Published On: Thu, Aug 4th, 2011

Palermo vs Catania: Derby Di Sicilia

On the streets of Palermo, the Sicilian capital, you can often find a slogan spray-painted on the walls, it reads “Forza Etna”. Forza meaning “go” and Etna of course being the Volcano which leers ominously over the city of Catania, their most hated of rivals. It’s a visceral message from the Palermo ultra’s urging the island’s famous volcano to erupt once more and engulf Calcio Catania. Never has the rather cliched phrase of ‘its more than just a game’ been more fitting.

Harking back to the old days, Catania and Palermo have been in opposition for hundreds of years over which is the island’s flagship city. John Foot author of Calcio: The History of Italian Football describes their rivalry as a “political battle” stemming from the two cities “fighting for resources in one of Italy’s poorest and most corrupt of regions”. Making the point to distinguish between the British football hooligans, Foot describes it as “organised Sicilian violence”.

A power struggle now played out in the streets surrounding the stadiums on derby day, the “Derby Di Sicilia” (Derby of Sicily), has been a relatively infrequent occurrence until recent years, the two sides have largely been kept apart throughout their respective histories. Rarely playing in the same division, they have only met 11 times in the top flight of Italian football.

With the rise of Sicilian sides in recent years (Catania gained promotion to Serie A in 2006) the islands two warring cities now regularly face off in a games which can be tragically overshadowed by the chaotic and bloody scenes outside the ground.

In 1999, a fan was shot outside the ground, three years later a number of Rosanero fans had to be hospitalised after their coach was targeted by a group of Catania ultra’s launching stones. Then in 2007, came one of the darkest days in Italian football. On the 2nd of February, the first Derby Di Sicilia since 1963 was taking place in Serie A.

Outside Catania’s Stadio Angelo Massimino, a running battle between the police and fans took place, described by the islands chief of police as being ‘like Lebanon’. It was pure guerrilla warfare in areas surrounding Catania’s humble stadium. The Ultra’s took no prisoners as they showered police with bricks. When the game did eventually begin, the Palermo fans were locked out of the Massimino stadium for the first-half, only to be attacked by a tirade of fireworks by the Rossaazzuri ultra’s upon their entrance.

As they fought back the tear gas deployed by the police covered the entire stadium, causing the players to be evacuated from the pitch as the game was suspended. Although the match was over, the battle continued out in the shadow of Mount Etna, on Catania’s streets. One of the 1,500 policeman drafted into help deal with the predicted trouble, 48 year-old Filippo Raciti was floored after a homemade bomb thrown by a group of teenage Catania ultra’s with believed Mafiosi links, exploded in his face.

He was said to be hit again by a blunt object, although the details still remain cloudy to this day. “By that stage the fans were not fighting against each other, they wanted us” said policeman Alfio Ferrara, who was with Raciti as the ambulance arrived. The 48 year-old tragically lost his life,  the cause of death was diagnosed as blunt object trauma, a 23 year-old Catania fan was convicted in 2010, and sentenced to 14 years in prison.

The death of Raciti caused the FIGC to suspend all professional and amateur football matches, as Italian football attempted to rectify its mistakes. The first Derby Di Sicilia since that tragic night in Catania, took place in December at the scene of the chaos, the Stadio Angelo Massimino, Rosanero fans were banned from travelling to the ground, in a match which Catania secured a 3-1 win, their first ever over Palermo in Serie A.

One of Palermo’s most emphatic wins came back in the 2003/2004 season as they marched towards a long awaited return to Serie A, thumping a mid-table Catania 5-0. Recent times have been kinder to the Rosaazzuri, with the side from eastern Sicily enjoying somewhat of a hoodoo over their Palermitani cousins, winning 4 out of the last 6 meetings, two of those victories coming in the shape of 4-0 demolitions.

In the summer of 2009, former Catania coach Walter Zenga did the unthinkable in the eyes of the elefanti fans by becoming manager of Palermo. Albeit, his stint was a brief one, lasting less than a season at the helm, the former Inter and Italy goalkeeper received his marching orders after a disappointing 1-1 draw with his former employers.

Palermo still remain the only Sicilian side to have achieved European football, qualifying for the UEFA Cup on various occasions, as well as in recent years, challenging for the coveted Champions League spots, as they desperately try to infiltrate the upper echelons of Italian football, which is usually populated by the established giants from the north.

Although perhaps not as glamorous as the Milanese derby or as well known as the Roman derby, the Derby Di Sicilia’s bloody and unsavoury history, makes this fixture more of a battle between two rival factions of Sicily than a competitive game between two football teams, it transcends the realms of sport and spills over into the social and political arenas.

Follow Enzo on Twitter: @Enz_88

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