Football away days: Roma vs Juventus: 15/05/2017: Stadio Olimpico

My mates were over in Italy for the weekend and had chosen their dates so that we could take in a top-of-the-table clash between Roma and Juventus. Pre-match had research had indicated that the home team’s Curva Sud was one of the most chaotic and atmospheric places to be on Italian match days, so naturally we bought tickets for this section.

The tickets were quite easy to come by despite the match being between two of the biggest sides in Italy and the door being slightly ajar for Roma at the top of the league, what with being seven points behind Juve with three games to play, a mean feat if you  compare Juve’s title-winning margins of previous seasons. I got them from ListTicket.com, having been linked to it through AS Roma’s official site, and despite reservations about online ticketing restrictions due to anti-hooligan laws in Italy, I was able to get the tickets by changing the nationality to UK, entering our passport details and paying by UK debit card. As it happens, the restrictions apply to Italians whose address lies within the catchment area of the away team, and is intended to stop away fans from going in home ends.

Getting there was no problem at all, and as long as you are somewhere near a metro stop, it’s very straightforward. Transport options involve metro plus a bus or tram, so we alighted at Flaminio station, on the red line and on the same route as Roma Termini, the capital’s central station. From there, you basically exit the station (we followed what we thought were Roma fans) and cross the road to where there is what seems to be the terminus point of the tram line, which is an uncovered stop and impossible to miss. From there you get on Line 2 and go to the last stop, incidentally called Piazza Mancini. The ride is about thirty minutes and there was no doubt as to our being on the right tram, as it was full of deep red and orange shirted fans.

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As it happened we arrived about two hours before kick-off so decided to pass the time by doing what all football fans do to pass the time: we got some beers. We grabbed some Peroni from a café at the end of the metro line as we correctly assumed that drinks would be less pricey than over the other side of the bridge near the ground. You can’t take your beers beyond a certain point so we went back to a nearby park and necked our drinks.

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Strangely enough, in Italy Tennents 9% lager is very commonplace, even on draught, and is seen as a premium beer or alternative to the abundant Peroni, and has nothing of the chav/pisshead connotation that it carries back in the UK. Indeed, you’ll see many a well-dressed young lady casually sipping on a Tennents in most Italian cities during weekend nocturnal hours. So my mate Will reluctantly (or maybe not so) decided to grab some Tennents to sink in the park.

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Wanting to capture the pre-game atmosphere we took some photos of banners strung up by various fan groups, and when a young gentleman with a bucket hat approached me asking to look at my phone, I wondered if he needed the time or was simply interested in my snaps. In actual fact, he wasn’t part of an ordinary supporters’ group, but probably an ultras gang, as he very politely requested to inspect my photos, as he and his mates might have been in them. As it happened, he erased all photos showing the banner, even those in which he didn’t appear, and he thanked me as he took off again.

Advancing past the bridge checkpoint with about an hour to go we took some photos with police officers, who willingly posed with us, and crossed the bridge where Will and Matt bought some very fake Roma shirts for 20 euros. I headed off in search of a bathroom, unsuccessfully, yet on my way back still opted to get more beers and probably the worst Aperol spritzes I’ve ever had.

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To be fair the crowds weren’t so bad as we approached the stadium, but somewhere along the line we were given incorrect directions to the Curva Sud and managed to land ourselves on the complete opposite side from where we needed to be. By this point my bladder was screaming so I shamelessly squeezed into a hedge and felt a lot better for doing so. We picked up the pace to get round the stadium and even managed a slight trot out of Matt, which was rather unprecedented, and eventually got into the stadium via three separate security checks, though the scanning of the tickets was problem-free.

Once inside we scanned the area for some good seats, opting to go about two-thirds of the way back and directly behind the goal. From this point we had a clear view of the pitch and didn’t have our view obscured by huge flags. As you do, we got in some more beers, this time about double the price they had been outside, and didn’t have to wait long before the kick-off.

To the game itself and whereas Roma were at full strength apart from the injured Dzeko, Juve’s boss Allegri decided to rest most of his team for the upcoming midweek Coppa d’Italia final against Lazio, with Buffon, Bonucci, Mandzukic and Pjanic the ones who retained their places. Roma’s key players were captain De Rossi, Nainggolan and Salah.

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As the teams came out, the Roma fans belted out what I would guess to be their anthem, which from what I gathered, pretty much went ‘Roma, Roma, Roma’ for the most part. We joined in as if we knew the words and stood on our seats like all of those around us, copying their every gesture throughout the match. To say the atmosphere was rocking is an understatement, with chanting, fist-pumping and what I can best describe as ‘hand chopping/jabbing’ all the way through.

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Roma had started on the front foot with the bulk of the possession, but it was Juve who would take the lead after about 25 minutes, the relatively unknown Lemina prodding in after a set piece was poorly dealt with. Roma came back at Juve and equalised pretty much immediately. Once again there was some confusion at a corner before De Rossi hooked the ball over the line to cries of jubilation and jumping on seats.

To be honest for the rest of the half we weren’t paying that much attention to the game as you spend all your time shouting and bouncing around, and the football almost becomes secondary except when roars of anticipation deflect your attention back to the pitch. So for that reason I’d argue that nothing of note happened for the rest of the half.

At half time we headed down the front to get some photos with one of the ultra flags, which I commandeered off a young girl, though I’m unsure as to whether it was hers or if she was minding it for someone else in the interval. I recall that Will wasn’t very adept at giving me freedom and fire just like a waving flag, though I must admit you’d get achy wrists if your job was to manoeuvre one of those for 90 minutes.

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We had headed down the tunnel to get half time beers and emerged about ten minutes into the second half. Just as we were coming out a roar went up and El-Shaarawy had scored what replays would demonstrate to be a very bendy low finish beyond Gigi and into the bottom corner. Nevertheless we joined in the endless shouts of El Shaarawy to the guy with the megaphone in the Curva’s Stephan, basically that European thing of screaming the scorer’s surname.

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Barely had we settled down back in our seats (stood on them of course) than Roma broke on the counter and Nainggolan burst the net at the near post after steaming in one on one. Cue absolute chaos, hugging everyone in sight, falling on the floor and screaming Nainggolan for an eternity, for the last few breaking it down into all of its syllables.

Juve’s response was to throw on Alves, Marchisio and Dybala, but this did little to alter the scoreline and Roma saw out the match quite comfortably in the end. Match won, and the tifosi’s attention turned to whether their hero and club legend Francesco Totti would get on the pitch. Despite leading Roma to the record points and goals total, coach Luciano Spalletti was not a popular figure because of his perceived poor treatment of Il Capitano; indeed in a recent game fans of AC Milan had even booed him when he failed to bring on Totti as Roma led 4-1 in the San Siro. Every time Spalletti got up off the bench, boos were hurled in his direction and when he sent on Juan as a penultimate substitute ten minutes from time, the whistling became deafening. In the end, the famous number 10 was brought on in injury time to rapturous applause, but he didn’t have time for a single touch and as the referee blew for time he disappeared down the tunnel.

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Getting  out of the stadium and back on the crammed tram was no issue and the atmosphere post-match was one of contentedness. The match itself had been dramatic with some good goals scored and Roma winning was exactly what we wanted so as to sample the stadium in full voice. We were glad to have gone into the Curva Sud, as the rest of the stadium seemed rather subdued throughout and only made noise for the goals. The Curva was bouncing for the duration of the game, which in a way transforms the match into a spectacle that you are truly participating in. I had hoped for even wilder celebrations and perhaps the letting off of flares, but this wasn’t to be. Whether it would have been crazier down the front with the ultras armed with megaphones I don’t know, but in the end I think we found a good compromise between seeing the match and feeling the atmosphere.

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Much like at Palermo, I’d completely recommend any fan to go in the Curva sections of Italian stadiums. They are in no way dangerous and create a matchday experience which goes beyond just football.

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