Tell it on a mountain: ‘Perugia Nation’

By Rachel Slajda

“Na na na na, na na na na, hey-ay-oh, forza grifo!”

So goes my favorite chant for Perugia’s beloved soccer team. The grifo, or griffin, is the symbol of both the city and the team, and is incorporated into most of the chants and proudly displayed on flags, jerseys and bare skin.

Now when I say beloved, don’t think of it as the same way the Red Sox are beloved in Boston. This is something much fiercer and more fervent than even the most ardent Sox fan, that Irish-Catholic Southie-native with a big B painted over his beer gut.

Sure, members of “Red Sox Nation” break into a rousing chorus of “Yankees suck!” at every New York-Boston game … OK, every baseball game … every sporting event … and keg party … let’s just say every time more than six are gathered in the same place. But from the cheering section at this week’s Perugia-Lucchese game came the most complex, elaborate songs which everyone knew by heart, both lyrics and well-timed gestures, and the simple yet poignant “Lucca Lucca va’ fanculo!”

Whenever a player was hurt and medics raced to the field in a golf cart, the chanting didn’t pause for a moment. One of Perugia’s own was taken away in a stretcher while the fans sang out a ditty which someone translated for me as “Your mother’s a bitch,”-directed at the other team, of course.

These fans didn’t even leave the stands for a beer during play. They went en masse during half time for their 1.5 euros plastic cup but didn’t budge as long as there was action on the field – some of which came from the bombs they threw. Maybe “bombs” is extreme; they were more like small exploding devices that, upon impact, made a noise like a gunshot and a cloud of smoke. A few made it from the stands to the sidelines and behind the goal, but one made it to the field. It exploded and startled the opposing goalie, who quickly continued playing unfazed.

To reiterate: The fans bombed the field.

It worked, apparently, as Perugia won after one magnificent save and two equally spectacular – or so one would think, by the fan reaction – goals. The 20 or so American students I was with filed out with the masses, while the hard core fans stayed, still chanting and singing to the other team.

We were waiting for the bus, still decked out in jerseys, hats and Perugia flags, when we saw Lucca’s fans leaving the upper decks of the stadium, flanked by cops in full riot gear.

Again, you may be reminded of the sports-related release of riot cops in Boston. So was I, until several came up to us and began speaking in Italian and pointing down the road. Not understanding, we followed, thinking the leader was directing us to another bus stop. Instead he led us behind a nearby house, where he told us to wait and hide for 10 minutes.

We were hiding, all of us huddled behind this house, from the losing team’s fans as they were escorted from the stadium. We joked around and snuck pictures of the fans marching by. One woman told us its not uncommon to see people fight – and get stabbed – after matches.

Eventually the coast was clear, and we finally emerged. One man almost got hit by a car on its way back to Lucca, but we managed to crowd safely onto the next bus. On our way up the hill we passed the procession, a mass moving slowly up the center of the street toward the train station, a band of riot police at each end.

The riot police we’re used to only show up after big games – the ALCS, the Super Bowl – to protect the city from itself. These were there at a regular game, not especially important and far from sold out, to protect rival fans from each other.

As tiresome as the New York-Boston bad blood is, New York fans sure as hell don’t fear stabbings outside Fenway.

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