Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Friday December 19 2008
As you will have no doubt heard, Arsenal must face one of the pillars of the Eternal City in the next round of the Champions` League. The Gunners have a good record against Italian opposition, particularly under Arsene Wenger, who has slain Roma, Juventus, A.C. Milan, Lazio and Internazionale Milano in his tenure, though Fiorentina curtailed Dein`s infamous Wembley experiment when Gabriel Batistuta`s late goal saw Arsenal exit from the Champions` League group stages in 1999. George Graham masterminded victories over Torino, Parma and Sampdoria during Arsenal`s dual Cup Winners` Cup runs in the mid 90s. There was also a very infamous incident in Rome on the run to the 1970 Fairs Cup Final, Arsenal and Lazio players went for a meal together after a first leg 0-0 draw which ended with both sides brawling in the streets. It was a scuffle that is said to have firmly engendered a team spirit into Mee`s side which saw them win the trophy that year, before going onto the domestic 'Double` one season later. Arsenal faced Roma in the second Group stage of the competition in 2002-03; a memorable Thierry Henry hat trick gave Arsenal a 3-1 victory in the Stadio Olimpico after Antonio Cassano had given the home side the lead. The return at Highbury proved to be a drab 1-1 draw, Patrick Vieira`s header hilariously silenced the monkey chanting of the visiting support before Cassano capitalised on a Seaman error to equalise. Totti was later sent off for levelling Martin Keown. The guy must have some balls.
Roma play their home games at the Stadio Olimpico, which they share with fierce rivals Lazio. It houses 72,000 spectators and is possibly the most drab, characterless arena ever. Police envelope the running track besides the steep stands holding barking Alsatians on leashes. A.S. Roma have three Scudettos to their name, including one under the stewardship of England manager Fabio Capello. They have won the Coppa Italia nine times and are the current holders; they have one Inter Cities Fairs Cup. Like Arsenal, they have yet to win Europe`s most coveted prize, coming closest in 1984 when they lost the Final to Liverpool. Roma is a relatively young club in its contemporary guise. They were formed in 1927 according to the wishes of Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. Three Roman clubs were merged (Roman, Fortitudo and Alba Audace) who felt that the country`s capital city should have one strong football side to challenge Milan, Juventus and Bologna. Lazio resisted the merger. Roma is traditionally the club that represents the working class factions of the city, particularly the Testaccio region where they first played. Lazio are indicative of the more affluent population of Roma. The newly amalgamated club adopted the colours worn by Roman, the dark red, representing imperialism, whilst the gold is said to denote the colour of the Gods in Roman mythology. This has seen them anointed the nickname gialarossi in Italy, meaning 'the Gold and Reds.` Though they are often more colloquially referred to as I lupi meaning 'the wolves.` The wolf features on the club badge and invokes the myth of the creation of the city of Rome, where two infant sons, Romulus and Remus, were supposedly thrown into the River Tibus by their uncle Amelius, only to be rescued and raised by a she wolf. A.S. Roma is a club fiercely proud of its location and entrenched into the ancient origins of the Eternal City.
Roma is the 4th largest supported club in Italy, after the Milan clubs and Juventus. (Curiously, Juve are not well supported in Turin, the large majority of inhabitants there are Torino fans, Juve draw a much wider net for support). Roma`s ultras were traditionally left wing to reflect their working class backgrounds, with Lazio decidedly more right wing. But in recent years, this has changed as the younger ultras have leaned much further to the right than their ancestors. They sit in the South end of the ground and normally arrive hours before kick off in the steep South Bank, armed with flares. On my last visit, I had a 20p coin taken off me at the turnstile only to enter the stadium and find the Ultras brandishing what looked like a display of weapons grade plutonium. Roma`s club motto is La Roma non si discute, si ama, which means 'Rome is not to be questioned, but to be loved.`
Though Roma aren`t as highly decorated as their more Northern rivals, they have enjoyed an uninterrupted 57 year run in Serie A, making them the most established club in the top flight. Roma obtained their first ever Scudetto in 1941-42, but were at the zenith of their powers in the early 80s. They were league Runners up in 1981-82, before going one better and winning it in 1982-83. The next season they were runners up in Serie A and the European Cup, but did win a Coppa Italia. In 1985-86 they would be bridesmaids in Serie A again, but consoled themselves with the Coppa Italia. They haven`t been quite the same power since, but did win Serie A in 200-01 under Fabio Capello, with the likes of Montella, Totti, Delvecchio and Emerson pillars behind their success. Totti has since gone on to be club captain and one of the great heroes of the club`s history, considered the talisman for their side, he was raised in the city as a fanatical supporter of Roma, even eschewing the advances of A.C Milan when he was a teenager to join Roma`s academy. He is currently their all time most successful captain, record appearance maker and record goalscorer. If Real Madrid idolises Raul; Roma fans deify Totti. Roma fans have also recently been at the behest of tragedy as chairman and long time club owner Franco Sensi died after a long illness. His daughter Rosella has inherited ownership of the club, despite interest from club CEO George Seros.
Date:Friday December 19 2008
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