Photo Credit: SS Lazio Twitter
Football in Europe is extremely tribal in the sense that it is passed down from father to son like an inheritance. The passion of the ultra groups, the chanting and the banners are meant to replicate the feeling of being at war. Football is seen as a big part of European society. Clubs are not franchised, commercial ventures, but have very specific identities that define the city or town that they are in. This is what makes derbies so fierce, because clubs in the same city may have completely different opinions and ideologies.
This is perfectly seen in the football rivalry in the city of Rome, where the two most prominent and completely ideologically opposite clubs are AS Roma and SS Lazio. While AS Roma’s fan base consists of stoic left wing supporters, SS Lazio fans are almost problematically right wing, being open supporters of fascism. They are known throughout Italy for openly displaying swastikas (the infamous symbol of the Nazi party), and have a long history of fascist, anti-Semitic and racist banners and chants. In fact many Lazio legends are known for having done controversial salutes and symbols as celebrations. As of late, Serie A has been strict in banning such controversial flags and banners but they never succeed. Even the clubs president Claudio Lotito has tried in vain to distance the club from pro fascist sentiments but to no avail.
In the past, Lazio fans have been known to display outrageous banners, most notably in 1989-99 when during a game with Roma, an anti-Semitic banner was unfurled that read “Auschwitz is your town, the ovens are your houses.” This wasn’t the last time that Lazio fans supported fascism and Nazism. Such incidents have continued into the 21st century. In 2017, Serie A felt the need to address and start a campaign that spoke out against the abuse that Jewish players were receiving from Serie A fans. As a part of this campaign, they decided that before every game, a few passages would be read out from the famous diary of Anne Frank, a German born Jewish teenage girl and one of the victims of Hitler’s Holocaust who’s story is well known. Much to the shock and disgust of many, during a Juventus vs Lazio game, Lazio fans started making fascist salutes and sang fascist songs while the reading was going on. Many Juventus fans turned their backs to join in the boycotting of the anti-Semitic campaign as well.
As a result of the international and domestic backlash that the club received, the president of Lazio decided that for the next game, his players woud wear shirts with Anne Frank’s image on it with a Nno to anti-Semitism” message. However, during the next game away versus Bologna, Lazio fans repeated their obscene fascist chants. What makes it worse is the fact that the stand where the Lazio fans were seated was named after Arpad Weisz, a former Bologna coach who was killed in Auschwitz. Then, even more recently, in 2019 in a Coppa italia game vs AC Milan, a video went viral on social media in which a group of hard core Lazio fans were seen holding a banner that read “We honour Mussolini” and doing Nazi salutes.
Recently, in 2021, this extreme right wing fan base has been under media scrutiny because of the incident with a new player that Lazio has just signed. Usually, a new signing needs to perform badly before fans decide that they don’t like him; however, Lazio’s new signing, Albanian international Elseid Hysaj managed to incur the hate of the fanbase even before having stepped on the pitch.
After being signed in this recent transfer window, as an ice breaking exercise Hysaj had to stand up and sing a song in front of his new teammates. The song he chose to sing was “Bella Ciao", an Italian song that has been popularised worldwide by the Spanish tv series Money Heist or La Casa de Papel. However, it originally is meant to be an anti-fascist song which was the anthem for italian partisans who fought against Mussolini’s regime. Needless to say, this did not go down well with the fascist, Mussolini worshipping fanbase. Soon enough, a banner appeared on a bridge in Lazio which read ‘Hysaj is a worm, Lazio is fascist’. The leader of the Lazio ultra movement even came out and said, “Historically, our fans have always been to the extreme right, and I say that with pride. Someone singing ‘Bella Ciao’ with a Lazio jersey on is just completely insane. Hysaj was wrong, there are no excuses.”
Incidents like these, show us how problematic and horrifying the views of this fanbase are. Unfortunately, they are not the only extremist right wing club in Italy, but they are the only ones who are so outspoken in the top flight of Italian football. In a continent where football is so essential to everyday life and society, it goes without saying that at some point, politics and football will come together and they have done so in many countries. But that the ideals that many Lazio fans stand for - fascism, racism and anti-Semitism are dangerous to society and equality. We cannot forget that it is these same ideologies that motivated dictators like Mussolini and Hitler to commit unspeakable crimes.
Between 1939-1945, Adolf Hitler, the leader of the Nazi party in Germany unleashed a violent, cruel campaign-the Holocaust- against Jews, butchering as many of 6 to 7 million Jews of varied nationalities. Apart from Jews, the Nazi party also killed all those whom they considered “life unworthy of life” including mentally and physically disabled, sexually “deviant” and “racially inferior” people. No one is sure of the actual number of people who died, but most estimate it to be close to 10 million. These people were taken to various concentration camps, notably Auschwitz and either worked to death, killed in inhumane medical experiments or starved and gassed to death in tiny metal chambers.
It is people like Hitler that Lazio fans choose as their idols. The things that Lazio fans choose to mock such as the reading of Anne Frank’s diary and the Holocaust are no laughing matter and should be viewed with great severity and given the importance and derision that they deserve.