The Return of the Gladiator: Football in Rome

Things to Do, What's New — By Erica Firpo on March 24, 2011 at 5:11 pm

Guest writer Brian Zygo on Rome and football:

Although it has been over sixteen centuries since gladiators in the Colosseum, gladiators and the other blood sports of the Roman Empire continue to hold a fascination in western popular culture, from movies such as Ben Hur and Gladiator to the Starz network series Spartacus.  Though it may be slightly disappointing to find the present-day Colosseum devoid of sport (blood and otherwise), every weekend from late August to late May, much of Rome turns its attention to a modern version of the gladiator who calls the Stadio Olimpico his home.

As with most of Europe, modern sport in Italy revolves around 22 men trying to kick a ball into a net.  Commonly known in English as football, (or soccer in American English), in Italy it is referred to as calcio, a term used under Benito Mussolini, politician and dictator adept at intertwining sport with political goals.  During the pre-World War II years, Italy dominated global football, winning the 1934 World Cup (Italy),  1936 Olympic games (Berlin), and 1938 World Cup (France).

The modern football landscape in Rome still reflects the influence Mussolini once had on the sport.  Today, Rome is dominated by two Serie A football teams:  S.S. Lazio and A.S. Roma. Historically,  Roma was founded in 1927 after Mussolini ordered the merger of four Rome football clubs in order to create an ever-powerful club that could compete with the clubs from Italy’s northern industrial cities.  Ultimately, Lazio avoided the merger due to the intervention of a high ranking member of the Fascist party with connections to the club.

Today, the two clubs are bitter rivals, playing each other at least twice a season in the highly anticipated Derby della Capitale matches.  Lazio and Roma have already played each other three times since the start of the 2010/2011 Serie A season, twice in league play and once in the Coppa Italia.  Roma won all three matches, giving the team five straight derby victories.

Italy’s Serie A is the country’s top football league, akin to England’s Premier League and Germany’s Bundesliga.  The Serie A season begins in late August, usually running through May.  Twenty teams make up Serie A, and play 38 matches (each team playing each other twice).  Unlike  sports leagues in America, there are no playoffs in Serie A, instead the league title — Scudetto– is determined by the team holding the most points at the end of the season.  Winner collect three points, while a tie results in each team getting one point.

After this past weekend, there are only 8 game days left in Serie A before the 2010/2011 season is over.  At this point, the battle for the Scudetto will be fought between Milan and Inter, with Napoli having an outside shot at picking up enough points to win the league.  Roma and Lazio have no real shot at winning the league; however, that does not mean they can take the next 8 matches off and relax.  There might not be any playoff berths to be had in Serie A, but there are UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League berths up for grabs- qualification based on league ranking.  As of now, Lazio is in the best position to qualify for the Champions league as the team currently sits in fifth place with 54 points, just two points shy of fourthe place Udinese.  Meanwhile Roma is four points behind Lazio- meaning Europa League qualification.

Although you want be able to take in the spectacle that is the Derby della Capitale if you visit Rome over the next two months, the current football situation is a great opportunity for any sports lover visiting the Eternal City in April and May.  Every weekend, there will be a Serie A match at the Stadio Olimpico, and since both Lazio and Roma have something to play for, the matches will not be boring.

As a side note, if you happen to be in Rome on April 20th, you can watch Roma host Inter in the first leg of the Coppa Italia semifinals.  The Coppa Italia is a separate trophy competition in which all football clubs in the country are eligible to compete.

~ Zygo covers soccer in general and the Houston Dynamo in particular for 1560 The Game radio station in Houston, Texas and for The Zygo Soccer Report.

Tags: Culture, Football, Get Out, Italy, kids, Lazio, Rome, soccer, Sports, Things to Do, Travel Tips