The Milan Derby sees Italy's industrial capital divided in what is one of the biggest local rivalries in world football.
'Derby della Madonnina' as it is known is a riotous cacophony of noise and fierce passion, the San Siro stadium is transformed into a crucible of historical rivalry both footballing and socio-political. As is always the case in Italy, life is a multi-layered plot of local rivalry, family loyalty, political allegiance and outward demonstration, and always set in the context of history. The Milan Derby is like a operatic stage production of Milan's history, the players change from year to year, but the score remains the same.
You hear it long before you see it, the San Siro's thundering PA and the supporters in full-throated singing, and then, there it is, rising out of the Milanese fog like a great ocean-liner. There's never any trouble outside the ground, it's a derby after all, but the presence of police in full riot gear lining the streets is a sobering one.
It's ironic that the Milanese football supporters reserve their greatest ire for their own neighbours, and that these two opposing factions were formed from the same club. Originally the Milan Foot-Ball and Cricket Club was formed in 1899 by English ex-patriots Alfred Edwards and Herbert Kilpin the club enjoyed almost immediate success but by 1908 a schism occured over the club's insistence to prioritise Italian players over the signing of foreigners. This caused a group to break away and form another club with the name Internazionale MIlano, the name combined their intention to bring in foreign players with the Italian spelling of the city's name. AC MIlan retains the original english spelling of the city as a tribute to its foreign founders.
Over the next few decades success on the field did not come to either club but the identity of the supporters began to consolidate. Inter became the club of the Milanese bourgeoisie, the wealthy industrialists, while AC Milan became the club of the working class, blue-collar workers who 'immigated' to MIlan in order to work in the city's factories. Italy in those days was a more a unification of disparate regions, each with its own distinct identity, culture and dialect. Workers from the south gathered in gettoised communities and rarely integrated with their Milanese employers. The Inter supporters became known as 'brascia' a Milanese term meaning 'braggart' while the Milan supporters were known as 'casciavit' in Milanese dialect meaning 'screwdriver' or 'awkward', relating to the mostly manual labour they were employed in.
Both teams claim the 'St. George's Cross' – Milan in its insignia and Inter often on its shirt. The Red Cross on a white background, identical to the English flag, is the official flag of the city of Milan as well as the flag of Genoa and Bologna. It is thought that the English adopted the St. George's flag in order to gain protection from the Genovese fleet while sailing in the Mediterranean and that its adoption by England is also associated with Richard III's return from the 2nd Crusade. The serpent too, which appeared in the older version of the Inter crest is a common motif in Milanese heraldry and also thought to have its origins in the Crusades.
Politically the Inter supporters have been associated with right-wing politics, the Fascist years in Italy saw a change in name and strip for the club. Mussolini, while enjoying th support of the Interisti, was disturbed by the club's name 'Internazionale' which was also synonimus with the International Communist movement so he forced to merge with the Società Sportiva Milanese and was renamed Società Sportiva Ambrosiana after the city's patron saint Ambrosio. For a time they played with a white shirt with the red cross emblazoned on it, similar to their 2007-08 away kit used to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the club. Despite the outward appearance of supporting Fascism, the supporters continued to chant 'Inter, Inter' at their games, once again illustarting the Italian characteristic of appearing to accept political dogma and yet acting otherwise. After the war and the fall of Fascism the club quickly reverted to its original colours and name.
Meanwhile on the Curva Sud the Milan fans were aligned to the Communist Party of Italy (PCI), which had been outlawed by Mussolini, however it went underground and maintained a clandestine presence in Italy and on the teraces of the Curva Sud, until after the end of World War II when it re-emerged as a formidable political entity as the largest Communist party in a Capitalist state with 34.4% of the vote in the 1976 general election.
'Derby della Madonnina', which is named after the gold Madonna the adorns the roof of the city's Duomo, is a stage where all these historic differences come to light. Of course the political tensions have mellowed considerably in modern times, the Italians love spectacle, drama and passion and Derby delivers them in spades. Amidst the noise, the banner waving and fireworks there is the staging of history and perhaps the Italian dicotomy of outward allegience to a national or international ideology while remaining, in reality focused on local tribalism.
By Hugo Mc Cafferty