Italian club Lazio have a deeply rooted stereotype that their fans are overwhelmingly right-wing but a group of supporters have mobilised themselves to build a new Laziale and Anti-Fascist (LAF) identity.
The emblematic eagle of the Stadio Olimpico side, also the symbol of the fascist party of Benito Mussolini, under the slogan “Love Lazio, Fight Fascism” is one of the stickers printed by LAF.
The group, created in 2011, aims to “destroy the stereotype of the Fascist Laziale in Italy and throughout the world,” one of the administrators of its Facebook page told AFP, on condition of anonymity.
LAF claims it has several thousand followers, several hundred active members, and says it pursues a two-fold aim.
Its two goals are “to erase from the name of Lazio any infamous political label” and “to prevent neo-fascist movements from continuing to use the Curva Nord (North Stand) from indoctrinating young people who have entered the stadium only to support Lazio”.
But doing so will be difficult as the Roman club has regularly been sanctioned for the political excesses of some of its supporters.
On Thursday, Lazio will host Celtic in the Europa League, a fixture for which local authorities have imposed exceptional security measures.
The Curva Nord will also be closed as punishment for fascist salutes by a section of the crowd during a match against French club Rennes.
In the reverse fixture in Scotland, travelling fans were filmed making fascist, raised-arm salutes in Glasgow city centre.
They were greeted at Parkhead by a banner from Celtic supporters with an image of Mussolini hanging by his feet and the message “Follow Your Leader”.
In April in Milan, Lazio supporters paid tribute to the dictator with a flag saying “Honour to Benito Mussolini” at Piazzale Loreto, where his body was exposed and then hung upside down after his execution in 1945. The banner was signed “IRR” — the Irriducibili — Lazio’s main hardcore ultra supporters group.
“The Curva Nord has been under the control of the Irriducibili for 30 years and they conquered it with the help of organised crime at the expense of the Eagles supporters,” explained the unnamed head of LAF, in reference to the group, which dominated the stand from the late 1970s to the 1980s.
Within the Irriducibili, “if we talk about activists who are really active politically, we talk in dozens, it’s not even a hundred,” Sébastien Louis, a sociologist specialising in radical groups across Europe told AFP in 2017.
The fringe group’s influence makes it easy to forget Lazio’s original stance against far-right views.
They refused to bow to Mussolini’s desire to merge different capital city clubs, which resulted in the birth of arch-rivals Roma in 1927.
The current-day anti-fascists are trying to build another image, with the support of fans from other clubs, like with the event organised in Rome before last Thursday’s European tie by fans of Celtic and the group Laziali di Sinistra (Laziale Left) in a community centre.
“Among us are active communists, anarchists, socialists, social democrats, liberals and others who do not care: it is not the political ideology that counts but the way that each one of us actively goes about their anti-fascism,” explained the LAF leader.
He added that the issue of racism in football grounds is apparent across Italy and was highlighted by the incident between Mario Balotelli and Verona supporters last weekend.
“The vast majority of Italian stands are in the hands of neo-fascist groups,” he said. — AFP