‘It’s the hope that kills you’ could be the motto of all football fans, but it is especially poignant for us romanisti: we’ve been hoping and praying and wanting an elusive fourth title for so many years and always falling short. It’s been fifteen years now since Roma last won the Serie A title (don’t ask me type out the name of the title because it’s bad luck, and yes, we fans are also a highly superstitious bunch.), and in that time period we have managed 2nd place eight times.
Let that sink in: 8 of the past 15 seasons we have been ALMOST winners, the ‘not quite but getting closer’ team, the ones that ‘had that one bad spell’ or otherwise surely would have won it that time for sure, yup you bet. We’re the team that doesn’t win but plays beautiful football, evidenced by the amazing goals shown on the evening’s highlight reels. Journalists around the world talk about us, calling us the team to watch, the best team in Italy – if only they could win.
It’s this excessive admiration and collective outpouring of goodwill toward our team (and admittedly the desire of the rest of Italy to see someone other than Juve win for once) and general sympathy (and/or pity) for us suffering fans that makes it even worse every time we let them down, ourselves down, and our team down. Believe us, we know we are good but not great; we feel that disappointment in our hearts and bones more than you can imagine. But this self-pity is not just about us: for a romanista this longing has a deeper meaning.
This coming season will be yet another one in which our hopes are raised and we dream of finally toppling the #1 team off its haughty perch: Juventus. Juve with their money and power and what-most-of-us-believe-is-corruption and their now five-year-long winning streak and their uncanny ability to steal the best players right out from under our noses (R.I.P. Pjanić) or from under the noses of all the other Italian clubs as well (R.I.P. Higuaín). To despise Juve is an Italian national pastime for anyone who doesn’t adore them – the rest of us – and for many years now, Roma have had the greatest chance of dethroning the giants and have spectacularly failed at this task. Each instance is a fresh heartbreak and to say we are becoming desperate is putting it lightly.
With each new season it becomes even more vital that Roma finally make that leap from second to first or feel the failure even more keenly. Therefore with this coming new season it is even more vital again. If we fall short yet again, we romanisti will be more heartbroken than imaginable for one reason and one reason only: this could be Er Pupone’s last chance to topple them as well. Of course I am referring to il Capitano, il Bimbo d’Oro, il Re di Roma, Francesco Totti.
You do not need to be a Roma fan or a Serie A fan to know what Totti means to the city and to romanisti worldwide. He’s Roma through and through; one quick Google search brings up plenty of odes to the last of the one-club men, a hometown hero, a romantic in a crass football world.
Romanisti are all essentially romantics. We’ve thrived on being the underdogs to the mighty Juve (and the previous strengths of Milan and Inter). We’re the unloved, the underappreciated, the perpetual runners-up. It’s why and how I fell in love with this team and its players; Roma have always managed to evoke an incredible sense of loyalty, seen most explicitly in our Romans but even evidenced in its non-Italian players (Ask Ninja or Cafu or Riise what it’s like to be a Roma player!). There is something magical about La Maggica that draws us romantics in, and it’s this intense love for the city and the club and the icon that is Francesco Totti that drives us today.
It took my first visit to lo Stadio Olimpico to truly understand that love and loyalty. In was 2003, and it seemed to a starry-eyed romantic such as myself that the streets were filled with images of Totti and Roma: graffiti still celebrating the 2001 win was visible on every street corner, every passerby was wearing a Roma jersey, and I couldn’t concentrate on anything but the upcoming game. My friend humored me and allowed me to drag her to the stadium a good two hours before kickoff so I could soak in every sight and sound in the warm Italian sun. I bought at least three scarves from the various Ultra groups selling their wears outside the Olimpico (my favorite declaring our city rivals to be ‘pezzo di merda’ in huge letters). I quickly ushered us inside so I could get a photo of our mascot Romolo (he waved at me!).
We found our seats in the near-empty stadium to the right of the famous Curva Sud, and I sat in awe watching it fill up with romanisti. The Curve came to life in so many flags, red & yellow smoke, and song. One section was crowded with families – my favorite being a 12 year old girl who spent most of the game singing along with every chant the Curva Sud bellowed, longingly looking towards them, waiting for her turn to sit in that sacred space. The first notes of Antonello Venditti’s ‘Roma Roma Roma’ rang out, played before the start of every home game, and I am not ashamed to admit tears immediately sprang in my eyes. This was MY team and MY people and I was about to see MY captain play.
Totti scored that day, in front of the Curva Sud, as the stadium exploded in love and joy around me. As he ran tearing towards them with a smile that only a true romanista could possess on such an occasion, I knew that this city, these fans, would do anything for that man. This is the club he loved as a boy and now he was playing for as a man, and all of us in that moment wanted nothing but the best for him.
Since that day, Totti and the club have seen multiple changes, both good and not-so-good. There’ve been literally a dozen coaches at Roma since that title win, not all of them willing to work with Totti’s sometime diva-esque attitude. It makes for a rather unstable and unpredictable environment around the club, especially when so many players seem to come and go as well.
Roma have never quite been a “selling club” but even before the American owners took over we have had the tendency to let go of key players who may have made the difference between second and first, like Walter Samuel. More recently it’s been Medhi Benatia and now Miralem Pjanić, both who’ve landed at Juve. Recently the sales have been offset by an influx of cast-offs from other clubs who’ve, incredibly, revived their careers at Roma, in particular Gervinho, Mohamed Salah, and Stephan El Shaarawy.
Luck never seems to be on our side either. Injuries to Federico Balzaretti, Kevin Strootman (Forza Kevin!) and Totti himself have all interfered with our hopeful title pushes. And of course the almighty Juventus seem unable to lose (literally in one season, but insert a *cough* joke about referees on their side *cough* here).
Those 2003 happy memories are fresh in my mind lately with the realization that this year might be end of the love affair between Totti and Roma, Totti and romanisti. This will probably be the last chance for someone like me to go to the Olimpico and fall in love in that particular way, with that particular player. Of course Roma will continue to be loved and adored long after Totti retires, but for a certain generation of Roma fans, he IS Roma.
Yes, we romanisti want to win the league again for the glory and joy and ecstasy of winning a fourth title. More importantly, we want the team to win it for Totti. He deserves it. He has already earned it in our hearts. But lifting the actual trophy would be the perfect romantic Hollywood ending, for both us and for him.