The crest of S.S. Lazio depicts a golden eagle, wings outstretched, grasping a blue-and-white-striped club badge in its talons. The eagle looks a little ferocious, as many mascots are wont to do. Still, its steely glare shouldn’t provoke such loathing – yet this misunderstood avian has managed to become a perfect symbol of the much-maligned club.
You see, an eagle was commonly used as a fascist symbol. It doesn’t matter that the eagles worn on Italian Fascist uniforms bear little resemblance to the Lazio eagle; for those seeking to make their cases against the side, the bird’s use gives further credence to the theory that Lazio is a fascist club, founded by army officers and doomed to be Mussolini’s team.
Again and again, reports on Lazio use this eagle to somehow demonstrate the club was crocked from the start. Problem is, Lazio was founded in 1900, and the eagle adopted shortly thereafter, as a symbol of ancient Rome. The Italian Fascists, who came to power two decades later, used the eagle for the same reason – its connection with the grand ol’ days of the Roman Empire. When in Rome, if you take a moment to stop snapping selfies in front of the Trevi Fountain, you’ll notice the eagles lurking about, carved into the walls, shouldering the burden of gods, perched atop buildings. You will often find the letters “S.P.Q.R.” “Senatus Populusque Romanus” is a reference to the Roman Republic, a symbol adopted by the Fascists – and an emblem often used by the fans of the city’s other soccer club, AS Roma.
Perception, then, is a funny thing. Lazio’s eagle, a symbol of fascism, continues to signify its right-wing leanings, while many place Roma on the other end of the spectrum, despite scant evidence of supporters’ current politics. Or perhaps what we should say is that outside perception is a funny thing. Lazio supporters outside Italy tend to make apologies, to make it clear that they’re not aligned with unsavory beliefs, and those writing about the club from a distance often rely on oft-repeated anecdotes and tired stereotypes.
“It’s too much. It’s overblown,” said the bartender, a resident of the city and a Roma supporter. He went on to explain, “Yes, there are right-wing Laziali. But it is wrong to say that they all are. There are left-wing factions in the support as well. And it is the same for Roma. But it’s been made bigger in the Lazio fans.”
By ‘made bigger’, this Roma fan meant the problems caused by Lazio supporters had generated much more attention. A decade ago, Paolo Di Canio made headlines for repeatedly raising his arm in a fascist salute, gesturing to the Laziali support. Di Canio, a former Lazio ultra, made no secret of his political leanings. Di Canio might be gone, but the reputation of the club’s fans lives on. They are the “most feared” of Italian supporters, they are “extreme right-wing fanatics,” they wave “neo-Nazi banners” and are, of course, the “most racist and most despicable.”
The blanket statements are grounded in reality. Perhaps the most infamous banner was displayed during a derby with Roma in the 1998-99 season. Stretching 50 meters long, it read “Auschwitz is your town, the ovens are your houses.” The Curva Nord, where Lazio ultras gather, has also displayed its racist sentiments with signs such as “Squad of blacks, terrace of Jews.” The ultras’ violent tendencies persist, particularly around derby games, with fights between Lazio and Roma supporters earning each club Curva restrictions after the latest meeting between the two sides.
And of course, everyone remembers that terrible night in 2012, in which multiple fans of Tottenham – a club often associated with Jewish support – were stabbed by men chanting anti-Semitic slurs. The fans were in Rome for a Europa League clash with Lazio. Blame was placed on the club’s ultras. When police investigated, they arrested three supporters. Of Roma.
Like the Roma-supporting bartender noted, both clubs contain their share of despicable supporters. Most recently, the giallorossi supporters made headlines with a banner displayed during the match against visiting Napoli. The sign insulted the mother of a Napoli fan killed last May by a Roma ultra, while another read “Forza Daniele,” to honor the man now being held on charges of attempted homicide.
A Lazio fan echoed the beliefs of his Roma-supporting rival, saying organizations like Forza Nuova and Casa Pound (extreme right movements) have infiltrated organized fan groups of both Roman teams. But there’s no denying there are some Lazio supporters who are outspoken about their extreme right-wing beliefs, and that “makes a lot of people believe in the myth of Lazio being fascist.”
It seems, then, that Lazio’s reputation precedes it. The image of Di Canio’s salute sticks in people’s minds. Past misdeeds are dredged up in article after article written about hooligans or ultras. The myth becomes memory, but memory does not become myth. Lazio remains contemptible to most, and a small percentage of the fans are proud to bear that burden.
But the violence, racism and hatred that seeps into soccer is a systemic problem. Lazio may have earned its reputation, but that reputation has descended into shameless stereotyping. There are wider issues at play, and to resolve them, such outdated mindsets must be cast aside. Blaming one team or set of fans won’t prevent bananas being thrown, flares being hurled, or sons being killed.