For the farewell game of Roma icon Francesco Totti in 2017, an emotional 3-2 victory over Genoa that sealed a runners-up spot in Serie A for the Giallorossi, Rome’s Stadio Olimpico was packed to bursting. Planes flew over the arena with banner messages, city buses scrapped the idea of destination signage and indicated their reverence for this one-club captain and his 25 years of masterly service. No other city can do it like the Eternal City, one of Europe’s great football destinations.
Rome has also been nominated as the only Italian city to host games for Euro 2020.
Yet Roma and their equally eternal local rivals Lazio haven’t claimed anything like the silverware won by the northern giants in Milan and Turin. Like Milan, Rome is a stadium-share city. The Olimpico has also hosted a World Cup Final (1990), two Euros (1968, 1980) and many European finals, including Liverpool’s triumph over Borussia Mönchengladbach in 1977.
When Totti started his career in a Roma first-team shirt in 1992-93, the Olimpico was in its pomp. Packed crowds most Sundays, this gladiatorial arena at the epicentre of a communal outburst of noise, colour and passion. Totti’s farewell was not only the end of an era – it served to show just how moribund much of the rest of the Serie A season had become.
AS Roma have announced plans to build their own 60,000-capacity stadium in Tor di Valle in south-west Rome, on the site of a racecourse built for the 1960 Olympics. In February 2017, the mayor of Rome gave the project the green light in principle but the scale of the operation has had to be reduced by half. Few believe, as Roma’s American owner Jim Pallotta has stated, that the Stadio della Roma will open by 2020 – mayoral approval alone took a year.
The Olimpico is on the other side of the city, north of the Vatican, also on the banks of the Tiber. The two clubs who currently share it originally represented different areas of the city, Roma downtown Testaccio, traditionally working-class, Lazio the suburbs of Parioli and beyond. Between them, they provide the most colourful of all Italian fixtures, no idle boast. In 2013, for the first time, both clubs featured in the cup final, won 1-0 by Lazio, played, as always, at the Olimpico.
Even for league games, Il Derby della Capitale is unlike any other cross-city clash in Italy. As the players take the pitch to a thumping wall of noise and a vast banner comprised of coloured squares held aloft by tens of thousands of arms.
These imaginative displays form the immediate pre-match pageantry. Such is the drama that fans lend to the occasion that Italy’s football dailies dedicate a special report to how well the fans played their part.
The modern-day rise of Rome’s rival clubs in the 1980s coincided with the phenomenon known as the ultra movement, organised fan groups with illustrative support of almost military precision, meticulously choreographed displays to cover one entire end of a stadium, in this case the shared bowl of the Olimpico originally planned by Fascist leader Benito Mussolini.
Politics are also involved – Lazio’s fan base has right-wing leanings, Roma’s ever more so since the mid-1990s. Lazio followers occupy the Curva Nord behind the north goal, Roma’s the Curva Sud.
With the Milanese giants showing poor form, recent seasons have seen the Rome duo supersede them, not least when Roma and Lazio finished two and three in 2015. European success, however, has not followed suit.
The main airport of Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino, 35km (22 miles) south-west of the city centre, is connected by the Leonardo Express train (€14, 30min journey time) every 15min to the main station of Termini. From Termini (€15), trains leave from platform 28. The slower suburban rail line FR1 (€8) from Fiumicino links with the smaller stations of Tiburtina and Trastevere.
Alternatively, a regular SIT shuttle bus (online price €6) takes 90min to reach via Marsala 5 outside Termini, depending on traffic. It also stops at via Crescenzio near the Vatican, walking distance to Risorgimento, setting-off point for bus No.32 to the Olimpico north-west of the city centre. A direct Fiumicino-Termini bus service is provided by Terravision (online €5).
A City Airport Taxi from Fiumicino into town has a fixed fee of €48.
A City Airport Taxi from Ciampino has a fixed fee to the city centre of €45 but the standard rate you should find outside is €30.
Within the city, calling a cab such as Radio Taxi (+39 06 3570) means the meter starts running from wherever it sets off. Flagging one down or finding a rank works out cheaper.
Rome’s transport system consists of two metro lines, buses, trams and suburban trains. A BIT single ticket (€1.50), available from machines at major stops and stations, is valid for 100mins, allowing you to change metro lines but not pass through turnstiles twice. A 24hr pass (€7), 48hr pass (€12.50) and 72hr pass (€18) are also available, chargeable versions sold online by city transport company ATAC, either posted out or picked up from main metro stations in Rome.
Convenient for the Olimpico, the Hotel delle Vittorie is an elegant three-star with reasonable rates if you book early. Also close is the Hotel Farnesina, the cheapest doubles at €75. Near Ottaviano metro station, Roman Holidays B&B can provide rooms in the €60-€65 range.
Just the other side of the Vatican from Ottaviano metro station, a short walk from Roma S Pietro rail station, is a cluster of hotels and B&Bs. Upscale Starhotels Michelangelo, a four-star boutique, is the classiest if priciest choice.
For newly installed contemporary comfort and location, the Telegraph Suites, the former Dolce Vita Residence round the corner from the Trevi Fountain, puts Rome on your doorstep – at a price. Central Hotel Rome Garden is part of a local group of seven.
For location, a fair price and comfort, you can’t go wrong with the Hotel Raffaello, a friendly three-star within easy reach of Termini.
Expat bars, where football can be watched over a pint, usually operate happy hours of some kind. All pretty central, the Druid’s Den, Irish-owned Finnegan, the seriously football-oriented Highlander and the Fiddler’s Elbow are typical of the genre. The Old Trafford offers ‘soccer and beer’ between Cipro and Valle Aurelia metro stations, convenient for the Olimpico.
For a real Roman experience, the Bar San Calisto, in the square of the same name in the heart of Trastevere, consists of a lived-in bar room lined with classic calcio and boxing imagery. Cheap bottled Peroni is served to bohemian regulars on the busy terrace.
Also nearby, IVO a Trastevere (via di San Francesco a Ripa 158) is a real football hang-out, the Ivo in question being Ivo Stefanelli, once involved in Roma’s junior team. Note the photo on the wall of Ivo with Pelé.