The Derby della Capitale: Three Memorable Roma vs Lazio Matchups

Politics, economic class, history, regional rivalry… When we analyze football derbies, we constantly come across such divisions, which also spark violence to this day. Even today, as Roma and Lazio prepare to square off in the Derby della Capitale, the local police had to close some roads and take security measures at the highest level before the derby.

The derby that is the subject of today’s roundup is the fiercest and most violent of all in Italy: Lazio vs Roma, the Derby della Capitale. This is its story.

As the 20th Century approached, football was a rapidly spreading sport in Italy, just as it was all over the world. Genoa, Turin, Milan, and then the capital city of Rome all witnessed the foundation of the first local clubs.

On January 9, 1900, nine common young men met in Piazza della Libertá in Roma. One of them, Luigi Bigiarelli, a bersagliere (sniper) in the Italian army, came up with the idea of forming a sporting club. There were long, heated discussions, such as “How should the club be called?’’ They did not want it to be mixed up with the gymnastics clubs operating in Rome so they chose the name Lazio, which is both the name of the region and a tribute to its Latin roots.

The official name was Societá Podistica Lazio and the “Podistica” part should be highlighted because the club’s original purpose was to compete in track and field. When it came to choosing the colors, the founders’ love for the Olympics came to the forefront as they picked white and sky blue in reference to Greece, the birthplace of the Olympics.

As for the choice of the eagle as a symbol, the reason is a mystery. Whether it was because it is the symbol of Roman legionaries or because it symbolizes power and victory, it is still not sure. The only known fact is that it was chosen by Fortunato Ballerini, the second president in the club’s history. Lazio were founded by nine young people who were fond of running, and football became a part of their creature later on. In 1901, Bruto Sereghiti, a Racing Club de Paris player who was in the area, introduced himself to the club and explained the beautiful game he had played in France to the Lazio players.

In every period of history, dictators have used sports to get closer to the mainstream public. That was the case during the 1936 Berlin Olympics, when the concept of sportswashing, i.e. the tactic of distracting the public with sporting events and achievements, became popular. Similarly, the Italian National Fascist Party, led by Benito Mussolini, used football to that purpose, starting from the most nearby club Lazio. In 1926, they replaced the word Podistica with Sportiva and the abbreviation SS was the first evidence of this rapprochement. The renewed logo also featured a fasces-style axe used as a symbol by the Fascist Party.

In those years, along with Lazio, several other football teams were active in Rome. The Fascist Party’s idea was that these teams should be merged and the capital should be represented by a united, stronger team. However, Giorgio Vaccaro, a member of both the Fascist Party and Lazio at the time, opposed the Biancocelesti‘s inclusion in the merger and so Lazio maintained their independence.

Italo Foschi, the Party’s representative in Rome, proceeded with merging the other main football clubs in Rome: Fortitudo-ProRoma, Football Club di Roma, and Alba-Audace merged to form AS Roma.  The colors of the new club were yellow and red, like the city’s flag, and the symbol was the wolf, inspired by the Lupa Capitolina, the sculpture that depicts a she-wolf suckling the legendary twin founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus.

By resisting the pressure from the Fascist Party and its founder – which, as you can appreciate, doesn’t sound so easy – Vaccaaro managed to save Lazio and gave origin to the capital’s derby.

Fast-forward to the post-war period, how did these two clubs come to hate each other so much? Politics played a role, as always. Roma have come to represent the voice of the left and of popular neighborhoods in Rome, while Lazio supporters have traditionally been an expression of the upscale, right-leaning areas of the capital. Roma’s anti-fascist Fedayn fan group played a major role in the identification of the Roma stands with the left.

The real turning point occurred in a tragic derby played on October 28, 1979. On that day, a flare thrown from the Roma side of the stands at the Stadio Olimpico hit Lazio fan Vincenzo Paparelli, killing him. The 33-year-old Vincenzo couldn’t make it back to his house from the match that he went with his wife.

Unfortunately, violence has not stopped since then, with clashes between the fans occasionally reoccurring. The Olimpico has been the stage for such shameful Lazio banners as those depicting Anne Frank in a Roma kit, a reference to Giallorossi chairman Renato Sacerdoti being a Jew and having escaped concentration camps during World War II. But Roma’s below-the-belt answers have not been lacking either.

Once in a while, good things happen too. When Lazio fan Gabriele Sandri lost his life to a policeman’s fire at the end of a highly controversial chain of events on a motorway, the Irriducibili fan group hung a banner depicting him in the Curva Nord before the derby and Roma captain Francesco Totti showed up with flowers to paying his respects to the deceased Lazio fan. The captain received the same respect from the Irriducibili when he retired.

Three Unforgettable Roma vs Lazio Matchups

1. Lazio vs Roma 3-3 (November 29, 1998)

This game put Zdenek Zeman’s Roma and Sven-Göran Eriksson’s Lazio against each other. Two iconic coaches for two arch-rival clubs. On the pitch, Sinisa Mihajlovic, who was rumored to have left Roma under pressure from the Fedayns due to his right-leaning positions, was now wearing  a Lazio shirt, together with Roberto Mancini, Pavel Nedved and Marcelo Salas.

Vincent Candela, Aldair, young captain Francesco Totti, Damiano Tommasi and Marco Delvecchio were among the most prominent names wearing the Roma kit. The two capital teams clashed unaware that they would soon come to dominate the Serie A…

After the first half ended 1-1, Salas and Mancini made Lazio’s Curva Nord happy. But Roma still had something to say and managed to salvage a point with Eusebio Di Francesco and Totti.

2. Lazio vs Roma 1-5 (March 10, 2001)

If you ask what happened in this match, the answer is: something beyond imagination. Vincenzo Montella scored four goals for Roma and Totti put the icicle on the cake with a fantastic finish, dedicating his iconic goal to the woman he loved at the time.

Since 1999, both Roman clubs had unexpectedly been at the top of the Italian league. The Biancocelesti side started this revival by winning the Cup Winners’ Cup and the UEFA Super Cup in 1999, before conquering their second-ever Scudetto at the beginning of the new millennium. But Roma responded to their arch-rivals by claiming the Italian title the following season. This game was a stepping stone towards the achievement.

The Giallorossi started the match fast and took the lead on 13 minutes with Montella’s header, and they didn’t stop thereafter. At the end of the first half, the scoreboard read 3-0, thanks to a hat-trick by Montella. In the second period, Dejan Stojkovic gave Lazio some glimpse of hope, but Montella and Totti did not allow a comeback. The Curva Sud‘s victory songs echoed all across the Eternal City.

3. Roma vs Lazio 0-1 (May 26, 2013)

A daytime match in Rome and, this time, there was the Coppa Italia at stake. Roma had eliminated Inter and Lazio had outclassed Juventus to reach the Final. It was the Biancocelesti who had the pleasure of lifting the trophy after beating their arch-rivals in the shared stadium.

Since the first half, Lazio were the more dangerous attackers, even though goalkeeper Bogdan Lobont and the Roma defense were always on their toes. However, on 71 minutes, Lobont’s mistake allowed Senad Lulic to score one of the easiest and most meaningful goals of his career. Three minutes after the goal, Roma had a moment of hope, but first Federico Marchetti’s reflexes and then the post stopped the goal. Lazio lifted the trophy and painted the capital in white and blue.

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