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Official Review by Jeremy Inson, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
Societŕ Sportiva Lazio (SS Lazio) has been in existence since the turn of the 20th century. Known commonly as Lazio, the club is a member of the Italian Serie A, the top tier professional soccer league in Italy.
With a capacity of 73,000 Rome’s Stadio Olimpico is Italy’s highest profile and most modern stadium. It is the only stadium in the country with a five star ranking from UEFA, European football’s governing body and therefore the only one capable of hosting major finals.
It was named for the 1960 Olympic Games, had a roof added for the 1990 FIFA World Cup where it hosted the final, and then upgraded to meet UEFA’s specifications in 2008.
The city was rewarded for the upgrades when it hosted the 2009 Champions League final, in which Barcelona ran riot against Manchester United to win 2-0. It was the fourth time European soccer’s premier club final took place there after the stadium hosted finals in 1977, 1984 and 1996.
Most of the time Stadio Olimpico plays host to cross town rivals SS Lazio and AS Roma, who enjoy the ups and downs of life in Serie A. It also hosts the national soccer team’s most important fixtures and a Diamond League track and field meet every June, while Italy’s rugby union team have now begun playing their matches there as well.
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Like most stadiums in Italy, the best food is available from the various concession stands and food trucks outside the stadium. Hot sandwiches or pizza slices are the most popular choices and most serve chips, chocolate and candy as well.
Alcohol is available from outside the stadium, but once inside the sale of alcohol is prohibited. There are some food counters in the stadium, which sell overly-expensive sandwiches, coffee and soft drinks, but in truth it is better to suffer the hunger pangs, then get back to the city centre and enjoy some of the best food around.
There are few matches around with a better atmosphere than a Rome derby between Lazio and Roma. Talk occupies the city for weeks before and the whole stadium is a vast cauldron of boiling hot emotions.
Fireworks, flares, mega-banners and non-stop singing ensure that the Rome derby is one of the most passionate matches in the football world.
There are few other domestic or European games that can match its intensity. The visits of Inter and AC Milan and Juventus will also push the attendance towards capacity and have a similar atmosphere.
Lazio average gates of about 35,000, though for matches with some of the smaller teams in Serie A the atmosphere can be decidedly flat.
The Stadio Olimpico is the centrepiece of the Foro Italico sports complex north-west of the city, which also houses the swimming centre that hosted the 2009 FINA World Swimming Championships and the tennis centre where the Italian Masters takes place each May.
It was built in the 1930’s at the behest of fascist dictator Benito Mussolini and while it boasts an impressive array of neo-fascist architecture and design, there is precious little else in the area and with the centre of the Eternal City less than 30 minutes away, it is better to head back there to sample its charms.
One place to avoid, especially for night games, is the nearby bridge Ponte Milvio. The bridge has often been the scene of soccer hooliganism and knife attacks between rival fans, most notably when English teams are in town.
Lazio fans occupy the curva nord, and their supporters pride themselves on being some of the most passionate around.
Politically Lazio fans are considered some of the most notoriously far-right leaning supporters and so have little compunction in showing their admiration for Mussolini.
Either way Lazio’s supporters make a huge amount of noise, despite the fact that they stand in the part of the stadium with the worst views, behind the goals and across the running track. It means that a match at the Stadio Olimpico is rarely a dull affair.
Reaching the stadium on public transport means at least one change and the main two routes involve jumping on the A metro line. Fans can either alight at Flaminio and catch the number 2 tram, which drops fans a short walk from the stadium. The alternative is to get off at Ottaviano and take the number 32 bus that drops fans off across the road from the stadium.
If arriving by car from outside the city drivers need to take the ring road exit sign-posted Flaminia and then follow signs for the stadium. From inside the city, the stadium and Foro Italico complex are both well signposted. Drivers be warned though, battling traffic in Rome isn’t for the faint hearted and there isn’t great deal of parking nearby.
Once at the stadium entry points and turnstiles are well signposted though.
Much depends on who it is you go and see and where you sit. While fans may be happy to put up with watching over the running track against one of the big teams, they may be less so if they have to watch from afar as Lazio takes on the likes of Cesena or Catania.
Still the noise and the singing will always be there to some extent and the side like to play exciting, attacking football.
Lazio are also blessed by being located in one of the most stunning cities in the world, with its array of world famous sites. As such a match at the Stadio Olimpico is the perfect accompaniment to a trip to the Eternal City.
Such is the size of the stadium that tickets are fairly easy to obtain, except for the derby when fans will sell their own mother to land one. Tobacconists around the city have them for sale and Lazio have shops in the city centre and the main train station (Stazione Termini) where fans can buy tickets. Expect to pay from about €25 ($33) to €90 ($120) for a ticket. Supporters should have a photo id on them when they buy tickets and at the match.
If you can’t get to a game, Lazio have a number of supporters’ clubs’ in the suburbs, predominantly north of the city. Visitors may have to pay a small fee to become members, but once inside drinks are cheaper than the city bars and you will meet some of the most dedicated and passionate supporters about.
Interior photos attributed to Andrea 93.
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