What Is A Roma?

Maurizio Lagana

Every religion needs a christening.

"Prossima fermata e` flaminio, uscita la destra." The metro doors slide open and I head up the stairs and stumble out into the open air of the Sunday afternoon. I spot my mate from class who is casually leaning against a wall that's probably been there for a couple of hundred years before my country was colonised. We follow the majority of the crowd moving towards a waiting tram and jump on board as it starts humming its way out of the city.

When it stops we pour out into the concrete and blend in with the growing throng of people lurching towards the stadium looming ahead of us. We walk past the ‘Lazio Merda' graffiti, past the dodgy chinese knock-off scarf stands and past the overpriced food fans.

We join the scrum trying to wriggle its way into the entry gate (because orderly queues are about as Italian as McDonalds). After handing our tickets over for inspection, we show our passports to about three different official looking types and hold up our arms as the Carrabinieri conduct a routine frisk of our pockets.

Once inside we find our grimy, dust covered seats with no back in our distiniti nord spots. The Curva Sud is already pumping out noise and the massive flags are moving around enthusiastically.

It is the fifth of April, 2008 and the Roman crowd can smell blood after seeing their title rivals Inter drop points to Juventus and Lazio in the previous two weeks.

In the setting Roman sun, the crowd stands as one and holding their scarves aloft belt out an inspiring Roma Roma Roma, as the teams enter the field. To the uninitiated, this display of unity and passion rates alongside the All Blacks Haka (and sounds way better at the Stadio rather than a dodgy Italian karaoke bar).

Roma get off to an absolute belter as they feed off the crowd and press hard on the Genoa goal, who are performing adequately to their mid-table mediocrity status. Within just 14 minutes, Roddrigo Taddei has latched onto a cross and prodded home. The stadium (including an injured Francesco Totti) explodes with a roar.

They have barely sat back down when De Rossi passes forward to Mirko Vucinic on the edge of the D. The Montenegrin's touch isn't great as he shins the ball away to his right. He moves to his left after it, and just when everyone thinks he is going to regain control and pass it back to the midfield, he unleashes a fizzing left foot shot over the defence and past the goalkeeper for arguably goal of the season.

Even my usually unflappable English mate, is on his feet shouting in wonder along with the 36,000 Romans at the sheer balls-iness of this team and their aggressive throat punching style. This is the team that has won me over with their spectacular champions league form and defiant refusal to leave Italian football to the northern half of the country.

As the second half gathers minutes, Genoa begins to gain a foot hold in the game. A young man named Marco Borriello appears their most likely threat, terrorising Mexes and Panucci. It is indeed a Borriello shot blocked by Doni that lands in the path of Marco Rossi who gets Genoa onto the score sheet. The crowd is a little annoyed but don't seem overly concerned.

And then... Roma happens.

Some unknown substitute called De Leon waltzes through the entire Lupi midfield and sends a right-footed drive past the helpless Doni, into the Roman net.

About three rows in front of us, two gentlemen in their 50s, (who were commendably silent for the first Genoa goal) stand up and let forth a cry of joy.

I gasp. Time seems to stand still. And then literally everyone around us who saw these guys celebrate, grin ruefully and shrug their shoulders. "Non me ne frega." Recalling all the horror stories of Italian football violence the media has brought me up on, it's nice to know that 99% of Roma tifosi are decent people.

After a title threatening first half blitz, Roma looked like it was woken mid-dream and couldn't quite get back to sleep. The tension ratcheted higher as both coaches made changes to break the deadlock.

Then in the 80th minute Marco Borriello puts forward an official expression of interest for employment to Rosella Sensi. He slides in, inside the area against Taddei with a god awful, ill-timed, sliding monstrosity, that only a striker could produce.

Wearing the Captain's armband, Daniele De Rossi steps up to the spot and after the mother of dramatic pauses, blasts the penalty into the top right hand corner of the net, sending us all into raptures and recovering the Giallorossi's 07/08 Scudetto hopes from the dust bin.

The celebration is vintage De Rossi. He runs over to the bench, holding out his shirt and is mobbed by his teammates. He is the gladiator winning over the Colosseum crowd. He is the most passionate man on the pitch. He is Capitano Futuro.

The final minutes of the game are played with most the crowd on their feet, waving their scarves. This is almost entirely in defiance at those that have been waiting for Roma to stumble and fall on their scudetto tilt. They don't have the money, they don't have the greatest stadium but they don't give a shit.

As we left the stadium to echoes of ‘Grazie Roma' and ‘Inter Merda!' I knew what I had just witnessed has moved this football team from ‘fond interest' into the ‘obsessive disciple' compartment of my brain I had previously reserved for the novel, Catch 22.

..........

AS Roma is not a giving entity. She takes, and she is very rarely done taking.

This is not a team where you can buy their shirt the year they win a title and forget about it two years later. You also can't randomly see these guys on TV every second Saturday night at the pub and develop a sub conscious familiarity.

To follow this team is to obsess about them. It is to sift through football websites searching for a single rumour that may shed some light on how this team will step on the rich clubs from the north and stop losing to f***ing Cagliari and Catania.

But it is also to have that very Roman chip on your shoulder. A chip that comes from knowing that if there was even a skerrick of justice in this world, Roma would dominate the world as a bastion of light against the petro-dollared defensive boors of Europe. Indeed, the suffering and outrage of the fans is one of the prime tenets of Roma that keeps band-wagon supporters at arms length while swallowing the romantic non-conformists hook, line and sinker.

It is a team with a distinctly Italian identity. Although the presence of Francesco Totti guarantees attention from abroad, it is Perrotta, De Rossi, hell even Spalletti, Aquilani (past tense), Florenzi and Destro that solidifies this side as a true Italian giant. This does not, of course, exclude Brazilians, Argentines and red haired Norweigans from the Eternal City's love. The fact that bona-fide heroes; De Rossi and Totti have stayed loyal to their homegrown clubs in the age of million dollar transfers, evokes far more than any trendy social media or Disney deal can.

AS Roma is the classic underdog. Serie A titles always seem just out of reach and European cup runs destined to draw Manchester f***in United. But it is from this suffering that it somehow manages to win a greater commitment. It is easy enough to follow a championship winning team. But it is also easy to stop following them when the headlines drop off and their name disappears from the weekly highlight shows (Inter who?).

In my country, it is a Sunday night / Monday morning 1am and 5am obsession. It is the long wait past your bedtime and then the frantic scramble to find a working stream (preferably not in Arabic or Uzbek). It is also a sign of defiance against the EPL nausea heralded as the second coming of Christ. It's the baffled looks of why your team has the name of a tiny central Queensland mining town and why someone replaced the E with an A.

But Roma is more than all of this, of course. It is football royalty and holds the respect of any knowledgeable football fan. To visit the Olimpico and watch the Tyler Durdan personality disorder in full flight is both necessary and surreal. The city and the team are so utterly connected it must be experienced rather than described.

It is the city that will keep this team planted during times of head shaking absurdity as well as ecstatic joys, regardless of how many international ‘Likes' it has. Regardless of where the boardroom lounge chairs sit and sponsorships are signed, the battle Roma fights will be won on the Italian peninsular!

And the battle for 2013/14 is kicking off in a week. Don't book any plans, you've got Church to attend.

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