Published On: Fri, Sep 30th, 2011

Italian Football Book Review: Football, Fascism and Fandom by Alberto Testa and Gary Armstrong

At the core of Football Fascism and Fandom is a study of the sub-culture of the Roma and Lazio UltraS and their political associations using information gathered from years of interviews and first hand experiences.  It’s an in depth and sometimes complex look into the world of the UltraS and the history surrounding them.  Anyone expecting a general overview of football hooliganism across the Italian leagues reported in the more usual journalistic fashion shouldn’t bother; this is a factual and open report on the hardcore UltraS.

Don’t get your Ultra confused with your UltraS – the former put the team first and revel in the club tradition and paraphernalia, whilst for the latter social and political views are conjoined with their actions in the football stadia, with the group ideology coming before the team.  If you are more familiar with the football hooligans of England then the UltraS make them look like they haven’t left nursery yet.

Focusing on the Boys Roma and the Lazio Irriducibili and their neo-fascist beliefs the authors achieve a great feat in interviewing many of the leading members of the UltraS.  Written by two sporting and socio-cultural academics they succeed in getting the inside story by being accepted into both groups which so far few, if any, journalists have managed to do.  Alberto Testa was a passionate Lazio fan before moving to England to study and uses his former connections to negotiate his way into the group and its politics.

Some Irriducibili members remember and have remained friends with Testa and when he makes it clear he wants to do research for a book, with no little difficulty, he gains unprecedented access to the key members, many of whom, whether rightly or wrongly, are targets for the police and do not use their full or real names.  The great success of the book is showing the depth behind the UltraS, not just their politics but the people who are the driving force behind their actions.

Covering the rich history of the clubs as a starting point it builds up the historical rivalry and politics of both sets of supporters before leading us into the present day and some of the flashpoints of the past few years.  The authors have even been shown and allowed to reprint original UltraS articles that set down the basis and views for the groups from 30 to 40 years ago which makes fascinating reading.

It lays out the founding views of the UltraS and their struggle against the corruption they perceive to be rife in Italian society.  Unfortunately some chapters seem to get bogged down by the politics, but for the most part the political aspect adds to the context of the book.  It doesn’t just provide a one sided view of the UltraS – interviews with journalists show the contrasting views of the UltraS and expose the blatantly false and exaggerated coverage by the Italian media that spin events to how they want to report them.  Controversy and violence obviously sell more newspapers.  The politicians and police view the UltraS as nothing more than terrorists, whilst the UltraS view the politicians and police as corrupt entities dragging Italy into the gutter.

The actions of the UltraS are not confined to solely the stadia and match days.  One sums their ethos up perfectly by saying ‘Ours is a way of life that exists outside of the stadia’.  We get to see the well oiled machine of the Irriducibili and how they work through the week in the warehouse preparing for match day banners and souvenirs to sell to raise funds, with additional income being collected at the turnstiles.  However, no one is ever forced to contribute on entering the ground but the Irriducibili  hope that those who share their ideology will help the cause.

You can see the obvious difference between the UltraS and the English hooligans, in fact mentioning them in the same sentence would be doing the UltraS a disservice.  In the ground the top dogs (who aren’t yet banned from the stadia) can often be found with microphones encouraging the crowd to back the team and join in the political rhetoric.  If there are ‘ordinary’ fans in the curva they can find themselves singled out and pressurized to join the chants, sometimes having UltraS members dispatched to talk politics over with them.

Where the book falls down slightly is that in parts it reads too much like a university dissertation or a thesis and less like a book for football fans.  I’m sure a few will give up after reading the ‘Foreword’ – it is almost a painful read thoroughly grounded in academic wording, which if you don’t know much about ethnography, could put you off straight away.  At its heart it is an ethnographic and socio-cultural study, and unfortunately in some parts it comes across as this and less like a book.  Its unclear who the target audience is – it could appeal to academics, the average football fan or cultural and political researchers – but in the end it will probably be read by a small mixture of people from each background.

Certain chapters have a totally different feel of writing about them than others.  If it had picked a specific audience and was written for them then the book would no doubt be improved in certain areas.  If you’re writing for academics and style the book as a research piece you will put off the ordinary fan, likewise if the book focused purely on the excellent interviews with those asssociated with the UltraS  it wouldn’t appeal to ethnographic researchers.

If your looking for something that will challenge your pre-conceived conceptions of the UltraS then this is definitely worth a look.



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