Nigel Gan is a dedicated Lazio fan from Singapore who is the author of ‘10,000 KM FOR YOU – The Travel Diary of a Football Fan: The Rome Derby’. Written entirely in English, the novel focuses on Nigel’s adventurous journey to the Derby della Capitale between Lazio and Roma while also briefly touching upon both history of the club and how the rivalry between the Biancocelesti and Giallorossi kick-started back in 1927. In collaboration with Nigel, The Laziali will be releasing the book chapter-by-chapter (on the website) to promote his work to Lazio supporters worldwide; below is Chapter X: Bisogna Vincere!.
“Nigel! You know we could potentially be staring at a parking lot.” John fusses.
Stadio Rondinella, the stadium where S.S. Lazio played her home games from 1914 to 1957, does not exist anymore in the present day. The ‘Stadium of the Fascist Party’, as it was formerly known, had been demolished as a victim of urbanization, and the ground converted into a parking lot. This glorious stadium was once a symbol of the Fascist regime under dictator Benito Mussolini and had seen the likes of Silvio Piola and the great Lazio goalkeeper, Ezio Sclavi, gracing its grounds.
I very much wish to visit this holy grail of my beloved team, but the idea of staring at a parking lot does sound a little silly to me, and after John’s persistent protests (that are turning violent), I reluctantly consent to scrap the idea.
“Let’s grab some beer and chill around the Olimpico instead! It’s a great place to hang out.” John says.
“Why? We are going there on match day anyway!” I reply.
“Nigel, the surroundings of the stadium are really cool. It’s not as chaotic as match day!”
Heeding John’s advice, we head to the Olimpico. It’s a gorgeous day and the massive 80,000-seater stands resolutely as we stroll across Ponte Duca d’Aosta towards the stadium. My past three visits to the Olimpico are all done in lightning-fast fashion; we reached the ground and got into the stadium immediately. I never really had the chance to observe the exterior of the stadium. This time around, I finally got the chance to admire her up close and personal.
Entering the external gates into the main compound of the stadium, the impressive mosaic pavements are inscribed with the words ‘DVCE’, or ‘Duce’, an indication of how powerful Mussolini was back then. The surroundings of the stadium are indeed as peaceful and serene as John had suggested. There are students playing a game of football, and a group of children with their remote-controlled cars. The atmosphere is a stark contrast to derby day, when there would be riot police outfitted in full armour, maintaining barricades amidst huge groups of fans heading into the stadium.
The idea of taking this route to the stadium on derby day is simply unthinkable, for one would be surrounded by thousands of Roma supporters. It’s the entrance to the Curva Sud, Roma’s end, so unless we are tired of living, it’s better to stick to the traditional Lazio route, which is on the opposite side of where we are.
From afar, we can make out the entrance of Roma’s Curva Sud, the South Curve.
“John, let’s sneak into the stadium and shit on the stands. I want those Romanisti to smell my crap!” I suggest.
“Nigel, I don’t want to die.” John grins.
“I know you are a brave old man, but I still want to marry a beautiful girl and have lots of babies!”
We arrive at an oval-shaped field with a running track and sit on the steps. Surrounding us are marble statues portraying naked male athletes in their various sporting disciplines.
Seated near us is a young couple locking lips and engaging in an embrace so intimate that I want to walk over and offer them my apartment bed. Other than the passionate pair, it’s a perfect day to just sit down and daydream the hours away. The magnificent sight of the Stadio Olimpico stirs the calmness from within me and eases the enormous derby pressure that’s inevitably creeping up.
Probably the most bizarre thing I’ve encountered in Rome happens when we are on the way to dinner with Massimo. We stop by at the café that I had been to the day before and wait in the car for John as he goes to say a quick hello to a friend.
Ten minutes later, John returns with a man. He’s stern-looking and has the looks of a typical bad-ass villain from a Hollywood movie. He introduces himself as Claudio.
“You are the guy with the Banner that says ‘10,000 kilometres’, yes?” He motions excitedly.
“Hmmm, yes…” I’m puzzled.
“Someone posted that picture of yours in the Lazio Ultras forum and it drew hundreds of comments!”
I remember posting the picture with my nephew at the airport on Facebook. Someone must have seen it and circulated it around on the internet.
“John was telling me that he was with a friend from Singapore, and something told me it had to be you!” He exclaims.
“You are very famous within the Lazio online community now! We are all very proud of you!”
“Ermm… Grazie!” I reply with a mixture of surprise and uncertainty.
I cannot fathom this piece of news. It’s unbelievable! Even as I chronicle this moment, it still amazes me to have someone that I had never previously seen in my life coming up to tell me he recognizes me from a picture in a forum.
The following day, I spend the entire time by myself as John and his friends, who had just arrived from Holland, travel to Grosetto for a Serie B match. One of his friends became a huge Grosetto fan after catching the game in their city.
In order to restore all the energy lost over the past few days (mostly from late-night drinking), I sleep the remainder of the day away. In the evening, I head to the Lazio Land dinner event at the Flann O’Brien bar and meet up with the rest of the society’s members – joined by Pieter, Sascha and Darren (Pieter is a Belgian, Sascha a German and Darren an Englishman), all of whom are regulars who have attended the derby more than a dozen times. This annual gathering has already become a fundamental part of their lives.
“Lots of respect to you guys!” I yell. The music is roaring in the background.
“It’s not easy to set down your obligations back home and fly all the way to Rome for the derby!”
“You flew ten thousand kilometres Nigel!” Pieter remarks. “You are the man!”
“Considering all the trips that you have made, I am sure you have exceeded ten thousand kilometres.” I duly pay back the compliment.
The others start arriving in the bar. There’s Paolo, Kris and Farida, the hilarious couple from Sweden, Alex from Denmark, who travels the world with his Lazio scarf, the Sneaths, and many more. It’s a reunion of good old friends, and seeing the smiles and laughter on the faces of those multi-ethnic Laziali is a priceless moment. It makes me feel like part of one great family.
“Nigel, how did you convince your wife to let you come?” Debbie teases.
“Well, it’s easy. I only need to buy her a Louis Vuitton bag worth 700 Euros.” I reply.
“What?!” Martin looks like he had just seen the ghost of John Lennon.
“Get them from China, Nigel! They are fake but they look damn real!” He suggests.
Too late, as I had already done the shopping at Via Del Corso, the haven of designer brands. I was tasked by my wife to call her as I explained in excruciating detail the colours and designs of the bags while boutique-hopping. (I nearly wet myself when I received the phone bill.)
Martin and Debbie Sneath are from Nottingham, England. Not only are they derby veterans, they’re also well-respected members on the forum. Well-known for their undying passion for the team, Martin became an overnight Internet star when videos of him appearing topless on the freezing terraces of the Stadio Olimpico surfaced on Youtube. He had apparently taken off his shirt in celebration after Miroslav Klose scored the penultimate goal against Roma in the last derby. His muscular body, comparable to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s, plus his roar of ‘C’MONNNNNN!’ at the end of that match still gives me the chills.
Kristoffer hands me a stack of stickers. It’s about his group back in Sweden, the Brigata Biancoceleste Svedese (I can never pronounce the word ‘Svedese’), a Lazio Ultra group in Sweden that’s huge locally. ‘Contro La Tessera’ (Against the Fan ID Card), it reads. It is referring to the controversial ‘Tessera Del Tifoso’, the card which the government of Italy and the police introduced, in order to reduce crowd trouble in the stadiums. I really enjoy pasting the stickers on every street lamp, traffic lights and building walls after the function. If I’ve done this back in my own country, I will be put behind bars or caned down my bottom.
Shortly, Paolo gives a motivational speech to the crowd, thanking us for coming, and plays a short video montage of the Rome Derby. The place suddenly turns silent as everyone’s eyes are glued to the big screen. I’m near drunk, but I can still make out the eyes of everyone present at the bar; the tension, the rage and the look of ‘we must win tomorrow’ on their faces.
“Bisogna Vincere La Lazio!” (We must win, La Lazio!)