LIBERATING FOOTBALL TRAVEL

Rome

All roads lead to the Olimpico but Scudetto a rarity

Teams, tales and tips – a guide to the local game

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 was also nominated as the only Italian city to host games for Euro 2020. It was here that Italy played, and won, all three group games on their way to the title, the atmosphere at the Olimpico electric despite a Covid-restricted attendance of only 12,000.

In the league, 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.

After AS Roma 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, the mayor of Rome gave the project the green light in 2017 – but the scale of the operation proved too onerous. Few believed, as Roma’s recent American owner Jim Pallotta stated, that the Stadio della Roma would be open by 2020 – mayoral approval alone took a year.

US billionaire Dan Friedkin, who took over Roma from Pallotta in 2020, had little intention of getting entangled in more red tape and major expense, and the club duly dropped the Tor di Valle project – but not the notion of a new, self-owned stadium. Various sites are being looked at, in Ostia, Fiumicino and elsewhere, but no little compensation will have to be paid to the Tor di Valle landowners and developers. Adapting the state-owned Olimpico would conjure up all the demons of Italian bureaucracy.

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.

Poor campaigns by the Milanese giants allowed the Rome duo supersede them when Roma and Lazio finished two and three in 2015. Roma then enjoyed impressive European runs, losing narrowly to Liverpool in the Champions League semi-final of 2017-18, and falling to Manchester United at the same stage of the Europa League in 2020-21. That same spring, Lazio made the knock-out rounds of the Champions League for the first time in two decades. 

Rome remains a major force in the Italian game – but the stadium conundrum is a long-term headache.

Rome’s other international ground has few problems with proximity between spectators and the pitch. Home of Vatican City, the Campo Pio Xi at via di Santa Maria Mediatrice 32, just outside the City walls to the south-west. 

This is where the yellow-shirted Vatican representative XI play occasional games, invariably against their counterparts from Monaco – the principality, not the professional French club. It also hosts the Vatican City Championship between the eight teams comprised of employees from the various departments that oversee the running of this tiny city-state. 

Games usually take place on Mondays, on the various pitches of this sports complex, including the main 500-seater ground, equipped with artificial turf and floodlights. The main tenants are otherwise amateur youth side Petriana Calcio, in operation since 1926, the same year the ground was opened. Later named after the Pope who passed away on the eve of World War II, it lies in the shadow of St Peter’s Basilica, 10min walk from Valle Aurelia metro station on line A.

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Getting Around

Arriving in town, local transport and timings

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 15mins to the main station of Termini. From Termini (€15), trains leave from platform 24. 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 90mins 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 32 to the Olimpico north-west of the city centre. A direct Fiumicino-Termini bus service is provided by Terravision (online €5).

City Airport Taxi from Fiumicino into town has a fixed fee of €48.

Lesser-used Ciampino Airport is 12km (7.5 miles) south-east of town, served by the same bus companies to Termini, SIT and Terravision (online price €5, journey time 45mins).

Stadio Olimpico transport/Peterjon Cresswell

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.

Where to Drink

The best pubs and bars for football fans

Expat bars, where football can be watched over a pint, usually operate happy hours of some kind. All are pretty central. Either side of the Colosseum, Camden Town on via Ostilia stays open until 1.30pm and offers all-day English breakfasts (€8), while the scarf-covered Shamrock Pub Roma on via del Colosseo opens from noon and has TVs everywhere, tuned to football.

Towards Termini, the Druid’s Den on via di S Martino ai Monti, nearby sister establishment Fiddler’s Elbow on via dell’Olmata, Irish-owned Finnegan on via Leonina and the seriously football-oriented Highlander on vicolo di S Biagio are also typical of the genre. By the Druid’s Den on via di S Martino ai Monti, the former Falls Road is now Il Fusto, still very much a pub with live Irish music the focus.

Close to the Trevi Fountain on via del Traforo, The Albert goes big on TV sport though beware, it may be rugby. Near piazza Venezia on via del Plebiscito, the Scholar’s Lounge is a rare case of a daytime pub, generous opening hours stretching to 3.30am. Ten minutes away on via del Collegio Romano, the Trinity College puts the focus on maxi-screen sport.

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.

Equally revered 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. In similar vein, over in via Leonina, La Vecchia Roma serves crowd-pleasing cuisine with lashings of TV calcio.

Where to stay

The best hotels for the stadium and city centre

The Rome Tourist Office has a hotel database of sorts.

Convenient for the Olimpico, close to the riverbank bars, the Hotel Ponte Milvio opened in May 2022, replacing the mid-range Farnesina with 24 refurbished rooms and a roof-garden terrace where breakfast is served. On the city side of the river close to the Mancini tram stop, the Maison Flaminio comprises a handful of stylish rooms on the fourth floor of a residential building – rates are reasonable for the comfort on offer, walking distance to the Olimpico.

Just the other side of the Vatican from Ottaviano, 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, many of the 179 rooms providing a view of the Basilica dome.

Centrally located, the Hotel Forum offers old-school elegance and rooftop breakfasts, overlooking the sight of the same name. Just behind on via Leonina, the Hotel Duca d’Alba merges classic and contemporary in four-star surroundings.

Near the Colosseum, the Fori Imperiali Cavalieri is currently undergoing renovation to its 24 mid-range rooms, each equipped with Sky TV channels. Named after Rome’s most famous landmark but set near the cluster of Irish pubs on via Sforza, the Colosseum provides a roof terrace above its 50 rooms.

Close to the Fontana del Tritone and Barberini metro, on the same line as Ottaviano, the Sina Bernini Bristol is the stuff of honeymoons, with a spa and rooftop restaurant. For those on a budget, the New Generation Hostel on via dei Quattro Cantoni near Vittorio Emanuele metro has two- and three-bed rooms with private facilities, 24-hour reception and a games room. Round the corner, the three-star Hotel Tirreno exudes classic Rome, with an American bar and garden.

Close to Termini station, hotels are either cheap and nasty, or pricier after modern makeovers. The Kennedy on via Filippo Turati is between the two, somewhat dated, having opened shortly after the assassination, but looked-after. Across the car park from the station, the NH Collection Roma Palazzo Cinquecento is a world away from the railway bustle, with breakfast taken on the roof terrace. Hefty rates are balanced out by late check-out Lazy Sundays. Behind on via Marsala, the Best Western Royal Santina offers five-star services at four-star rates.

Formerly a den of dowdy two-stars, nearby via Volturno is all sleek hotels these days, the four-star Independent with a fabulous roof terrace, The Republic very much upscale.

what to see

The best football attractions in town

On via Merulana near Termini, The Fans is both a store – Roma, Italy, Juve, Napoli and other big clubs – and a mini-museum, with retro shirts and a display of random football history.