Derby della Capitale – The derby of Rome

In may 2013, I travelled to Rome for the second time in my life. I travelled with two friends and the purpose of the trip was a football match. Not just any football match. It was the final of the Italian cup, Coppa Italia. The final of Coppa Italia is always a prestigious match to win. But this year the final was made even more prestigious. As it turned out the two teams clashing in the final was the two Roman teams AS Roma and SS Lazio. It was therefore also one of the most famous and infamous matches in the world. It was also the Derby della Capitale. The derby of Rome.

I have travelled most of Europe to watch football and use my experiences as research for my website, which is an online guide to football travel. In this article I will give you my views on Rome and the Derby della Capitale – the way I see it.

As a citizen of Rome, you either support AS Roma as a romanisti or you support SS Lazio as a laziale. To understand the significance and the importance of the Roman derby, I will try to give a brief insight into Italian football culture and history. Football is known as calcio and has always been very important to Italians and especially for the people of Rome.

Rome is Rome

I once asked my Italian friend Alberto, who is from Milan and now lives in Copenhagen, about Rome and Italian football. I had been reading a lot about Italian politics and history and I know that Italy has its own ever going internal struggle between the north and the south.

But I was a bit confused about Rome. What about Rome? Does Rome belong to the north or to the south? Alberto replied to me “either… Rome is Rome”. He explained “The people of Rome believe that they live in the most beautiful and important city in the world. To them, Rome is the center of the universe and they don’t give a f… about the north or the south of Italy.” Having travelled to Rome before and really fallen in love with the city, it made a bit of sense to me. That Roman people not giving a f… about the rest of Italy was maybe a bit exaggerated, but I got the point.

Roman people are proud of their city. And they should be. But why is the Derby della Capitale one of the most famous football matches in the world? The two teams Roma and Lazio is not the most successful teams in Italy and they rarely play in the European tournaments. The answer to this question is not one simple answer. It’s complicated and made up of a lot of facts.


The historical fact is, that Roma and Lazio could never compete with the northern Italian teams like Milan, Juventus and Inter for the Italian Championship, known as the Scudetto. The teams from the north had too much money and was always winning. This fact made the matches between Roma and Lazio the most important matches of the season for the two sets of fans. They knew that they were not playing to win the Serie A. Instead the derby became the highlight of the season.

Even though Roma and Lazio were not playing for the Scudetto each year, they are very big clubs in both Italian and European perspective. They have a lot of fans and share the famous Stadio Olimpico, a 70.000 spectator stadium in the northern parts of Rome. In true Roman fashion the Stadio Olimpico, resembles the old Colosseum in shape and style. In many ways Stadio Olimpico is the modern day Colosseum, made to entertain the people of Rome every weekend.

Football has always evoked a lot of feelings in people all over the world – in negative and positive ways. The same goes for Italy and especially Rome. All over the world supporters and fans takes a lot of pride in their local football team. These strong feelings often, sadly, turns violent in terms of aggression on the fans of other teams or at the police. In Italy the normal fans are known as tifosi which is the majority of the fans. Every club has also got extreme sets of fans known as ultras. Ultras see themselves as the true fans of a club and will take any action to support their team. In most cases this will come to effect in an positive and fascinating vocal and visual way at the stadium. But in some cases it can, sadly, also be in a violent way.

Both Roma and Lazio are very well known across the football world to have very large and extremely powerful groups of ultras. Groups of extreme fans counted in thousands. The two sets of ultras is known for having an extreme hate of each other and at the same time being violent and using their power in any situation. In the case of Lazio, their ultras are known for being involved in extreme right wing movement in Italy and a lot of Lazio ultras declare themselves being fascists. Fascists symbols and banners at Lazio matches is very common.


“If we play – they will kill us”

The extreme power and influence of the ultras of AS Roma was demonstrated in very significant way in 2004 at the Roman derby. During the match a rumor started to spread across the Curva Sud (the south stand) of Stadio Olimpico, which is the stand of the Roma fans. The rumor was that the police had killed a young boy before the match, hitting him with a police car (the rumor later turned out to be false). As word got to the leaders of the Roma ultras they decided to demonstrate their power and wanted the match to be abandoned.

At the 70.000 spectator stadium, in front of millions of TV-viewers and the world press, three men from the Roma ultras entered the pitch during the second half and walked up to the captain of AS Roma, Francesco Totti. The exact words of the conversation, in the middle of the pitch is between the four men. But the outcome is very well known. The ultras had spoken their mind and the match got abandoned. Powerless stood the players, the referee, the clubs, the Italian Football Federation and the police.

Shortly after the conversation between Totti and the three ultras, Totti ran across the pitch to inform the match-officials and the police about the situation. As he was running he shouted the world famous words to the manager of AS Roma at the time Fabio Capello; “If we play – they will kill us”.

Believing that the police had actually killed a young boy. Both ultras from Lazio and Roma turn their violent aggressions on the police and the night ended in riots all around the stadium. The ultras had shown exactly how powerful they were by getting one of the biggest matches in the world of football abandoned.


Match day

The mixture of extreme feelings, history, Roman pride, potentially violent and very powerful fans has made the Roman derby one of the most fascinated matches in football. All of this mixed together with the fact that at this particular match, the two Roman teams were actually playing for the title and trophy of the Coppa Italia, made the derby even more interesting than usual. And I had a ticket for that match.

On the match day, in the morning, the Italian newspapers were full of everything to do with the final. I know some Italian and I managed to understand some of what was being said in the papers. It left me with no doubt that this was one of the most important derbies in many years. The two teams had made it to the final and were both struggling in the league (Serie A). Both teams had everything to win and everything to lose. This final and this derby would be one to remember no matter the outcome.

A few months earlier the two teams had play with each other and the aftermath between the two sets of ultras had resulted in stabbings and a lot of people ending up at the hospital. This fact and the fear of trouble at the match was also taking up a lot of space in the newspapers. With a lot of anticipation and excitement I went out of my hotel, into the city of Rome and off to experience my first Derby della Capitale.

The final of Coppa Italia

We spend a few hours around the stadium before the match and got a feeling of the atmosphere. Stadio Olimpico is situated in north of the center and close to the Tiber river. From the tram stop af Piazza Mancini Antonio you can cross the river on the bridge Ponte Duca D’Aosta. This is Roma territory and the area is full of small food stands with Roma fans hanging about. The area is just behind the Curva Sud of the stadium which is the Roma end. As tourists, we were allowed to accros the police segregation line and enter the Lazio territory behind the Curva Nord. This area was full of Lazio fans hours before the kickoff, just waiting in the sun and having a few beers.

Finally, we entered the stadium and got to experience the amazing atmosphere. Each end of the stadium was packed full of Lazio fans in the north end and Roma fans in the south end. For the entire match they were constantly singing, waving flags, holding up banners and using a large arsenal of fireworks. Lazio won the final by 1-0 and both players and fans were celebrating like they had won the World Cup. This was the first title for Lazio in many years and what made it even better, they won against their old enemy Roma.

We stayed at the stadium to witness the celebrations after the final whistle. At the time we got out, every Roma fans was at home and asleep. Could it be more painful than this? Losing the final to Lazio. Worst nightmare of any Roma fan.


Lazio fans steamed to Piazza del Popolo in the center of Rome to celebrate the victory. A few thousand Lazio fans were singing, partying and using whatever fireworks they had left in the large square that night. We left them early in the morning and went back to our hotel. The day and the experience of that final and that derby I will never forget. You have to go there to fully understand it. I recommend every football fan to experience a Derby della Capitale at least once in their life.

 I’m definitely going back.

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