Alberto Testa and Gary Armstrong
A & C Black
In Italy, Football fanatics are called Ultras and engage in many of the same soccer related activities as the Casuals in England. They fight with each other and they sing songs to their team while insulting the fans of their opponents.... and so forth. There are some differences too, though, unlike the English Casuals the UltraS wear their team colours and that’s about it for differences as far as I can tell from reading Football, Fascism, and Fandom. If there are other differences, they’re obscured by this book’s degree of focus on strictly neo-fascist UltraS firms, and their focus on uncharacteristically large firms.
Alberto Testa and Gary Armstrong make all the connections needed to satisfy the reader that the Irriducibili, supporter of SS Lazio, and the Boys, supporter firm of FC Roma, are great admirers of Mussolini, opponents of immigration, lovers of violence, etc. Just like everywhere, in England the English Defense League recruits from hooligans and in Germany, Football hooligans are thought to make up a significant component of the Islamophobic Pageda movement. It is interesting to read about the unique ways that these attitudes are given form among fans in Italy, the birthplace of Fascism, as the teams whose supporters are the object of study for this book both play in a stadium created by the Fascist regime in a city where some monuments to that period still stand.
While Testa’s and Armstrong’s book gets into all of the specific ways Fascism is given a new voice in Italian sports-fandom, particularly in these support clubs, there’s something disappointing about the tight focus this book places on Irriducibili and Boys when the book’s subtitle ‘The UltraS of Italian Football’ led me to believe that I would be reading an overview of the Italian UltraS scene with a focus on political attitudes. The two firms the book discusses, in that they support major clubs in Rome, are undoubtedly at the heart of Italian football, and they may be taken by the reader, at first, as representative of the larger UltraS scene. When reading through the book though, its suspect how typical they are. Irriducibili have built a brand of merchandise using the logos of their firm. How many other firms have a reputation that’s commercially viable? Additionally, they’re both neo-fascist groups, but its not surprising that there are connections between sports fandom and rightwing politics. Major league sports with city teams has, on a surface level, a lot to offer to adherents of the political right. There are moments in reading Testa and Armstrong’s account of these firms where they allude to other Italian teams having left-wing supporters, and I’d like to know more about them and how they come to be.
So essentially my issues with the book dont emerge from any problem with the book content but rather from a gap I perceive between the book and its content.
There was one statement in the book that I found especially troubling, when the authors noted that the method spectator’s used to express racism, that is, grunting like an animal when a black player took possession of the ball - the same method of expressing racism Bill Buford described witnessing on the English terraces in the 1980s in his 1991 hooligan ethnography, Among the Thugs - was practiced by the spectators at large, and not simply by the UltraS, and are therefore ‘beyond ideological explanation’. It is not at all clear to me how such a statement is true.