December 22, 2018

Remembering Ciro

Ciro Esposito's mother cries on her son's coffin
Photo courtesy of
Enjoying the usual gabfest and drinks at one of our favorite watering holes the other night, my recent post about Italian football (see One Day Suddenly) came up and true to form it was not well received by one of my more argumentative acquaintances, who shall remain nameless. Not in the habit of responding publicly to criticism, I made an exception this time because it affords me the opportunity to finally pay my respects to Ciro Esposito, the Napoli supporter who died after pre-match violence at the 2014 Coppa Italia Final at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome.
If I’m not mistaken, my detractor’s biggest problem with the article was the so-called “glaring omission” of ultra violence, particularly the death of Ciro Esposito at the hands of notorious Roma ultra Daniele De Santis. It should go without saying; no slight was intended by omitting the four-year-old incident. My post was more or less about a minor confrontation and a personal anecdote that took place in Italy, with a little posturing against calcio moderno and its suppression of local identities thrown in for good measure. As much as I appreciate our friend’s passion and devotion to Ciro’s memory, I believe conflating my own petty experience with Ciro’s death would have been inappropriate and in bad taste. 
Ciro Esposito
For those who are unfamiliar, back on May 3, 2014, Napoli faced Fiorentina in the Coppa Italia Final at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome. Before the match violent clashes erupted between the teams’ opposing ultras as well as between bitter rivals Napoli and local Roma supporters. However, during the mêlée three Neapolitans were shot by De Santis, including 27-year-old Ciro Esposito. Details of the fight are conflicting, but according to many, Ciro and the other Neapolitan combatants were defending a bus with women and children in it from the Romanisti.
Somewhat controversially, because it revealed the influence of the ultras, the cup tie was halted for 45 minutes by incensed Napoli supporters, who were placated only after infamous ultra capo Gennaro De Tommaso, nom de guerre Genny ‘a Carogna, or Genny the Swine, met with Napoli captain Marek Hamšík. After the delay, Napoli went on to take the cup by beating Fiorentina 3-1. Marred by the violence, the victory was no consolation for the bloodshed.
Tragically, fifty-three days later Ciro died, succumbing to his wounds on June 25th in the Agostino Gemelli University Hospital in Rome. It was reported that over 7,000 people attended his funeral in Scampia, a suburb of Naples. Draped with team flags and scarves, Ciro’s coffin was carried by pallbearers through the throng of mourners. A local square was renamed Piazza Ciro Esposito. In 2017, on the third anniversary of Ciro’s death, Napoli Mayor Luigi de Magistris officially dedicated a public park, complete with football field, to his memory.
Meanwhile on June 27, 2017, De Santis won an appeal and had his 26-year prison sentence for murder reduced to just 16 years. Telling his side of the story to the weekly news magazine Panarama, De Santis naturally claimed the shooting was in self-defense. Not surprisingly, the Roman ultras have sided with their own and the following year, during the home fixture against Napoli, sections of the Curva Sud unfurled banners contemptuously accusing Ciro’s grieving mother Antonella Leardi of shamefully exploiting her son’s death by speaking out against fan violence and writing a book about him called Ciro Vive (Graus Editore, 2015). 
A holdover from a bygone era, the primeval tribalism of the tifosi, with their carnivalesque pageantry, haughty expressions of group identity, and sometimes offensive taunting, is shocking to modern sensibilities. Like it or not, taunting is a part of sports. Provocation and trash-talk are ingrained in its culture, and players and fans alike engage in it. From time immemorial people have been gesticulating and shouting obscenities at each other while trying to best their opponent. It can be rude, uncivil and sometimes painful, but just because one doesn’t like some of the derogatory chants or disagrees with the opinions on display in the terraces, I will never get behind criminalizing speech and restricting language. 
Wanton violence and vandalism on the other hand are a different story. No matter how much I may disdain the opposition (e.g. Juventus) or enjoy the pomp (who didn’t get gooseflesh seeing Napoli’s Curva B orchestrate an erupting Mt. Vesuvius against the Old Lady in 2012/13?) I cannot condone mob violence and physical altercations, even if it were committed by my own side. I love the sport, sometimes I even enjoy the bickering, but rioting over a result or against an adversary (which is hardly limited to calcio) is shameful and repugnant. It is not a legitimate excuse for violence.
Curva B orchestrate Mt. Vesuvius at the San Paolo Stadium, Napoli
Renowned for their passion, both Rome and Naples (like all major football cities) can sometimes be unruly and dangerous, especially during a derby. Following the breakdown of the gemellaggio, or twinning, between the two clubs in the late ’80’s, the once festive Derby del Sole (Derby of the Sun) between Napoli and Roma has become one of the most contentious in Italy. 
While the Final was technically not a derby, Rome’s ultras were not going to sit idly by on their home soil and miss an opportunity to duke it out against their hated southern rivals. This was the seething cauldron that Ciro and thousands of other fans from Napoli, Florence and elsewhere entered when they converged on the Capital to support their respective teams and enjoy the spectacle of il bel gioco (the beautiful game). 
For many on both sides the feelings of betrayal and anger runs too deep and any notion of reconciliation is unthinkable. Thankfully, there are others who would like to see an end to the hostilities and foster a renewed concord between the supporters of these two historic clubs. Instead of fueling the animosity, Ciro’s death can serve as a catalyst for rapprochement between these former friends. Ciro's ultimate sacrifice will never be forgotten; let’s hope his memory will serve a higher purpose. Forza Napoli Sempre! Ciro Vive!