and weather hot as fuck, and that the people were loud and attractive, fun and funny, shouting and singing, downing tiny shots of espresso as they go, leaving them in the gutters like silver cans of laughing gas at Carnival. Still, twenty minutes before kick-off, it felt like we were missing something: where was the huge crowd to lead the way, the Roman army? There were many fans outside but not the coruscating mass of die-hards we’d expected. Then we heard them. As we queued for the rather anarchic turnstile system, the booming sounds of their songs, indecipherable to me, with my restaurant-and-Sopranos-level Italian comprehension, until the first trumpet blares of the Roma anthem started and the rumble of excitement crested.
The Roma anthem (which is called, as you might imagine, ‘Roma, Roma, Roma’) is stirring and silly and melodramatic, long and romantic and addictive. As I walked up the steps that lead me into the stand, two cold plastic cups of beer in my hands, it started and you couldn’t help but stop and take it all in. Even the locals did the same, stopping with touristic-reverie at this spectacle of sheer, full-blooded Italianness (“ROOOMA, ROOOMA, BELLA! T’HO DIPINTA IIIIIOOOOO!”) by a stand of fans making a stadium’s worth of noise, something they must’ve seen countless times before. I’ve listened to it countless times since, back in my hotel room, my phone blaring next to the shower as I warble, sudsy, a phonetic interpretation of the most beautiful language on earth, or ringing around my head as I ate delicious rigatoni carbonara at a faceless little trattoria in the centre of town, whistling as I drank spritz and stared at the wine corks stomped between the wide gaps between the Via’s cobbles…
The game itself was great, too. Roma won 3–1 including a goal from Aleksandar Kolarov Kolaroving a free kick past the keeper from the edge of the box and an incredibly pleasing call-and-response routine for Lo Pellegrini’s opener (“LO! REN! ZO! PE! LE! GRI! NI!”). And as the fans spilt out of the Sud and the Distinti Sud spilt back out into the streets (“E LA LAZIO, MERDA! E LA LAZIO, MERDA! E LA LAZIO, MERDA!”) with the sun starting to dip between the buildings, we followed them out to the little bars that lined the Lungotevere Flaminio parallel to the ground, grabbing warm ring doughnuts on the way, as tiny cars filled with incredibly handsome people swinging crimson scarves out the window and beeping their horns whizzed by.
We found a little spot about five minutes away from the Olimpico. I have no idea what it was called. But young lads in leather jackets with Roma shirts tucked into white jeans stood outside it, drinking beer and smoking cigarettes with an intrinsic level of cool none of us could ever hope to attain, so we chose there. The beer was cheap and good, cold and Italian, and the fans outside were eyeing us suspiciously for a few moments until they saw we weren’t tourists gawping or trying to get them in trouble and, after some friendly interrogation (“Why the fuck you here, eh?”), and some well-timed networking from our excellent guide Natxo (a Catalan who thankfully speaks both Italian and English brilliantly, and knows everything about everything, from the backstreets of Rome to which weird Italian beers are actually weird non-alcoholic Italian beers) they were totally cool with us stowing away with them for a bit, away from the Carabinieri up the road who were busily funnelling everyone back off into the more touristy parts of town.
With the promise of angry Lazio fans making their way towards the bar, we bought another beer but they never materialised. Soon after, the six-four tall, five-ten wide owner of the bar ushered us away, readying to close up for the day, and, with the sun finally dipping and a chill off the river hanging in the air, we headed back to the hotel planning to head straight back out, the sound of the stadium still ringing in our ears.
Rooomaaa, Rooomaaa, Rooomaaa…
Core de ‘sta città!
Unico grande amore
de tanta e tanta gente
m’hai fatto ‘nammorà…
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