Since my first game at the Stadio Olimpico in the fall of 2004, I have always been fascinated by the banners displayed by the different fan groups in the Curva.
Saturday’s Derby was just another example of the depth and forethought that comes along with being some of the world’s most ardent fans. Immediately following Diego Perotti’s penalty conversion to open up the scoring in the second half that put Roma ahead 1-0, the Tifosi of the Curva Sud unveiled a massive banner with only three words.
L’URBE SIAMO NOI.
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These phrases tend to be written in Roman dialect and are only flashed and visible within the Curva for maybe a minute. The banners rarely leave any doubt about the content of the message and this time was no different. I was fortunate to be watching the derby with my son and my Roman ‘fratello’ Marco. He was more than happy to give me an in-depth lesson in not only the history of the phrase but also about the deeper meaning these words represent to the inhabitants of the city of Rome.
In ancient Latin, l’urbe siamo literally translates to ‘we are the town’. It is a reference to the way ancient peoples described themselves and their respective towns. But when ‘urbe’ was referenced in general conversation between strangers, it was understood that there was only one ‘urbe’, Rome. They would say and write ‘ab urbe condita’ meaning ‘from the foundation of Rome’. Even in today’s world, the Pope proliferates the idea of Rome being the only ‘urbe’ when he addresses mass at the Vatican. He opens with the Latin, ‘Urbi et orbi’, a phrase that directly translated means ‘Rome and the rest of the world’.
And so, as Marco and I dug deeper into the meaning and significance of the phrase as the second half continued, every answer led to more questions. What did the Romanisti holding a banner stating these words represent during such an important and iconic match? I queried whether or not a phrase like this would have the same meaning if Laziale in Curva Nord had done the same? Were their sentiments for their team on par with Roma’s? Of course, the Laziale’s love and passion for their team is comparable to Roma, but ultimately, they aren’t Roma, the team of the city. Lazio represents the Province of Lazio and mainly of the people residing outside of the city of Rome historically.
Lazio was created 27 years prior to Roma in 1900. This a fact Lazio fans will never not bring up during a discussion of the merits of being a Lazio supporter. But upon the creation of the club, they chose to name their team after the entire province (region) of Lazio instead of the city where the team would play its games. In a sense, the precursor to the first New England Patriots of today. At the time, the bigger the region represented the more possible fans. That was the scope of their worldview in 1900.
In today’s sporting world, the value of team’s name can lend heavily to its ability to market in this new era of the internet and globalization. AS Roma, have the ability to export their brand worldwide because they are supported by the name of the eternal city. S.S. Lazio, on the other hand, adopted a name that really has no significant meaning to anyone outside of the Italian speaking world. Merely an untransmutable name of some part of Italy to foreigners. For Romans today, the phrase ‘L’Urbe Siamo Noi’ is a matter of pride, and for the Romans of the past, it was a reality known throughout ancient Roman times.
I began to think that such a phrase was a bit boastful from the fans of a team that hasn’t won a trophy in years. Even cocky to a point. Then I realized that for this city and these fans, such a phrase is the backbone for their passion and love of AS Roma. They consider themselves, and rightfully so, a significant component in the overall success of the club. They, the members of the ‘Urbe’ are willing to make huge sacrifices to ensure that their voices are heard. This fact is the reason why they have been willing to ‘sciopero’, or strike against the team, and not show up to the stadium in masse in past years. The city, the team, the fans, these are the components of today’s ‘Urbe’.
When I asked Marco if there is a comparison to another city, even one such as New York or London, his sentiments were the same. There is only Rome. And this season, there is a feeling in the air here in Rome that has everyone in the ‘Urbe’ talking about AS Roma