22 Apr Livorno: Italy’s Communist Football Club
Livorno: Italy’s Communist Football Club
Fan culture in football is often criticised, and rightly so in many cases. Racism, sectarianism, sexism, and abuse are routine—just as they are across society as a whole. Nowhere is this more so than in Italy, where the terraces of all the major clubs are home to myriad fascist groups, with anti-Semitic and racist taunts commonplace. This was recently evidenced by the abhorrent abuse of Juventus’s young, black, Italian superstar Moise Kean. However, fan culture can—and does—have a positive impact on people and entire communities. Football fan culture can give rise to solidarity, friendship, and togetherness. When it is done right, it can be politically inspiring and a powerful force for good. This is also the case in Italian football with Serie B club A.S. Livorno Calcio being representative of this. The club should be held up as an example of what all supporter communities could be in an era of extreme commercialisation in sport and a dangerous rightward drift in society.
Italy’s fan culture has always been a fiery political hotbed and, unfortunately, right-wing politics reigns supreme. Livorno’s fans have stood tall in the face of this; the club are loudly and unashamedly communist. Livorno itself is historically a port town which, from the 15th century onwards, attracted merchants from all over the world with Jews, Turks, Moors, Armenians, Persians and many other groups arriving, resulting in a diverse population. This inspired the city’s motto: “out of many peoples, one”, a touching sentiment that lies at the heart of the communist movement. With a working-class base and a cosmopolitan population, Livorno became the birthplace of the Italian Communist Party in 1921—leaving it a city forever entwined with left-wing politics. It should come as no surprise then that the Amaranto’s fanbase is so militantly communist. Inside the stadium the atmosphere is unmistakable—especially in the northern stand—with Che Guevara’s face adorning banners, and hammer and sickles iconography proudly displayed. Traditional revolutionary gear like military jackets and army caps often make their way in to the Stadio Armando Picchi as well, and anthems such as Bella ciao can be heard ringing throughout the stadium. Not to mention the annual celebrations of Fidel Castro and Joseph Stalin’s birthdays.
While it would be easy to dismiss this as gesture politics, Livorno’s fans have repeatedly put their politics into action by materially aiding the causes they champion, such as the Irish and Palestinian liberation struggles. They raised funds for the victims of the Haitian earthquake, as well as demonstrating their solidarity with oppressed groups and revolutionary movements on a regular basis. Their ultras have close ties with other left-wing supporter groups such as those of AEK Athens and Marseille, who between them make up the ‘Triangle Brotherhood’, and Celtic with whom they have a ‘united against fascism’ alliance. Conversely, Livorno fans have a combative and often violent relationship with clubs like Lazio whose fans have strong links with the far-right.
Throughout the club’s history, Livorno has had many supporter groups and ultras under different names, but by far the most famous is the Livornese Autonomous Brigades (BAL). Founded in 1999 through a merger of different factions in pursuit of greater organisation, the BAL were staunch communists who worked to promote the Ultrasound Resistance Front—an initiative which, shoulder to shoulder with ultras of Ancona, Casertana, Savona, Cosenza, and Ternana, sought to fight back against the hold that the right had over Italian football and society. They strived to ensure that the whole of Italy knew that Livorno would not bow to the right. On Livorno’s return to Serie A after five and a half decades without top flight football, they displayed a banner exhibiting a hammer and sickle inside a shining sun, with the inspiring words “A long night is disappearing—at the horizon, our sun is rising”. This may have been a footballing statement, related to the club’s resurgence, but it was also one that applied to communist movements around the world. The BAL eventually disbanded after a series of banning orders, but its place in Livorno’s mythology lives on. The group found notoriety on many occasions but its most controversial moment came during a minute’s silence for the Italian troops killed in the Nasiriyah bombing in Iraq. The Livorno fans chanted “give us ten, one-hundred, one-thousand Nasiriyahs!” to protest Italy’s involvement in the Iraq War. In a climate where politics in sport has been watered down so much, it is refreshing to see such an intransigent set of fans who will stick to their guns despite the unpopularity of their positions.
Every club needs its talisman, just as every Red Army needs its General, and in Cristiano Lucarelli the Livorno supporters found both. Lucarelli was born in Livorno and was a die-hard supporter of the club. When the chance came to sign for them in 2003 he leapt at it despite the 50% pay cut and the drop from Serie A to Serie B. He explained his decision in typical fashion; “some players buy a yacht or Ferrari with their wages, I just bought a Livorno shirt”. He was a sensation at Livorno, scoring 111 goals in 192 games, but the fans loved him for so much more than the football. In many ways he embodied what it meant to be a Livorno fan, both through growing up in a working-class area of the city and because of his communist beliefs. Lucarelli has the A.S. Livorno badge tattooed on his arm, and he adopted the number 99 on his shirt as a homage to the Livornese Autonomous Brigades. His goal celebration was a clenched fist, and his mobile phone ringtone was the socialist anthem, The Red Flag.
All of this endeared the Livornese support to him, but as is the history of many high-profile communists, Lucarelli often suffered for his ideals. After scoring for the Italian under-21 side, he lifted his t-shirt over his head to reveal an undershirt with Che Guevara on it—an action which saw him blacklisted from the Italian international setup for almost eight years. His vocal support for communism was rare in the world of sport, where players often stay silent about their political beliefs beyond meaningless platitudes, and it is exactly this which made him so special to the Livornese. The love that the Livorno fans had for Lucarelli was certainly returned by him; a former member of the BAL himself, he once found himself in hot water after paying the fare home for members of the ultra-group who had been arrested for rioting. That sort of relationship between players and fans is vanishingly rare in modern football, but it manifests itself when football, politics, and community all align, as is the case with A.S. Livorno Calcio.
Community and solidarity are more important now than ever. As political, economic, and ecological challenges give rise to a global politics that lurches ever closer to the far-right, it is vital that we are willing to learn from even the most unlikely of sources, and Livorno is one such source. The solidarity and material support that they have shown to oppressed groups, and their resolute backing of communism in the face of a footballing culture and country that finds that intolerable should be commended and can be something that inspires us all.
Jack Yates is a Social Policy masters graduate, a Marxist-Leninist, and an Oxford Comma apologist from Liverpool. He has previously written for the New Socialist.