Football in Italy

The national sport

Football or soccer ( calcio) is Italy’s national sport and by far the most important in Italy, occupying almost the entire first half of each issue of La Gazzetta dello Sport. Italian football fans ( tifosi) are among the most dedicated and fervent in Europe, matched in their fanaticism only by the English, Scottish and Spanish.

No football fan should pass up the opportunity to experience the passions aroused by a first-class match ( partita). Matches are often packed with incident, both on and off the field. Despite the chanting and passion though, there’s little threat of physical violence as there is in some other countries.

The concept of having several beers (or a dozen) before a match is foreign to Italian supporters, who are more likely to have a coffee, and drunkenness at matches is practically unknown, despite the sale of alcohol inside many grounds. Italian regional pride is much in evidence on the terraces, which is only briefly forgotten when watching the national team ( azzurri).

Italy has a proud tradition in international football and has won the World Cup on four occasions – in 1934, 1938, 1982 and 2006; only Brazil has won more often.

Italy claims to have one of the best leagues in the world (although Spain’s La Liga and the English Premier League have overtaken it in the 21st century), with some of the world’s most famous clubs (Inter Milan and Juventus are household names) and biggest stars.

Major matches can attract huge attendances – although the average attendance in the top division, Serie A, in 2006 was only 19,361, the lowest for 40 years – and Italy’s top clubs have been among the most successful in Europe.

In fact, 2006 was a dark year for Italian football because it saw scandal engulf Serie A, with alleged match fixing involving the league champions, Juventus, and other top teams, including A. C. Milan, Fiorentina, Lazio and Reggina.

The teams were accused of rigging games by selecting favourable referees and punished by points deductions, fines and bans from European competition, Juventus being demoted to Serie B). The affair left a sour taste in the mouths of Italian football fans and caused widespread disillusion with the game.

The Italian league consists of four divisions: Serie A, B, C1 and C2. Serie A is the top division with 18 teams, and ticket prices cost from around €20 to €120. The season runs from around the end of August to June, with a break in December-January.

At the end of the season the top team in Serie A wins the championship ( campionato) and ‘ Lo Scudetto’, while the bottom four teams are relegated to Serie B. Matches are played on Sundays, usually in the afternoon, although they sometimes take place in the evening.

A common sight on a Sunday is Italian families out for an afternoon stroll, the men with radios pressed to their ears so as not to miss any of the action! The season culminates with the Italian Cup ( Coppa Italia) final in June.

For those more interested in playing than watching, even small towns usually have several clubs and there are leagues and competitions at every level. Five-a-side football is also popular, as is eight-player football ( calciotto), and pitches can be hired at most sports centres. Many companies have five-a-side teams and arrange matches on an informal basis or enter competitions held at a local sports centre.

There are a number of websites where you can obtain football results and information, such as www.dossier.net , and most clubs have their own websites, e.g. www.inter.it  (Inter Milan) and www.juventus.it  (Juventus).

This article is an extract from Living and Working in Italy. Click here to get a copy now.

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