Imagine the burden of carrying the tag of ‘the most racist fans’ in a country already engulfed in the shadows of all-that-is-bad-in-football. The city of Verona, Shakespeare’s setting for Romeo and Juliet, has a very amorous aura to it. The sun is high, couples are holding hands, kissing in front of the majestic statue ofAi??Dante Alighieri, and romance is in the air.

Surprisingly, though, violence is right around the corner and goes by the name of Hellas Verona and its Ultras. The man holding hands with his lover, walking serenely downAi??Piazza dei Signori, could very well be hurling abuses and indulging in racist chants, when he joins Hellas’s Curva. This Jekyll and Hyde nature of the football fan is perhaps most evident in Verona.

Ask Tim Parks, author of ‘A Season With Verona’. In a country, where football is seen as a way of expression and voicing one’s anger, be it hurling down insults or a scooter down one’s Curva, racism is seen as a new frontier with much promise. And Hellas Verona’s Ultras have carved out a niche for themselves.

So the fans were genuinely rather surprised when a particular section of theAi??Stadio Marcantonio Bentegodi, Hellas Verona’s stadium shared with Chievo Verona, was closed for their hurling of racist slurs at AC Milan’s midfielder Suley Muntari. But to many, there remains nothing wrong in using racial slurs, as a force to resist the enemy’s (opponents) advance.

Notice the Nazi salutes

Fans doing the Nazi salutes

The infamous Brigate Gialloblu was formed at the time of political turmoil. The Brigate’s ideology which shifted from the extreme left, during the time of it’s inception to the extreme right in the mid ’70s, is perhaps proof of the chaos that characterizes it. Although the Brigate can be blamed for violence related to football, given that hooliganism was at an all new high in Italy and Ultras found the Curvas as a way of blending in with others, one incidence stands out.

Cagliariai??i??s Julio Uribe, the first wave of black players in Italy, was taunted with a banana that was thrown directly at him, whilst Uribe, was getting ready for a corner kick. The Brigate were dissolved in 1991, following threats by judges to indict them as ‘criminals’ as the media had already done in 1985, after the infamous Yellow and Blue literally set the lowly city of Brescia on fire.

Still, racism was something the Italian Curvas and Hellas were setting a benchmark for. Players of darker skin-tones were often subjected to racist slurs and taunting by their own fans.Ai??The first black to play for Lazio was Aron Winter, who played from 1992 to ’96 but left because of abuse from his own team’s fans and especially Ultras, who had a very race-driven approach in the terraces. Hellas Verona’s ultras took all this, as always, to a new frontier. Flags, embedded with Celtic crosses and Swastikas, were a common feature in the Hellas’ Curva Sud and perfectly displayed the extreme approach of fans who were hellbent on swatting away black players.

The black dummy

The black dummy

Hellas Verona fans, put on a spectacle to convey the extremes of their hate, when it came to black players. In 1996, a derby with local rivals Chievo, witnessed something out of this world. A black dummy, donning a Hellas Verona jersey was hung by the noose, tied to the railing where the Ultras reside, with a banner reading “Negro, get out of hereai???, above.Ai??The dummy was an imitation of Dutch defensive midfielder,Ai??Maickel Ferrier, who was believed to be on his way to Verona. Days after this public protest, the deal withAi??Ferrier fell through.

The Veronese also indulged in racism against fellow Italians, populating the southern part of the peninsula and especially against age old enemies Napoli. The northern Italians at that time had a prejudiced view of southern Italians, possibly due to their contrasting political beliefs. Verona vs Napoli, north Italy against south, is a spectacle to watch even now, highlighted by the varied dramas enacted by the Ultras. The chants of “Vesuvius rain down on them” by Veronese supporters used against the Neopolitians are common and can be heard ringing in the Curvas even today. The chant is very simple and refers to their hope the volcano Vesuvius would rain down on Naples and engulf the city in lava, much like Pompey.Ai??Even when Diego Maradona played for the first time against Verona, he said: ai???We were greeted with a banner that made me suddenly understand that the match was not just about football.ai??? The banner read ai???Welcome to Italyai???.

In recent times, however, the fixture hasAi??brought a satirical best out of the Veronesi after they revealed a banner reading “Neapolitansai??i?? Sons of Juliet”. It was a humorous response to a previously unveiled Napoli banner which taunted Verona’s romantic heroine Juliet, proclaiming she was a ‘whore’. Racism very much resides and runs deep within Veronese veins till now. Napoli’sAi??Pablo Armero was the victim to both anti-southern and anti-black prejudice, when he played against Hellas Verona, and was often subjected to racist slurs.

This is not all.

The match against Livorno, is always special and revered as an opportunity to express one’s truest emotions.Ai??Approximately 30 minutes after the start of the match, some of the fans of the away team, began to shout a slogan against Piermario Morosini, a Livorno player who died before about six months. A tragedy that rang round the world and saw fans of different teams pay tribute to the unlucky player. This shameful behavior incident was rued even by many Ultra groups, who believed that Hellas Verona had broken the code of honor and values.

Everything has its limits.

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