What I experienced Saturday, in Rome, before, during and after the Fiorentina-Napoli Coppa Italia final, was probably one of the most embarrassing and aberrant moments in Italian football. I can assert, without a doubt, that it was the first time in my brief career as a sports reporter that I’ve experienced such a mixture of emotions watching a football match: from disgust to frustration, from fear to powerlessness, but fundamentally a deep feeling of apathy. Yes, apathy, which stems from all those ‘men’ who are ruining this country’s most loved sport, a sport that is deeply rooted in Italy’s culture but which is now nothing but a mirror reflection of a country adrift.
Speaking to friends and acquaintances who weren’t at the stadium, I immediately understood that what had been televised of the events didn’t give a full picture of the gravity of the situation. I witnessed everything first hand, no filter.
It’s no secret that Napoli fans have always been passionate and fiery, which explains why I headed to the Olimpico stadium long before the kick-off; I was already in my seat at 6pm, prior to the 9pm scheduled kick-off. I must say that I was rather taken aback when I failed to be subjected to any sort of security checks prior to entering the stadium: neither regarding potential items I could have been carrying nor to simply check my identity against the name on the ticket. So, it came as no surprise to me when, later on, from the Napoli fans area, behind the net, a series of firecrackers, smoke bombs and all sorts of explosives were thrown onto the field, creating havoc and endangering the safety of those present.
There was something in the air that made my ‘journalism senses’ tingle: there was something wrong with the atmosphere, which became clear even before kick-off and just a few minutes after my entry into the Olimpico stadium. Even before I was able to take pictures, I was bombarded with messages from friends and acquaintances who kept asking me, ‘Are you ok?’, ‘Is everything ok?’, ‘Are you alright?’, ‘Are you alive?’. My gut instinct made me call my editor-in-chief, even before I started responding to the messages regarding my safety, and he informed me of the events occurring outside the stadium: there was a brawl between Napoli and Roma supporters, which ended with a Napoli fan shot by gunfire. I realized that the game wouldn’t start on time, but I still hadn’t remotely fathomed that I would witness what came next.
The Napoli fans (or actually, the Napoli ‘ultras’), once inside the stadium and in their dedicated sector, apprehended mixed news regarding the severity of the conditions that their fellow companion was in: some sources said he had died, some said he had sustained permanent damage, while others were saying he was in a near-to-death condition. All this misleading information provided a pretext for these ‘ fans’ to give rise to their preferred activity: organized chaos, rather than organized cheering. The ultras, led by the now famous ‘Genny a’carogna’, informed Napoli’s captain, Marek Hamsik, that if the game were to be played, they were ‘ready to create hell,’ and surely this would have been the case. Fortunately (or maybe not), an ‘agreement’ was reached and play could begin, sadly not without more criminal activity, as one of the explosives thrown into the field seriously injured one of the safety stewards.
For me, this, alone, would be enough for me to declare a defeat by default for unsafe conditions due to objective liability on the part of Napoli, without taking into consideration the seriousness of the ensuing booing to the national anthem sung before the game, a gesture that triggered in me a mixture of apathy, anger and dissociation from people with scarce culture and intelligence, whose deeds caused entire families with children sitting close to me to leave the stadium because of the tirade of insults, shouting and arguing. (The Tribuna Monte Mario, which was supposed to be for Fiorentina fans, was crowded with Napoli fans, ready to create havoc whenever possible.)
After Mr. ‘Genny a’carogna’ gave the ‘ok’ to start the game (just the idea of this makes me shudder), the match started and, as expected, Fiorentina went on the pitch still in shock about what had happened for the 45 minutes that preceded the kick-off, as they were unsure whether the game would be played or not and in what conditions. The inevitable happened and Napoli, a team more accustomed to this kind of situation and boasting players with greater international experience, scored an immediate brace by Lorenzo Insigne, while Fiorentina was psychologically still in the locker room. The first 25 to 30 minutes of the game was not football, and this was made even more obvious once things settled down, after the goal scored by Juan Manuel Vargas, which brought new hope to the Viola outfit: Fiorentina took the reins and there was one team dominating the pitch. If Iličič had converted a goal in the final minutes of the game, then the match would probably have been ‘in the bag’ for Fiorentina during extra time. Unfortunately, the golden opportunity was squandered, Fiorentina surrendered and Napoli was able to score a third goal, which at least allowed the fans to leave the stands even before the final whistle and avoid the potential clashes with the opposing supporters after the game.
Yesterday, Fiorentina’s sporting director, Daniele Pradè, said that ‘Florence won’ on Saturday. A political statement alas, verging on cliché due to the circumstances, because there was no real winner, from any point of view.