Saturday, December 15, 2007

Soccer in Italy – more than just a game

Someone from the Rick Steves’ graffiti wall said that they believed that you could get quite an accurate picture of what Italians are really like before you visited Italy by reading Tim Parks' three books on living there: Italian Neighbors, An Italian Education and A Season with Verona. I’ve just reread all three as part of the preparation for my upcoming trip to Italy.

A Season With Verona is part travelogue and part psychological study of the culture of being a fan of Serie A – in particular of the "Brigate Gialloblu”.

Tim Parks had lived in Italy for 20 years before he wrote this book about supporting his local team of Verona, the club, Italian politics and his experiences of trips on the supporter's bus as he watched every league game during one season. He was already a regular home supporter, but traveling up and down Italy with some of the most loyal fans to all the away games, was a different thing all together.

Whether you are a fan of football or not, this book, like the other two, is part of an Italian education. And I've learned a lot of chants, like: Go the Brigate Gialloblu, the yellow-blue brigade!

What I liked about it was the way Tim Parks showed how soccer is like life, and also how soccer affects so many aspects of life, regardless of whether you like soccer or not. He really looks closely at the regional and cultural divisions that exist in Italy and that show themselves through this sport.

He writes about how Northern Italy (and he thinks Verona in particular), is seen as a last bastion of racism. At the time he wrote the book, in 2002, Hellas Verona had no black players, and the fans shouted racist comments to blacks on opposing teams. He discusses the theory that the big city teams control the Italian soccer federation, and make the referees biased against the provincial teams, such as Verona.

In A Season With Verona, Tim Park helps us to understand that people act and behave at the soccer, in ways they would never do in everyday ordinary situations. But as he says, soccer is not just an ordinary sport to Italians. It’s taken very seriously. Throughout the book he compares the soccer fanaticism to religion – or religious fervor. In fact, I read somewhere that, “Stadiums become temples, and players saints.”

Here is a fascinating link to where Tim Parks is interviewed by an Australian journalist. Whatever you may think of the book - it's certainly an eye opener!


Hellas Verona - 'curva' of the Brigate Gialloblu.

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