Calcio Catania: Soccer, Fireworks, and Racism

On December 6, 2013 by Oren and Cassie

Soccer is the only thing Italians love enough to start on time. Everything else in the country – buses, flights, lunch appointments, dinner dates – begins somewhere between 5 minutes and 3 hours after the time at which it was purportedly supposed to begin. But a soccer match. That starts exactly on time, with even lukewarm fans showing up early to claim a seat. Italians prescribe about as much importance to seat numbers as they do to general schedules and traffic laws, so getting to the stadium early to claim a seat that in no way corresponds to your ticket is critical for a good view of the match.

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Pretty good seats for our first European soccer match!

CATANIA VS. MILAN

On our last full day in Sicily, we caught an early afternoon Serie A match between Catania and Milan. We whipped up a quick breakfast of eggs and toast, I pounded 2 Bloody Marys, and we walked over to the stadium from a friend’s friend’s apartment. We were about 5 minutes late to the game, and already we could hear the hardcore fans going wild at every touch of the ball, good or bad. A well-placed shot on goal? Or an errant pass? Didn’t matter. The Italians cheered and screamed, screamed and cheered.

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Even the seating sections have banners here!

I got held up at the gate for quick minute when security didn’t believe there could possibly be a real person with the ostensibly fake name “Oren Liebermann.” We picked our seats carefully, close enough to one section of diehard fans to hear them, far enough away that if they rioted (which we could never quite rule out), we could make a potentially successful run for it.

LET THE GAME(S) BEGIN

Catania scored in the 12th minute, which stunned me almost as much as the fireworks that hardcore fans in Curva Sud set off in celebration not 30 feet from the seats we had claimed. One firework consisted of a series of distant machine gun sounds followed by a very loud and very close concussive blast that would have cleared out any American stadium instantly. But to the Italians, this is how you watch soccer. If you’re not yelling and setting off small explosives, you’re not doing it right.

Catania’s goal was lucky – they had a quick breakaway, and a Milan defensive miscue gave them an easy goal. Milan struck back a few minutes later. The visiting team sealed the game with 2 more goals in the second half, one of which was a beautiful shot at an obscene angle into the top of the net. Milan fans, sitting in their caged, protected visiting fans section, made enough noise to impress us, even from across the stadium.

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No game is complete without fireworks.

THE WORST OF ITALIAN SOCCER

Unfortunately, we also witnessed the worst in Italian soccer fans. When a black Milan player touched the ball, fans rained down racist invective on him in the form of monkey jokes. I had read about the attitudes of Italian soccer hooligans, but it’s awful to see it in person. You didn’t need to understand what they were saying to see the horrific passion with which they said it.

Italian fans had even shouted racist remaks and thrown bananas at Mario Balotelli, the country’s best player who they will undoubtedly root for in the upcoming World Cup. Apparently, they see no inherent contradiction in shouting racial slurs one moment and pulling for the same player the next. It was disgusting to watch.

WHAT WE CAN TEACH ITALIANS ABOUT SPORTS

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Our soccer group!

The match ended a 3-1 victory for Milan. Not too surprising given Catania’s inability to control the ball in enemy territory. No matter – we had a great time anyway. The fervor with which Americans watch their favorite sport doesn’t even come close to the fantacism of European soccer fans. There are no bandwagon fans here. You love your team with all your heart. I suspect American fans could learn a bit from that.

In exchange, we can teach them to tailgate.

-O.L.

3 Responses to “Calcio Catania: Soccer, Fireworks, and Racism”

  • The pitch is where Renaissance civic rivalries can still be found. So glad you got to a match — and praise your lucky stars that none of those fireworks hit you.

    (My guess is that those racist louts will not be able to afford the price of a Catania-Brazil flight.)

  • Its hard to believe those sorts of attitudes still exist in a well-developed country in Europe.

    • I couldn’t agree more. And the Italian soccer fans didn’t seem to think anything of it. No one tried to step in and stop them. Even a first world country can seem primitive…

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