Livorno: The Alternative Guide

Stadium: Stadio Armando Picchi, Livorno, 1935, capacity 19,234

The Stadio Armando Picchi has held matches within its walls since 1933 but the structure was not finished until 1935. The opening game, between the Italy and Austria B teams, finished goalless in a fixture that was typical of the Mussolini era. The stadium was initially called the Stadio Edda Ciano Mussolini and was built in the typical style of the day. With Livorno’s historically strong left-wing political leanings, it is perhaps strange that the club’s arena was born out of this.

The stadium was renamed in 1971 after their ex-player Armando Picchio, who is probably better known from the “Grande Inter” team of the 1960s. Despite some upgrades in the 1960s, the stadium remains a relic of the Mussolini era and, while it has a few modern comforts, it retains that typical Italian charm. The lack of investment saw it overlooked as a venue for Italia 90 World Cup matches but the anonymity it has suffered has played into the supporters’ hands. They see the ground as their hidden fortress and take pride in its old-school appearance. There is no pressure from the locals to relocate or renovate the stadium. Instead they revel in its rugged appearance.

The stadium is located two miles south of the city centre and is easily accessible. If you head to the Ardenza neighbourhood you will not go wrong, but don’t expect too much in the way of refreshments when you get there. The stadium is in the middle of a residential area and has little to offer. If you are travelling to Livorno, you are going for the football as it certainly is not one of Tuscany’s most attractive areas.

Be warned. Violence has broken out with ultra groups from Roma, Lazio, Internazionale and Verona due to political differences between supporters. The left-wing element of Livorno’s support has seen the Livornesi 99 group team up with other politically minded football clubs across Europe, including AEK Athens and Marseille.

This maybe a hostile place to travel but it has an incredible atmosphere and the choreography and pyrotechnics will be as good as anywhere in Serie A. In fairness, there has been little in the way of mainstream trouble over the last few years and you should be able to take in a home match in a relatively safe (yet far from comfortable) environment.

Stadium Picchi

The Stadio Armando Picchi

The Ultras

It was the first game of the 2004-05 season in Serie A and newly promoted Livorno travelled to the San Siro to face Milan. The Tuscans earned a surprise 2-2 draw but for many Livorno fans, the result was trivial. The fixture transcended the average footballing rivalry. Milan were an economic juggernaut backed by media tycoon and then-president, Silvio Berlusconi. Livorno – a bastion of left-wing ideology – seized the opportunity to mock their “betters”, especially Berlusconi. During the summer of 2004, Berlusconi had been pictured wearing a bandana while entertaining Tony Blair and his wife Cherie in Sardinia. The Italian media claimed the bandana was disguising a hair transplant and the photo soon went viral.

Around 10,000 Livornesi turned up at the San Siro, with 4,000 of them wearing white and maroon coloured bandanas with the inscription “Silvio, we are coming”. The baiting continued as they unveiled a banner reading “Berlusconi: Brocchi, chi ti vota.” The statement was a play on words. Christian Brocchi was a former Milan midfielder but colloquially the word Brocchi also signifies someone who is useless in a sporting context. Thus roughly translated the banner read “Berlusconi voters are useless.” Unsurprisingly Berlusconi took umbrage and Livorno were regularly fined for such flagrance. This never proved a deterrent. The Livorno fans have been on-hand for every Berlusconi peccadillo to deride the politician.

Formed in 1915, AS Livorno are not renowned as one of Calcio’s heavyweights. Since enjoying a prosperous yet transient spell in the 1940s – in which they maintained their Serie A status for seven years, including a second-place finish behind Il Grande Torino in 1943 – Livorno have been perennial strugglers. But their ultras have a unique identity, one rooted in their left-wing political ideology and strong affinity to their city (otherwise known as Campanilismo).

The history of this port city reveals how the Livornesi came to embrace this distinct identity. During the 15th century, the ruling Medici family of Florence constructed a port at Livorno and passed a range of laws, known as the Leggi Livornine, allowing merchants of any nation to colonise the republic. Jews, Turks, Moors, Armenians, Persians and others arrived, creating a cosmopolitan city.

Industrialisation and Italy’s Risorgimento (unification) added to the melting pot, with growing political activism among the city’s workers. In 1921, the formation of the Italian Communist Party in Livorno cemented the city’s left-wing tradition. This cultural and political history has proved immutable and since the inception of the Ultras Livorno in 1976, the Curva Nord of the Stadio Armando Picchi has been a constant outlet for Livornese identity.

Before the formation of the famed Brigate Autonome Livornese (BAL) in 1999, the Curva Nord was divided and disorganised. This was due to schisms between groups including Magenta, Fedayn, Sbandati and Gruppo Autonomo. However, an amalgamation of the aforementioned quartet led to the inception of the BAL, who brought structure to the Livorno support, underpinned by their leftist ideology.

Communist symbols such as the red star and the hammer and sickle have been a leitmotif. Images of socialist icon Che Guevara adorn flags, scarves and T-shirts, while a banner dedicated to the birthday of former Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin, has also been unveiled on the Curva Nord. Green, guerrilla-styled military jackets and army-style caps are often worn and the chanting of Communist anthems including Bandiera Rossa and Bella Ciao (a popular Partisan song during the second world war) act as further markers of their politics.

The BAL played a pivotal role in manifesting this ideology. In 2004, when the club returned to Serie A after 55 years outside of the division, they organised a spectacular choreography. The Curva Nord shimmered under red placards and a large display depicted a hammer and sickle within a shining sun. Underneath, a banner read: “A long night is disappearing – at the horizon, our sun is rising”.

Dr Mark Doidge, a sport sociologist who has written extensively about Livorno’s supporters, observed that the choreography not only referred to a new beginning for the club, but also embodied Livornese identity through the use of Communist symbolism. This left-wing identity means the ultras sometimes seek to demonstrate solidarity with other groups abroad. This has included the display of Palestinian flags, notably in a Uefa Cup game against Israeli team Maccabi Haifa. Similar sympathy has been shown to the Irish republican cause. The Armando Picchi has also been the setting for various fundraising projects, including collections for the earthquakes that devastated the Italian city of L’Aquila in 2009 and a year later, Haiti.

the-ultras-of-livorno

Livorno’s ultras in the Curva Nord

However, there have been no such statements of solidarity in relation to the ongoing refugee crisis, which has seen a huge influx of migrants attempting to enter Europe. While this may come as a surprise, the parochialism of these regions often dictates the level of engagement with broader, more global issues. As Dr Doidge says: “Livorno are still political but they are to Livornese and Tuscan problems.” It may be that the migrant issue is simply too divisive.

It is impossible to write about Livorno’s ultras without mentioning Cristiano Lucarelli. The former Amaranto captain chose the No99 shirt in honour of the BAL’s formation date and once said: “Some players buy themselves a Ferrari or yacht with a billion lire; I just bought myself a Livorno shirt.”

For Dr Doidge, “Cristiano Lucarelli symbolises the typical Livornese – gregarious, amicable and openly political, Lucarelli reflects the young masculine fans on the terrace.”

The Livorno-born forward was a former member of the BAL and shared their political ideals. He often saluted the ultras with the Communist clenched fist and back in 1997, during an Italy U21 match in Livorno, he celebrated his goal by taking off his shirt to reveal an image of Che Guevara. The Italian media have drawn parallels between Lucarelli and Lazio icon Paolo Di Canio, a player notorious for sharing the fascist ideals upheld by some of the Biancocelesti’s ultras. In fact, when Livorno faced Lazio back in 2006, the satirical television show, La Iene, broadcast a simultaneous interview with the two club icons. Both were quizzed on their political allegiances and the love for their respective clubs.

Unsurprisingly, Lazio and Hellas Verona are two of Livorno’s fiercest rivals due to the far-right contingent within their support. These fixtures are marked as high risk by Italian authorities and can often lead to violent clashes between opposing fans or with the police. Local and historic rivals, Pisa, are hated with equal verve. The Livornesi are twinned with the left-wing supporters of Greek side, AEK Athens, and French club, Olympique Marseille, in a friendship known as the “triangle brotherhood”. They also have a pact with Celtic fans known as “united against fascism”.

Although the BAL were the vanguard of the Livorno support they coexisted with Norh Kaos, a casuals-inspired mod group. Some speculated that there was friction between the two due to Norh Kaos’s affiliation to the far-right but the duo had an amicable relationship, inside and out of the stadium.

Banning orders curtailed the BAL’s numbers and eventually proved to be a factor in their dissolution. It is also said that one of their former leaders, Lenny Bottai, altered his focus to pursue boxing – he’s reportedly doing quite well. Some fans have formed the group Visitors 1312, 1312 being the numerical code for ACAB – the acronym for “All Cops Are Bastards”. This is a new aspect to ultras identity across Europe, uniting them in opposition to the police.

The dogmas of the Livornesi set them apart in the landscape of the Italian ultras. Their club may continually struggle but their spirits are not dampened, as Doidge says: “Too many people visit Italy for the sights, the food, the art or whatever. Spending time with the Livornesi made me realise that people are the most important thing. They embody their history and continue with a warm and generous spirit to this day.”

Classic player: Cristiano Lucarelli

Lucarelli

Some football players pay a billion for a Ferrari or a yacht; with that money I bought myself Livorno’s shirt. That’s all.

Cristiano Lucarelli encapsulates Livorno better than anybody. He lives and breathes the city and, despite playing for 13 different clubs in Italy, Spain and the Ukraine, he only has one love. Born is the coastal city in 1975, he grew up on a diet of street football. His brother Alessandro (most noted for his career at Parma) played with him in an environment more suited to the 1930s than the 1970s.

Whether the stories are embellished by Cristiano due to his left-wing tendencies, the tales of him and his brother kicking around anything that resembled a football from morning until night with broken shoes and torn clothes are endearing. The mental and physical toughness born out of this environment was not a falsification and this showed in his game in later years. Very much a product of his environment, Lucarelli was quickly becoming as in tune with the left-wing feelings of the area as he was with the ball at his feet. These views seemed to become more extreme and he left the area in 1992 and travelled extensively, playing for Perugia, Atalanta, Valencia and Tornio, among others.

In 2003 he returned home and, despite his cultural education, was now more politically integrated with the socialist tendencies of his home city than ever. He quickly made sure that he wore the No99 shirt, which represented the BAL ultra group.

He became more involved with the ultras and their extremism. With a Livorno badge tattooed on his left arm, he was now the ideological opposite of Paolo Di Canio but, funnily enough, they couldn’t have been more similar in character. The controversy around Lucarelli took shape in moments such as the fabled “bus fare incident” when he allegedly paid the farer of ultra group members who had been arrested for rioting on an away day and needed to get home.

While proudly strutting round his home city listening to The Red Flag and wearing a Che Guevara T-shirt, there was a footballer in him too. It should not be forgotten that he scored 112 goals in 172 games for the Tuscans in two spells. Considering Livorno’s status in Italian football and that they goals came in a period when Serie A was arguably the world’s best league, it was an incredible feat.

His career total is also impressive and he managed to score 203 times in 497 appearances and collect honours in every country he played. In Italy he won a Lega Pro title with Perugia, a Coppa Italia with Napoli and was Serie A’s top scorer in 2004-05. He won the Copa Del Rey and Intertoto Cup with Valencia and he won the domestic double in Ukraine with Shakhtar Donetsk.

He was a typical No9 who could hold the ball up and bring others into the game. He was also quick over the first 10 yards. If the ball was supplied into the box, he was strong enough and direct enough to make sure that he tested the goalkeeper. His movement was excellent and he had a sense of where the ball was going to end up.

Lucarelli will forever be revered in his home city. The boy who grew up playing football in the battered areas around the port now looks back on his three loves in life: Livorno, politics and football.

Words by Luca Hodges-Ramon: @LH_Ramon25 and Richard Hall: @RichHall80

With thanks to Riccardo and Mark Doidge for providing their insight and expertise. Mark is a doctor in the sociology of sport at Brighton University and spent six months in Livorno with official supporters’ clubs and the ultras.