World Cup 2018 – out of the cup, into the mud: corruption,violence, beauty in Italian football

All the World is a Football Stage

Italian football is the mirror of our society: it means organized crime connections, both at top management level or at mafia and camorra rank; it means corruption, in match-fixing, slush funds creation and drug use; it means another weapon of mass consent in the hand of the demagogic political candidate. But it also means beauty and aestheticism… are the first lines of the chapter I dedicated to Italian football in my book on Berlusconi’s Italy. Beauty and aestheticism are long gone now and so there is no sign of the azzurri at the Word Cup 2018 for the first time in ages. Maybe it is a deus ex machina catharsis, a nemesis for the World Cup 2006 victory amid the Calciopoli scandal from which we learned what almost everybody suspected: part of our soccer was fake, directed by a mafia-like cupola whose boss was Juventus’ direttore sportivo ‘Lucky’ Luciano Moggi. Hereafter is the chapter in question. And since we have seen fire and we have seen rain, I don’t think anyone was surprised when a few months ago Milena Gabanelli, the best Italian investigative journalist, discovered many finger-pointing clues of the fact that Berlusconi’s recent selling of his AC MILAN to a Chinese unknown businessman was an alleged slush fund cleansing operation, in the typical ex-Cavaliere style. Saranno mica i fondineri di Berlusconi che rientrano puliti attraverso una testa di legno? (Isn’t it Berlusconi’s black money which comes back clean through a wooden head?) the journalist rhetorically asks in her video report you see here:

(from Dataroom, a programme inside the Corriere della Sera online edition).

Coppa Italia – Three Napoli supporters wounded by pistol shots: one risks his life, the shooter beaten to a bloody pulp. A firefighter wounded by a flare. Fiorentina – Napoli kick-off delayed 45 minutes by the chief of the police after an unnerving negotiation with Napoli ultras. The ‘Olimpico’ final was supposed to be a celebration, instead it was a picture of the sad condition of our football – La Gazzetta Sportiva front page headline, May 4, 2014

As I am watching the tranquil countryside rolling by from the window of the high-speed train that is carrying me back home from Rome, the thought flashes to my mind. Italian football is the mirror of our society: it means organized crime connections, both at top management level or at mafia and camorra rank; it means corruption, in match-fixing, slush funds creation and drug use; it means another weapon of mass consent in the hand of the demagogical political candidate. But it also means beauty and aestheticism. It’s May 4, 2014, the day after camorra-linked ‘Gerry the swine’ and his gang of Naples ultras have shown Italy and the whole of Europe, live on TV, who the boss is in the country. Last night at Stadio Olimpico Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and all the Italian top authorities were there, sitting in their VIP seats and taking no action, just watching the hooligans in the curva dictating Napoli captain Hamsik their conditions in order to let the match begin and to maintain public order. The game in question was Coppa Italia final Napoli vs Fiorentina, which was about to become a battle inside and outside the Stadio Olimpico. And I happened to be there.

Outside my window the country is green up to the top of the hills on which most of the medieval villages of central Italy were built. They come and go quickly, constantly changing the skyline; above them the clouds are rolling away, leaving the sky bright and azure, bringing in the long hot Mediterranean summer. The striking beauty of the landscape is the ideal background for emotions recollected in tranquillity: the violent scenes I witnessed yesterday and the picturesque sight outside my window are other examples of the dichotomy superficial beauty / hidden Inferno that characterizes our nation, a leitmotiv of this essay of mine. It all started in the afternoon after I left my favourite trattoria in Trastevere and decided to take a stroll and enjoy my lazy Roman Saturday afternoon. I crossed the river Tiber, walked through the Isola Tiberina, stopped to enjoy the view I had seen in the final sequence of The Great Beauty and kept walking until I reached Largo Argentina. There I sat down among the ancient Roman ruins with my headset on and my smartphone transmitting Serie B live. My favourite team, Modena FC from my hometown, struggling for a play-off position, were playing Siena away. The score was 1 – 3 with still ten minutes to go and there I was, amid the ancient ruins, waiting for the final whistle that seemed never to come. There’s no need to admit that I am not immune to the football craze which is spread all over the country. We all know that down here, in the Deep South of Europe, the modern holy trinity is la mamma, il Papa, la squadra di calcio. We also know that some – if not most – of our football is fake, so why do we keep watching it, as if under a spell? Sure enough there has always been aestheticism in our football, which is at present being blown away because of the development of the athletic part of the game and of its global standardization, an evolution which holds inside an involution process similar to the erosion of the hallmarks of the country – from creativeness to moral values – done by commercial television in this second ventennio. In The Dark Heart of Italy Tobias Jones saw it clearly:

Comparing Italian and British football (not necessarily at the top level, but down the divisions) is like comparing snooker with darts. One is cerebral, stylish, slipping the ball across the smooth green felt; the other a bit overweight, slightly raucous, throwing the occasional arrow in the right direction. The more you watch Italian football, the more you realise why Italy, having been introduced to the sport by the British in 1893, has won three World Cups [actually four]: Italians are simply very good at the game. They play the most beautiful, cultured and skilful football imaginable. Talk to any Italian about the strengths of the Italian game, and they will always mention the two vital ingredients lacking in Britain: fantasia e furbizia — fantasy and cunning. Fantasy is the ability to do something entirely unpredictable with the ball. The British, I’m endlessly told, will always try to pass through a defence, or run past it, but they never actually outwit it. That’s what Italian fantasists do: they produce a nanosecond of surprise that springs open a defence. It can be a back-heel, a dummy, a pretence of being off-balance. It’s the one side of football that can’t be taught. It has to be instinctive, suddenly inspired, which is why the fantasisti are so admired: they are touched by an indefinable genius.

Unluckily, in the last decade, fantasisti like Roberto Baggio have slowly disappeared from our pitches, blown away by the roboplayers science has produced, while in England the arrival of foreign coaches has added class to the traditional masculine British style. Anyway, all over the world of football, the never-ending flow of sheikhs’ money has spoiled the game, creating hyper-rich teams of top players which form a caste of their own.

Even if the traditional beauty of our football is vanishing and at the same time we know that some of it is false, why do we keep watching it? I redirect the reader to the part of this essay in which I discuss reality control, doublethink and brainwashing, in our society controlled by media propaganda, which have made the Berlusconi phenomenon possible. Probably the blindness of many Berlusconi voters is the same as the Juventus tifoso’s who still believes that the scudetti won thanks to doping, match-fixing and referees’ corruption in the Moggi era were real.

In Italy political power has always been intimately linked to football, and there’s nothing new about one determining the other write Jones in a chapter called Penalties and Impunity, written when corruption in football was just a suspicion. I would add to the statement that our football is also intimately linked to big (and often corrupt) business and the mafia, and that the three entities are so closely tied that sometimes they merge making it difficult to say which is which. If politics is insanely linked to the two of them (like the 1992 Mani Pulite investigation, today’s Milan Expo 2015 tangentopoli and Berlusconi’s alleged agreement with the mafia in the period of the ‘State-mafia negotiation’ exemplify at a microscopic level), why should football not be?

It is a fact that the mafia, the camorra and the ’ndrangheta, which rule in the South, have deeply penetrated local football, the lower the division the more the fact is evident. It is one of the best ways to reinforce social consent and it is also a good way to launder the dirty money of their illegal businesses. At top level, the use and abuse of football made by Berlusconi throughout his political saga is a well-known fact. AC Milan, of which he has been president since 1986, is another bullet of his Weapon of Mass Deception I have identified mainly with il Cavaliere’s possession and control of most of the media in Italy. My foreign reader knows well B.’s usage of the football jargon in his political career: his party’s name itself, Forza Italia, was named after a chant from the terraces, his MPs were the azzurri, his political engagement was a discesa in campo, the party’s anthem is like a football hymn and throughout his career he has always used the most commonplace football metaphorical expressions. According to his alleged natural born corrupter’s style, assumingly Berlusconi used his team as a source of tax evasion and slush funds creation so that Milan’s trophy cupboard contains skeletons as well as trophies. The most famous example is the Lentini case. In 1992 Milan paid Torino football club the then extraordinary sum of 18.5 billion lire for the player Gianluigi Lentini. The president of Torino alleged that 6.5 billion lire of that amount was a black payment made to a Swiss bank account to avoid taxes, B.’s standard suspected procedure as businessman and politician we have seen so far. Since the player had his proposed salary cut from four billion to one and a half billion lire a year, the Torino president also suspected that Berlusconi topped it up in cash from his slush funds, which, presumably, he has never been short of throughout his career. Besides, it was claimed that in the affair Milan got shares in Torino, a rival club, a further example of the conflicts of interests this essay is filled with. The court case, named after Clean Hands, became known as Dirty Feet. The Dirty Feet case is another edifying case of conflict of interests: as we know, when Berlusconi became Prime Minister a few years later, he cancelled the offence of false accounting; consequently, as usual, due to the new laws, the statute of limitations killed the proceeding and therefore the case was closed with an acquittal on July 4, 2002.

The absolute power that il Cavaliere has had in the political field in his ventennio has been challenged in football by The Old Lady of Italian football, Turin’s Juventus, owned by the Agnelli family, the proprietors of the FIAT corporation, always referred to as the owners of Italy before the age of Berlusconi, whom they see as a disturbing parvenu. Even if they considered themselves as real gentlemen, they did not hesitate to use all the illegal methods to win again when, in the nineties, B. challenged their supremacy both in power and on the pitch. Since B. had bought Milan in 1986, the rossoneri had won an astonishing number of trophies. In 1994, the year of B.’s discesa in campo, Juventus decided to hire the Neapolitan administrator Luciano Moggi, nicknamed Lucky Luciano by Marco Travaglio[1], who would became the absolute gray eminence of Italian football, establishing a mafia-style cupola that would fake results in favour of Juventus, until the cupola was discovered in 2006 and calciopoli and scandalo doping, as for calcioscommesse, entered the Italian and the international dictionaries.

Its background is described by the 2004 article titled The drug scandal that blackens the name of Juve’s team of the Nineties – Club doctor sentenced to jail as doping controversy intensifies published in The Independent:

In 1994 Italy’s most successful club, Juventus, had not won the league title for eight years. The club’s proprietors, Giovanni and Umberto Agnelli, owners of the Fiat motoring empire, were extremely concerned. They dreamt of a new golden era, but knew they had to overhaul the club’s senior management if it was to become reality. In making changes they were ruthless. In came the former Fiat executive Antonio Giraudo as managing director; Luciano Moggi, then with Roma, and an acknowledged master of the transfer market, was hired as sporting director; the club’s former striker Roberto Bettega was made vice-president. The triumvirate promptly appointed Marcello Lippi, then with Napoli, as the club’s new head coach. The revolution extended to a shake-up of backroom staff with Riccardo Agricola, a neuro-pathologist who has been part of the medical team since 1985, promoted to club doctor.

The changes worked spectacularly. There was also an influx of new playing talent, and inspired by the likes of Zinedine Zidane and Alessandro Del Piero, Juventus embarked on a period of success impressive even by their own high standards. The Old Lady, as the club is affectionately known, won Serie A titles in 1995, 1997 and 1998, and reached the Champions’ League final in three successive years, winning it in 1996. They also won the European Super Cup, the Coppa Italia and two Italian Super Cups.

It was a remarkable era, but now the brilliance of that team and their dominance has been seriously questioned, and there are many in Italy who are asking whether it was all too good to be true.

We all remember fragile players like Alex Del Piero building up their bodies as if they were body-builders in no time, the obvious effect of the EPO they were supposedly given to enhance their performances. The story of the illegal drug use made by Juventus is brilliantly told in the novel Quarto Tempo by doctor Claudio Gavioli who has been club doctor for professional football teams for the last twenty years. The court case that followed ended up exactly like all the trials against il Cavaliere we have followed so far: in the end, against all logic, Juve got away clean, a further example, if needed, that in this country powerful people are never touched by the law. Penalties, alas, exist on the pitch only:

Last Friday in Turin’s Palazzo di Giustizia, Judge Giuseppe Casalbore sentenced Agricola to 22 months in jail for supplying Juventus players with performance-enhancing drugs, including the banned blood-boosting hormone erythropoietin (EPO), between 1994 and 1998. Agricola was also barred from practising medicine for 22 months and fined €2,000 (£1,390) (…) Eugenio Muller, a pharmacologist, reported that the club had systematically supplied its players with prescription-only drugs, with no therapeutic justification but with the aim of boosting energy levels or speeding recovery after injury.


The high profile of the club guaranteed media interest in the trial from the outset and that interest sharpened considerably when stars like Zidane and Del Piero gave evidence last year. But there was a fair degree of cynicism about whether the trial would achieve anything. Many view the legal system as one of interminable trials and appeals which fizzle out after years and where no one pays, especially not the big guys. So the sentencing of an official at Italy’s biggest club – even though the sentence, for a first offence, will be suspended – shocked the Italian football world in a way that none of its previous scandals had done. Giacomo Aiello, the former head of the anti-doping team at the IOC, described the verdict as “historic”.

In 2007 the Supreme Court declared doc. Agricola and Giraudo guilty of doping and sportive fraud but the statute of limitations, Berlusconi’s court cases killer we have seen at work throughout his ventennio, extinguished the penalty.

Luciano Moggi was for the Agnelli family what Marcello Dell’Utri has been for Berlusconi in politics. The difference is that Dell’Utri, in these very days definitively sentenced to seven years in prison for mafia collusion, was the middle-man between il Cavaliere and the mafia while Moggi himself was the boss of the cupola he built up to fix matches, according to the judges. After years of rumours and lack of transparency, it all became clear in 2006 when the publication of several wiretappings showed that Moggi manipulated referees, referee organizations, team managers and players, a network of relationships whose ultimate goal was to make Juve win matches. He determined, in pure mafia style, the careers of referees and players as well, since his son Alessandro had the most powerful agency of football agents and managers called GEA World. He also influenced the results of other teams, which had to become affiliate to have his protection, as in the 2005-06 Serie A championship Fiorentina and Lazio did to remain in serie A. Moggi assumingly fixed some matches in their favour, the sacrificial lamb was Bologna FC, which went down to Serie B in their places. Even politicians contacted him when they needed a favour for their hometown team. After the 2006 season, he announced that he would resign from his position and would retire from the world of football altogether, but only after having sung the old Berlusconian tune of a forces-of-evil’s plot against him. Moggi was sentenced to perpetual ban for any position inside the FGCI (Italian Football Association) in 2011. As far as criminal justice is concerned, the Calciopoli trial is still underway: in 2013 Moggi was sentenced to two years and four months in prison by the Appeal Court. If he is condemned in the final leg of the trial, the 2006 pardon will see to his not stepping past the threshold of the prison [The Court of Cassation cancelled the penalty in March 2015 – the criminal act had already been affected by the statute of limitations – but the court motivations reaffirm the existence of the sportive and criminal fraud pictured previously]. As for the GEA World trial, once again the statute of limitations set him free. As far as Juventus is concerned, they were stripped of 2005 and 2006 Serie A titles, were out of 2006–07 UEFA Champions League, had three home games behind closed doors and were relegated to Serie B with a nine points deduction. The overall idea is the same once again: no penalties outside the pitch for the big guys. Non paga nessuno is the expression we use for the never-ending line of VIPs who get away from justice unpunished.

The physical presence of organized crime in football and the feeling that no one pays were made explicit by the latest episodes of Calcioscommesse which have emerged since 2011. Calcioscommesse, match-fixing linked to illegal betting, is a regular host to Italian football since the eighties when, for example, the would-be World Champion and Nazionale striker Paolo Rossi was banned for some time. These latest episodes were accidentally discovered by the Naples magistrates investigating the camorra. They discovered that the camorristi, linked to international criminal organizations, both in Eastern Europe and in the Far East, offered selected players huge amounts of money to fix the matches they had to play, so earning an enormous sum of money from illegal betting, both ‘live’ and online. From Serie A to minor leagues, players have regularly been arrested but, in the end, the feeling that they are not properly punished is very widespread. Some are banned for a certain period, some teams are fined and have points deduction but, after the three legs of the trial, the initial penalty goes down to almost nothing and the criminal justice is too slow to take trials to conclusion in a reasonable time. One example is Lazio captain Stefano Mauri, a midfielder who began his career in my hometown team: he was jailed, sportive justice asked for a six-year ban but today, after six months, he is back on the pitch, still captain of the team and still protected by the club which has never let him down.

When the final whistle that put an end to Siena-Modena at last arrived I felt relieved, got up and started walking towards the bus stop. I just wanted to go home and relax before starting my way to the Stadio Olimpico, a modern odyssey I was forced to face since I had to meet a group of teenage players, among whom was my son, I was in the care of inside the stadium. As the bus left, the open air museum which makes up the city of Rome started passing me by but its beauty suddenly merged with a feeling of anxiety: I knew that another glimpse of Inferno was probably waiting for me behind the corner. At 7 p.m. I was at the Stazione Termini with my adult mates, waiting to start the journey to the Stadio Olimpico, the only one in the world, I guess, which is not serviced by an underground or an overground train. You can only get there by car or bus and everybody knows that the city comes to a complete stop every Sunday before and after Serie A matches. We got out of the underground close to Vatican City; as we were walking in the opposite direction to get the bus that should have taken us straight to the stadium, I turned around hoping Papa Francesco was saying a prayer for us. The bus was not that crowded: next to me lower-middle-class families of Napoli supporters were talking in a loud voice with their strong local accent, gesticulating and quarrelling among themselves, a commedia all’italiana sketch we have seen so many times on film that, on the occasion, provided a pleasant entertainment during our trip. But a few minutes later the police stopped the bus and diverted it. A bit further down the road, by the river, traffic was in complete chaos: along the Tiber a row of cars, almost stuck to a halt, were roaring, the drivers blowing their horns, trying to pass one another on the right and on the left, screaming at an imaginary interlocutor or addressing an invented crowd or talking on their mobiles. The real journey to the Olimpico had begun. It took us an hour to get to the stadium bus stop and in that time span the comedy inside the vehicle slowly degenerated into a row: a Roman citizen was screaming on the phone with his lawyer; when I told him we were not very interested in the conversation, he started to shout louder telling the exhausted passengers that the Neapolitans were yelling more noisily than himself. The quarrel began with a crossfire of parolacce that lasted until we finally got out, the comedy about to turn into tragedy, a miniature of what was happening out in the streets North of the stadium. I descended the bus with the vision of a lady, who lived nearby and that was trying hard to get back home, repeating se la giocassero a casa loro ‘sta maledetta partita (why don’t they play this goddamned match in their hometown?) over and over again.

Across the river stood the Stadio Olimpico, as white as the marble statues that surround it, framed by the dark green hills of the luxury residential area of Monte Mario at sunset. We could see our entrance just across the footbridge, a short walk away. We showed the street fight attired police our tickets, but there was no way to get in: the bridge was closed so we had to walk all the way down to the next bridge to the South, cross the river and walk back to the stadium, a twenty-minute stroll as a warm-up before the match. Our seats were in the tribuna Tevere which had been assigned to the Naples supporters. The tifosi from Florence had been given the opposite tribuna Monte Mario and they had to walk like we did but in the opposite direction, crossing over at the next bridge to the North to avoid physical contact. The two similar routes were patrolled by policemen dressed in black that looked like the dark brothers of the statues around the stadium. The risk that a group of people wearing azure jerseys met a group in violet was too high, it would have meant urban guerrilla and ordinary hooligans’ foolishness. I wondered about the amount of public money we spend just because two factions of supporters cannot meet without giving birth to a violent feud and I remembered me and my son sitting among Real Madrid and Valencia supporters in a curva at the Mestalla stadium watching the Copa del Rey final some years ago. It was a normal fact even for the hot-blooded Spaniards, but for me it was quite a shocking but revealing experience.

When we finally entered the stadium it was kick-off time but no players were to be seen on the pitch. An unreal silence was hanging over the sold-out Olimpico like a heavy cloak. Policemen and stewards were all around the running track. Nothing was happening, like in a still picture, but in the air there was the feeling that something unpleasant was about to occur anytime. It went on like this for some minutes. The opposite curve were full of silent people in violet and azure. Some kids around me started to cry and soon they left with their parents. As I said, I had to meet a group of young kids, among whom was my son, but they were nowhere to be seen. Not a word came from the speakers until a squadron of policemen moved from the changing rooms to the Naples curva escorting the team captain Hamsik who, we would later realize, was going to talk to Gennaro la carogna (Gerry the swine), the nice guy wearing the Speziale Libero black T-shirt whose picture would be on every front page of the international press the morning after. The ultras boss silenced his curva with a sign and jumped over the barrier to talk to the player. It was in that moment that I understood, like in an epiphany, who was deciding what would happen next. Hamsik, we were later informed, gave ‘the swine’ the latest news on the wounded comrades of his, the hooligans who had spent the time before the match fighting against the police and Daniel De Santis, a famed ultra-violent fascist Roma ultra. Once updated, ‘the swine’ decided that the match would be played, communicated his decision to the captain that, in turn, reported it to the police officials that brought the news to the authorities in charge. Before our arrival at the stadium, the ultras had decided that the game did not have to be played because there had been rumours that a Neapolitan tifoso had been killed, and their decision had been met. To remind the State representatives who led the game, a hail of flares and firecrackers were launched from the curva to the policemen and the stewards, to ensure that they kept their distance. Some policemen were wounded and terror ran all over the stadium, sped up by the explosions and the smoke. As usual, I wondered how on earth these weapons can enter stadia all over Italy when normal citizens are searched at the entrance. The answer is not difficult: it can only be done with the clubs’ consent. Half an hour later the players entered the pitch, boos from the Naples curva were addressed to the national anthem sung live, then the match began. The Naples ultras were like stiff soldiers waiting for orders either to allow the match to be played or to invade the playing field, attack the spectators, exit the stadium and sack the streets of Rome like the Visigoths did when they conquered the Urbe. Luckily, the match was a forceful sedative and slowly menace gave way to attention to what was happening on the pitch, the ultras trying hard, often in vain, to be silent in protest as the match unfolded before their eyes.

Do we notice only now that inside the Neapolitan organized supporters (and not only) the camorra and criminality are in command?

Who is Gerry la Carogna and why was he wearing that T-shirt? What had happened before the match that would start the fire of violence and menace inside the stadium? How can the street fight hooligans and the curva ultras behave like this without any fear of punishment? On May 5, in the article Juve’s scudetto hat-trick overshadowed by Coppa Italia final violence, The Guardian reports events as follow:

Perched atop the barrier at the front of the Napoli enclosure was a man with short dark hair and a wealth of tattoos. Gennaro De Tommaso – nicknamed Genny (Genny the swine) – has been known to authorities for some time as a leading figure among Napoli’s ultras. Multiple Italian newspapers identified him as the son of Ciro De Tommaso, a man with alleged connections to the Camorra crime syndicate. On Sunday Gennaro De Tommaso wore a black shirt with the slogan “Free Speziale” on the front. The presumed reference was to Antonio Speziale, a Catania ultra who was jailed for eight years in 2007 for killing the policeman Filippo Raciti in the wake of a Sicilian derby.

Roberto Saviano’s tweet the day after the match is the best comment on the situation: Do we notice only now that inside the Neapolitan organized supporters (and not only) the camorra and criminality are in command? Saviano’s statement is also an indirect answer to Rome’s police chief Massimo Mazza’s declaration the following day. “There was no negotiation with the Napoli ultras. Nobody ever thought of not playing the match – not the football federation, not the forces of order, not the clubs. Napoli only asked us if we had no objections to the captain explaining to the fans what the situation was, also because there were some reports going around that a fan was dead”. The affirmation did not fool anyone: the damage was already done. Rightly or wrongly, the lasting image of Saturday’s game was that of an angry ultra – one who has already served one five-year stadium ban for previous misdemeanours – putting his demands to a team captain, The Guardian article comments. Even the politicians’ declarations, the day after, mentioned stronger penalties on occasions like these that, in the ‘no-one-pays’ country, nobody can believe:

On Sunday both the Italian Football Federation president, Giancarlo Abete, and the minister for the interior, Angelo Alfano, spoke about the need to clamp down even harder on bad behaviour, each raising the prospect of lifetime stadium bans. Given that Saturday’s shooting took place out in the street, it might be time to acknowledge that a broader view is required.

Going back to Saturday afternoon before the match, while we were deep into our odyssey to get to the stadium, in the North part of town the ordinary scenes of foolishness we have got used to were taking place, urban hooligans’ guerrilla the British have long got rid of but that keeps haunting us, like a natural element existing by dogma. Here again is The Guardian report:

There were roughly two and a half hours left until kick-off in Saturday’s Coppa Italia final when shots rang out on the Viale di Tor di Quinto, a major thoroughfare that sweeps by the Tiber in the north of Rome. Small groups of Napoli supporters had been gathering there as they prepared to walk down to the Stadio Olimpico for the match against Fiorentina.

The circumstances around the shooting were, initially, unclear. What was known was that three men [Napoli ultras] had been wounded and one of those was fighting for his life. Ciro Esposito, a 27-year-old from Scampia, a northern suburb of Naples, had been struck in the chest by a bullet that passed through his lung and lodged in his spinal column.

An ambulance eventually took him to the Villa San Pietro hospital, (…) then moved to the nearby Policlinico Gemelli for surgery. On Sunday the press was informed that an initial operation had gone smoothly but that his condition remained critical.


Up until that point, accurate information had been hard to come by. As time ticked down towards kick-off on Saturday evening, a rumour went around that Esposito had died. Napoli supporters at the Stadio Olimpico started pulling down their banners and demanding that the match be abandoned.


Police believe they have identified the shooter. Daniele De Santis, a known Roma ultra (he was among the group who scaled the barriers to speak to Totti at the abandoned Rome derby in 2004) was arrested on Sunday on an attempted murder charge. At a press conference on Sunday, a police statement was read out alleging that he had acted alone; initially throwing fireworks at passing Napoli fans on the Viale di Tor di Quinto, then turning his gun on them after they chased him down in response. The incident was portrayed as a one-off, unrelated to organised hooliganism or the skirmishes that took place between rival supporters closer to the stadium. Not everyone, though, will find those strands so easy to separate out. At its very simplest, this was still just another story about violence between football fans.

On Sunday, May 4, Repubblica gives the shocking details of the sheer reasonless violence:

Twenty of them [Napoli Ultras], perhaps after coming into contact with some policemen, bumped into a nearby kiosk run by a well-known Roma ultras, Daniele De Santis (…) De Santis, visibly upset, was seen hastening towards some groups of Napoli ultras: “We saw this huge guy, very fat and bald, – witnesses say – he was drunk, he staggered but screamed like a madman ‘I’ll kill you all, I’ll kill you all.’ The strange thing is that he was alone, heading against a group of Napoli fans.” With him he had a small arsenal of paper bombs and smoke bombs (…) On the ground, not far from where six shells would be found, three men were rescued, one wounded in a hand, one in an arm, the other dying. The witnesses continue: “After a while we saw De Santis running back. He kept cursing against the Neapolitans, and they chased him, screaming, they must have been twenty. They reached him, caught him and beat him. They left when they saw he was on the ground and did not move anymore.” At that point, from a building nearby, a film production company, the Ciak, a man came out and tried to help the wounded, bringing him inside. “After a few minutes, however, we heard some noise.” Other Napoli fans were coming back to do justice, this time in a group of fifty: their anger had developed enormously because of the first tragic news of Esposito’s bad health conditions. They broke open the gates and entered. “They tried to kill him in every way, they kicked him, punched him, beat him. They twisted his ankles and broke his legs. Then one picked up a yellow heavy trolley … and hit him in the head.” When De Santis again gave no signs of life, the group abandoned the Ciak, but not before admonishing the owner, the man who had provided first aid: “If my brother dies – said one of the attackers, with an evident Neapolitan accent – I’ll come back here and kill you too.”

Like the other two wounded supporters, Ciro Esposito was under arrest. He is from Scampia, Naples’ the Bronx, a poor degraded borough which is the camorra headquarters, one of those areas in which the State is either felt as absent or as a Bourbon foreign oppressor. I met a group of students from Scampia in Edinburgh last April, when I heard the ‘overwhelming question’ which gave birth to the writing of this book for the last time. They were attending a school of English in a kind of ‘social care’ programme. On their first day they had to be in the classroom at nine a.m.; at 10 only three out of twenty were there, two teenage girls and a boy weirdly dressed and bizarre looking. The headmaster asked me if we came from the same country and the two courageous teachers in charge of the group told me, as soon as we met, that they had to go to jail to make most of the student’s fathers sign the permits to take them abroad. Scampia is a pitiless picture of social disease and consequently the hooligans’ attitude is plain to understand. Nevertheless, generally speaking, the fact that incidents like the one we are talking about keep happening at a regular pace is also due to what we have already said: in Italy there are no penalties other than on the football pitch. Crime is never followed by punishment because, at least for the powers-that-be, there’s guaranteed impunity. Jones’s statement was true when the book was written and is more than true now, ten years later, as Berlusconi’s ventennio and, hopefully, this book have shown.

All of which made me think that the real problem wasn’t about penalties, about whether the referees lean slightly towards the Old Lady of Italian football or the Prime Minister’s team when they blow their whistles and point to the spot. The debate is really about another type of penalty, or the lack of it. It’s the fact that, as Italy’s moral minority always complains, non paga nessuno, which basically means that no one in Italy is ever, ever punished for anything: ‘nobody pays’. Ever since I had arrived I had heard one half of the country, that law-abiding half, complain bitterly and incessantly about the furbi who appear to bend and break the law at will, without ever facing the consequences. In Italy there are no penalties other than on the football pitch. Crime is never followed by punishment because, at least for the powers-that-be, there’s guaranteed impunity. You can get away with anything. As long as you play the game, you’ll be played onside. Take Nandrolone, field illegal players, fiddle the accounts, put up fascist banners [I add, as an update, have a cupola to buy referees, dope players, fix matches for betting]: non paga nessuno

Against all odds, the match was enchanting: the rhythm was fast, the technicality superb, the initial Napoli’s doppietta – brace – was balanced by Fiorentina’s goal in the second part of the first half, guaranteeing a thrilling second half. During the break we had the feeling that the fog of distress which cloaked the stadium was slowly vanishing. The intense second half, in which Fiorentina attacked coming close on several occasions to an equaliser while Napoli acted fast in the traditional Italian contropiede, contributed to the lifting of the fog that became a light mist at the end of the match. Napoli scored another goal in the very final minutes and won 3-1 in the end. The result was a sign of good omen for public order. At the end of the game, the Neapolitan tifosi invaded the pitch to celebrate, breaking the last rule that was left to be broken, and in so doing giving time to the Fiorentina supporters to leave the stadium unharmed. I left some minutes before the match after seeing that the kids I was in charge of were in safe hands. I wanted to avoid the chaos, the possible riots outside the stadium and another night odyssey to get back home. I left with friends who had parked their car some blocks further North along the river, in the newly restored entertainment area of via Flaminia. The clouds had disappeared and a bright moon was shining over Monte Mario as we walked along the river, in the opposite direction of the crowd. The long walk helped us to leave tension behind. Via Flaminia was filled with nightlife: outdoor and indoor restaurants, bars and pubs were full of a vibrant Saturday night fever, a thousand miles away from the events at the Stadio Olimpico. We sat at a pizzeria and ordered a true Neapolitan pizza margherita and a pint of beer, the best prescription for further relaxation. One hour later, in the wee wee hours, the bright lights of the city shone through the car window as we were riding towards the Stazione Tiburtina on the Salaria highway on my way back home. The stadium lights had been turned off and the Olimpico had disappeared into an obscurity that seemed to have wiped away the foolish events of the evening.

More than an hour has gone by since I left the Capital. As the train keeps rolling, the quiet green hills of the Tuscan chiantishire announce our imminent arrival in Florence, the Renaissance quintessential city, a cradle of urban beauty and good manners which bred the Fiorentina supporters who behaved so well last night.

Yesterday’s tragic events reinforce the idea that football is the mirror of our society. The negotiation between Gerry the swine and the authorities is a small scale ‘trattativa Stato-mafia’, the by now established 1992-94 negotiation between legal and criminal powers that ended up with the mafia-Berlusconi alleged deal that, if true, helped il Cavaliere to win his first political elections (we have extensively dealt with the matter in the previous pages, see chapter 2, part 2, Deal with the devil?). These negotiations spring from the idea that the mafia, the camorra and the like exist as an ineluctable fact, like acknowledged institutions, a shocking attitude we have accepted as normal. The State authorities that today say that there was no negotiation with the Napoli ultras behave like the top officials, the former cabinet ministers and the politicians who were the assumed protagonists of the trattativa but never admitted it. At present some of them sit at the defendants’ bar next to the mafiosi bosses in the Palermo trial. Today the Italian Football Federation president, Giancarlo Abete, and the minister for the interior, Angelo Alfano, spoke about the need to clamp down even harder on bad behaviour, each raising the prospect of lifetime stadium bans. It sounds pretty much like the promises the politicians have made since the Prima Repubblica, when Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti used to announce its governments’ engagement in fighting the mafia while he was secretly meeting and kissing its boss Salvatore Riina.

I turn towards the window and see the hills of Tuscany now giving way to the Apennines, its highest peaks already capped in white and shining in the afternoon sun. The train goes in and out long tunnels and in no time gets to Bologna, my hometown’s cousin city, and I feel home. Bologna FC has just descended to Serie B but no attacks against the players and the club, ‘routine’ reactions under these circumstances, have been made, no violent reaction has emerged. A few minutes’ train ride takes me back to Modena, and I feel ready for a normal working week and a normal weekend. Next Saturday afternoon my son and I will cycle to the Stadio Braglia to encourage the canarini (the canaries, as Modena FC players are nicknamed because of the yellow jersey) in their climb to Serie A amid the other ten thousand spectators, quietly sitting in the terraces and supporting their team. Afterwards I will enjoy a ‘white night’ stroll through the open museums and the many outdoor events, enjoying the warm night air. It is hard to believe, but areas of civility, at least in some sectors of public life, can still be found in post Berlusconi Italy.

The disastrous performance of the Italian team at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, the same as in South Africa 2010, is a picture of the decadence of our contemporary football. The last fantasista left in the squad, Andrea Pirlo, announced he had played his last games with the Azzurri on the occasion (even if he would decide to play again for the national team some months later).  Now it is Mario Balotelli who sets the standards for the players of today. He is an overvalued mediocre striker and a spoilt character, lunatic, egotistical and detached by the team, untouchable because whoever criticizes him is accused of racism.

During the World Cup, Ciro Esposito died in hospital on June 25, 2014. His funeral took place in his native borough of Scampia, in the same degraded setting which is used in the Sky TV series Gomorra. Alas, this was not fiction, and the rhetoric comments which followed his departure were as unbearable as his death. Ciro’s mother then became the endorser of non-violent football and came to Modena to award the Canarini as the Italian team with the most correct supporters in August 2014, before the Modena-Chievo match for the Coppa Ghirlandina. On that occasion the barrier and the net which separated the spectators from the pitch were removed, British football style, a fact that could never be imagined in most Italian stadia. The 2013–14 Fair Play Cup was given to Modena F.C. before the opening match of the 2014–15 championship on September 1.

To solve the problems of Italian football, in August 2014 Carlo Tavecchio, 71, was elected president of the Italian Football Federation notwithstanding the international outrage he caused with his racist comment about African players: “Here [in Italy] let’s say there’s [fictional player] Opti Poba, who has come here, who previously was eating bananas and now is a first-team player for Lazio. In England he has to show his CV and his pedigree.” UEFA opened a disciplinary investigation because of these comments and soon after Tavecchio was banned for six months. Tavecchio is to sport what Berlusconi – or better, Berlusconism – is to politics, and that’s the main reason why he was elected. As Furio Colombo writes in Il Fatto Quotidiano on August 9, 2014, Tavecchio was like that already, when he made his evidently irresistible career in amateur soccer. So we have to assume he was all right that way, or, better still, he was liked that way … Look at Tavecchio, listen to Tavecchio and you’ll wonder whether we – many of us – are in the wrong country. How is it possible to prefer, for any task, a man with such a high degree of vulgarity and, moreover, a man who is used to showing (with success, evidently) that vulgarity in public?

The first act of his presidency was the appointment of Antonio Conte, former Juventus player in the years of the scandals and the last coach of the Old Lady, as manager of the fallen Azzurri, becoming the first coach of a National Team with a sentence of sportive corruption and consequent banning in his pedigree. Italian style is always recognizable! Conte was found guilty of failure to report attempted match-fixing when he was the manager of Siena in 2010-11, was banned from football for ten months, then reduced to four on appeal, by the Sportive Federal Court of Sportive Justice (in July 2015 Conte would be indicted for frode sportiva – sports fraud – by the State Magistracy). Conte reacted Berlusconi’s way, accusing the sports judges of not being impartial and considering himself the victim of injustice, and all the attached Berlusconian cliché (Conte and Juventus were accused and sent to sportive trial because of these remarks and both of them took a plea bargain of 25,000 euros each to put an end to the court case). I remember Conte sitting in the grandstand surrounded by policemen during the Champion’s League match Chelsea – Juventus in the period of his ban, looking like an unwelcome guest. Last but not least, Conte is the first trainer to receive a double salary, one paid by the Federation (about 1.6m euros a year) and the other by the sponsoring multinational Puma (almost 2m euros a year), which funds many players as well. It is another example of the intrusion of multinational business in public affairs: who will decide the Azzurri’s next line-up, Conte or Puma?

[In 2015 new match-fixing scandals emerged in the minor football series and another tax evasion case hit also various serie A teams and top managers. But, as far as football corruption is concerned, Italy seems to be an average country, if we consider what happened inside FIFA with the arrest of its top officials and the launch of World Cups inquiry in May, an investigation that put an abrupt end to the obscure Blatter age and caused the fall of M. Platini as well. All the world is – really – a (football) stage!]

[1]  Ala Sinistra, Mezzala Destra (pseudonyms for Marco Travaglio), Lucky Luciano. Intrighi maneggi scandali del padrone del calcio Luciano Moggi, Kaos edizioni, 2006.