Italy’s capital city is just as magical as the movies and the books make it out to be. A diverse and bustling centre filled with streams of tourists where people routinely walk in the middle of the cobbled streets eating ice-cream or sit on the famous Spanish Steps smelling the empowering scent of a perfectly made 'café' from a barista around the corner.
Although they may deny it, the Capital is also occupied with other Italians that wish they were born Roman. But looking beyond the classic architecture that offers itself to gaping eyes – or the lovers on the sidewalk that find themselves enhanced by the mystical lights at night – Rome is a footballing city.
Divided between the strict colours of red and blue, a true Roman either supports Roma or Lazio. There is no happy medium and the fans make this point loud and clearly on derby day!
When I – as an ardent Milan fan – was fortunate enough to find myself at the Stadio Olimpico for the 2013 Coppa Italia final, the event couldn't have paired two more passionate teams to face off against each other for the trophy.
Just like it took hundreds of years to build the Colosseum and a day to bring it down, the final was one that could have shattered the city in two. It was the Roman derby, Francesco Totti versus Stefano Mauri, ‘i Lupi’ up against ‘le Aquile’ and, most importantly, ‘il Derby della Capitale’.
As a football lover I had attended my fair share of matches, but this was my first in Rome and this match was certainly a big deal. People had been brutally injured, even killed, while being a spectator at an ordinary league fixture. This was a cup final and I was a 24-year-old girl on her own, in a stadium packed to a capacity crowd of 82,000 people.
They say people go to the Eternal City to find love, but I simply fell in love with the ‘Beautiful Game’ all over again. I found myself in the Giallorossi section of fans and upon hearing the club's anthem echo in the Stadio Olimpico – reverberating into the players’ changing rooms and across the Tiber River – I was simply bowled over.
The scenes on display before kick-off were something out of a picture book. Both teams’ flags were waving, and the frightening jumping up and down from the locals got my heart racing and in the mood to join in. Heck, even the toxic smells of the flares being thrown onto the field got me riled up with excitement.
Although Lazio's scrappy 1-0 win wasn't the most entertaining of matches, the atmosphere was truly captivating. On any other occasion, one would feel that their life was at stake upon seeing the flares set sail from one end of the ground to the other, resulting in the 100-man security wall tripling in a matter of just eight minutes.
I had the feeling that the concrete floor at our feet may collapse beneath us, something else that would leave most people terrified. Yet, I felt secure in that mass frenzy of hyper-adrenaline fuelled ‘Lupi’ fans.
I swiftly became addicted to the adrenaline of feeling so relaxed among such a wild crowd. In that moment, I knew the reason why fans kept coming back to games like these even when they are usually considered ‘unsafe’ - it makes you feel sensationally alive. I had come to understand the essence of being from the Eternal City - passionate, fearless and full of life.
After all, isn’t that what the Roman Gladiators stood for?
Aurelio Andreazzoli’s side may have lost that evening, but as I walked along the bank of the Tiber that night, I felt a change in myself. I felt like I turned Roman during those passionate and colourful 90 minutes of football. Fear not though – by the time the full-time whistle blew – my Milanista soul was restored.
To be in and amongst that maniacal and brilliantly stimulating crowd is the only way to travel to Rome, and truly understand the meaning of following either of its football teams.
By Rossella Marrai-Ricco: @RossellaMarrai