Some observers contend that these incidents are linked to the rise of neo-fascism in Italy. In the north, a number of demagogic politicians have organized home-rule parties that preach enmity toward outsiders, particularly toward people from the impoverished south, whom the northern extremists view as racially inferior. Storm-trooping soccer clubs such as the Goebbels Brigade spout even slimier slogans than the politicians.
Other people maintain that television has worsened the situation by holding a distorting lens to the game. "Violence at soccer is an outcry to be visible," Ferrarotti says. "You break somebody's head and the next day you are on TV."
The second half of the Roma-Lazio derby was a jamboree of violence, both on and off the field. Four players were shown yellow cards. Two were sent off. It was, as journalists in the press box remarked, a bella partita (beautiful match) but a brutta faccenda (ugly affair). Roma held on to win 1-0 on a goal by V�ller, and as soon as the match was over, gangs of CUCS clambered over the Plexiglas barrier to celebrate. Scavenging for souvenirs, the fans clawed jerseys and even shorts off Roma players, then sprinted away, pursued by police, German shepherds and irate, jockstrap-clad men.
Spectators set fires as they filed toward the exits, releasing a shower of hot ash and plumes of smoke. Nobody appeared to be particularly concerned. When I asked whether things had been worse than expected, a plainclothesman shrugged and told me it was about normal for a Roma-Lazio derby. Fifteen people, 13 of them policemen, were injured, and 28 tifosi were arrested. More arrests were expected once authorities reviewed the film from their spy cameras.
Strangely, most Italians don't believe this sort of brawling will break out during the World Cup. They argue that their brand of soccer violence is less drunken and indiscriminate than that of other European countries, and more limited to traditional rivalries. Italian fans claim they have no reason to fight foreigners, and they mean to be on their best behavior when the eyes of the world, not to mention the police cameras, are trained on them.
However, everybody is nervous about the possibility of trouble between the hooligans of England and the Netherlands. For the first round, the teams from those nations have been exiled to Sardinia and Sicily, as if to Devil's Island. The city of Cagliari on Sardinia, site of England's matches, is bracing itself for another in a long history of invasions by barbarians. The local police have joined forces with British and Dutch authorities and have considered banning the sale of alcohol in the city the night before each match. If these precautions don't work, maybe the Sardinians will revert to their ancient custom of feeding malefactors to the pigs.
Swept along by the crowd leaving the match, I strolled toward the Tiber River and crossed the Milvian Bridge. Not far from the opposite shore stands the Stadio Olimpico, site of the World Cup final. It is part of a complex of athletic facilities started in Mussolini's day and known as the Foro Italico. Although II Duce's name has been expunged from most of the monuments, it is still visible on an obelisk near the stadium. The massive, vainglorious buildings and pompous "classical" statues of athletes were meant to recall the grandeur of ancient Rome, which Mussolini hoped to recreate. Now the pretentious hunks of marble serve as billboards for graffiti, and the statues—even the skier and ice skater are nude except for G-strings—prompt more wisecracks than awe.
The hapless dictator wasn't the last Italian with overblown ambitions. After Italy learned in 1984 that it would host the 1990 World Cup, the government allocated $4.1 billion to finance an overhaul of 10 stadiums, the construction of new stadiums in Bari and Turin, and an upgrading of railroads, highways, hotels and press and TV facilities. But politicians got to bickering over the spoils, and more than five years were wasted.
In Florence, the Christian Democratic party opposed expansion of Campo di Marte, declaring that the 1932 stadium designed by Pier Luigi Nervi should be preserved as a work of art. In Bari, Italia Nostra, an organization devoted to the protection of the nation's cultural patrimony, protested that the new stadium was located in an archaeological zone. A spokesman for the World Cup organizing committee retorted, "Except for the mountains, all of Italy is an archaeological area."
A dizzy series of mistakes also disrupted the building schedule. In Genoa, workers had to elevate the field of the newly renovated stadium when somebody discovered that 2,000 spectators would have obstructed sight lines. And in Naples, workers laboring near San Paolo stadium drilled into what they thought was a subway tunnel but turned out to be an important water main.