Wednesday, April 13, 2005

The beautiful game

For those who followed the NHL - believe it or not, there once was a North American professional ice hockey league -- there was an old saying that rather unfairly summed up the blood-and-guts style of the game. It went something like: "I went to a boxing match last night and a hockey game broke out." I didn't say this was a particularly clever saying.

As far as I know, the Europeans don't have an equivalent saying for their anointed national sport, football or soccer, or calcio here in Italy. But if the Europeans did it would go: "I went to the football/soccer/calcio match last night and stabbed a rival fan." Or, in Italy it would probably be a bit more theatric like: "I went to the calcio ieri sera and evoked the dead, fascist ghost of Mussolini by starting an anti-Semitic chant before lobbing a Molotov cocktail on the pitch injuring 14, one critically."

People tend to lose their heads when it comes to the beautiful game. On Sunday here in Rome, less than 48 hours after 4 million pilgrims came and went without incident, a hockey game broke out in the stands of Stadio Olimpio. The crosstown Lazio fans started a riot, injuring 85 police and, my favorite, unfurling a banner that read "Rome is fascist". (Earlier in the week the ultra-rightwing regional president lost the election to some little-known weeny lefty, a fact lost on the clever character who smuggled the banner into the pitch.)

Not to be outdone, hated crosstown rivals Inter and AC Milan went at it last night in a Champions League match that had to be stopped early due to the pitch being littered with incendiary bombs. The Milan (the visiting club) goalie was plugged in the shoulder with one rather large and well-aimed flair. And, just today Liverpool fans arriving in Turin for tonight's match against Juventus were greeted by local thugs who threatened to beat each and every one of them with, and I'm not sure of the symbolism here, a white stick.

Ah, the beautiful game!

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