Serie A: How the right to sing insulting chants has united the Ultra in Italy

Derogatory chants based on 'territorial origin' led to Milan being ordered to play behind closed doors

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The Independent Football

While the flare-engulfed atmosphere of a Rome derby is something that could never quite be replicated in England, the advances made in the Premier League era means that ugly clashes spoiling the match day experience are also highly unlikely.

Italian football's Ultra are seemingly admired and loathed in equal measure. The hardcore fanbases are responsible for the incredible banners and displays of choreography we see at the biggest games, but also the racism and hatred that so often blights football on the peninsula.

The Ultra have always wielded too much power over the clubs and spend almost as much time fighting among themselves as they do battling one another. From Milan's Brigate Rossonere booing Paolo Maldini on his last appearance to various Juventus groups spending the summer of 2006 fighting over which faction would be in command, they have rarely, if ever, agreed on anything.

That all changed last weekend however, as the governing body ruled that Milan would be forced to play their next home game behind closed doors. The reason? A small section of their supporters had insulted Napoli fans, singing derogatory chants about the southern city and its people suffering from cholera.

This was, said the Italian Football Federation (the FIGC), in direct contravention of Article 14 of the new Uefa disciplinary code. The rule, which lays out guidelines on “racism, other discriminatory conduct and propaganda,” states that punishments should be handed to any team whose fans “insult the human dignity of a person or group of persons by whatever means, including on the grounds of skin colour, race, religion or ethnic origin.”

If that definition is too broad, the Italian FA took steps to clarify this summer as part of a clampdown on racism at stadiums. Article 11 of their rule book states that discriminatory conduct is defined as "any conduct which, directly or indirectly, causes offence, denigration or insult on grounds of race, colour, religion, language, sex, nationality, ethnic or territorial origin.”

This meant that the San Siro would be empty for the visit of Udinese on October 19 after FIGC observers reported hearing the chants as Milan lost to Juventus. The group responsible was too small to be picked up on television, and went unreported in the press, prompting Adriano Galliani to suggest the observers had "heard them in the toilet or at the bar.”

The Milan vice-president vowed to appeal in “every possible seat of justice,” not because he denied the rules were broken, but because he and the club disagreed with their existence. Milan have appealed to the disciplinary committee, getting the ban temporarily suspended as a result.

“I understand that racism is a big problem, a worldwide one. However, territorial discrimination is something different and the rule on that needs to be abolished." - Adriano Galliani

Yet more surprising has been the reaction of the Ultra, not of Milan, but of other clubs. While the Rossoneri's own Curva Sud largely missed the point, issuing a statement denying they were racist, many Ultra groups rallied behind the Rossoneri cause.

Napoli fans unfurled a banner at their game against Livorno which “Naples has cholera and now you should close our curva too!” They were joined by the Juventus ‘Fighters – Curva Sud Scirea’ group who issued a statement which read;

“This is just another pointless and unconstitutional mechanism to discriminate against the ultra, condemning freedom of speech.

“During the next game in Florence on October 20 we invite all the fans to sing along with us those famous chants of territorial discrimination. We invite supporters everywhere to unite in our protest by showing banners and singing these chants in every stadium on Friday 18, Saturday 19 and Sunday 20 October.”

Not to be outdone, Inter fans joined their rivals in protest, stating their hope that all fans "will make discriminatory chants so we can have one Sunday with total closure of the stadiums!" It may only be for the right to continue insulting each other, but it has united the Ultra and that makes it an issue that should not be taken lightly.

Were those rules to be extended across the continent, Premier League games involving Liverpool or Tottenham could see clubs handed similar punishments for comments about 'thieving Scousers' or Yids. Should those comments be treated in the same manner as racist abuse while other chants, such as those mocking the Heysel disaster, still go largely unpunished?

Those are most often heard when Juventus meet Fiorentina as they do this Sunday, but this latest turn of events may thankfully lead to their absence at the Artemio Franchi. The rule is as excessive as the reaction to it and it is unclear whether either will remain in place this coming weekend.

For once, eyes and ears may need to be turned to activity in the stands rather than on the pitch. Italian football may no longer be the pinnacle of the world game, but it seems the coming days could see it provide a landmark moment.