A plea for change in Italian football

18 March at 23:30

By: Matthew Klimberg

It fills me with both sadness and excitement to know this will be my final article for Calciomercato. My time in Italy has been a wonderful journey, owed in no small part to my friends and colleagues at the website. Alas, the time to return to America has come, and I do so with an confident eye towards the future.

Rather than giving my opinion on a team or a player with my final article, I will leave you with a story I’d like to share.

Earlier today I attended OGC Nice – PSG at Allianz Riviera. It was a wonderful experience complete with goals, pyrotechnics in the stands, and a baguette poulet. Following the match, which the visitors took with a late goal from Dani Alves, I headed back to the city center before returning to Milan.

In the two hours before my train departed Nice-Ville, I decided to fulfill a curiosity of mine and ordered frog legs and a salad niçoise. While enjoying the frogs (they do, in fact, taste like chicken), I struck up a conversation with a man next to me, whose children were wearing OGC Nice scarves.

It turns out they, like me, were in Nice for the match and would be returning home later that night. For Danny and his two sons, home is in London. Danny has been taking his two sons (aged 9 and 11) across Europe to different stadiums so they can get a sense of other football atmospheres and the cultures that surround them.

He told me stories of taking them to Marseille, Amsterdam, Dortmund, and other great football cities. As an Italian soccer journalist, naturally, I asked him which Italian clubs he has taken them to see. Suddenly, and assertively, he responded, “I won’t take them there.”

Danny, and his family, is black. He, himself, visited Lazio and Napoli matches two years ago with a friend. Danny didn’t need to speak any Italian to know what some fans were saying, nor be a body language expert to know what others were thinking when they saw him.

He made it clear that he doesn’t want his children, at least at their current ages, to experience the acute level of racism he was subjected to.

Italian football is no stranger to racism controversies. Heck, earlier this week I witnessed a disturbing incident where a Roma fan beside me made monkey noises whenever Fred, a black player for Shakhtar Donetsk, touched the ball. I was so caught off guard it took me nearly half-an-hours to realize what he was doing.

What was worse is that it was normal-enough behavior that he continued for 90 minutes with that display, unquestioned and unchecked by anyone, including the steward standing mere meters from him.

This is hardly anything new or unusual in Italian football. You can read more about Italian football’s struggle with racism, which extends far beyond the pitch, HERE (from 2013, but still as relevant as ever).

In closing, I just hope that sooner, rather than later, the FIGC takes a long look in the mirror. Aside from the basic human decency which isn’t being afforded to those affected, repeated bouts of racism are hurting growth of the beautiful game in such an otherwise beautiful country.

Drastic changes are overdue in Italy, but it’s never too late to start. With each passing day that goes by without changes, younger generations will be exposed, and de-sensitized to racism. The FIGC, and Italian football fans must make changes now to preserve the beauty of the sport for their children.

I hope Danny’s grandchildren are able to enjoy a match in Italy with their fathers as much as they have in England, France, Holland, and Germany with James.
Matthew Klimberg

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