Postcards from Italy

So You Want to See a Soccer Game in Italy…

It’s football season! By football, of course, we don’t mean that all-American pastime of punting and spiking the old pigskin in the end-zone, but the sport that most of the world calls football — known as soccer to Americans, and calcio to Italians.

Italian soccer passion

(Photo by Seth Sawyers via Flickr.)

There are few things that ignite passions in Italy as much as calcio, Italy’s de facto national sport. From August through May, soccer dominates the national consciousness; fans (i.e. the vast majority of Italians) are zealously devoted (which has, at times, fed hooliganism) and singularly loyal (one popular saying holds, Puoi cambiare fidanzata, ma non puoi cambiare nè madre nè squadra di calcio or You can change your girlfriend, but not your mother or your soccer team). Attending a game in a teeming, rollicking Italian stadium can be an exhilarating window onto Italian popular culture, regardless of whether or not you’re a sports fan.

Seeing a game in a rollicking stadium can be an exhilarating window onto Italian culture, regardless of whether or not you’re a soccer fan. Click to tweet

stadio via del mare - Lecce

(Photo by paride de carlo via Flickr.)

How to Choose Your Match

It helps to know the basics of how Italian soccer teams and leagues are organized.

La Nazionale:

The Nazionale Italiana di Calcio (known affectionately as Gli Azzurri for their bright blue jerseys) is Italy’s national team, representing the country as a whole in international matches and formed with the best and brightest players from Serie A teams (see below).

Seeing the Nazionale play is the height of the calcio experience, as the country lays aside their local loyalties to get behind their beloved Azzurri and cheer and jeer the most spectacular stars in national and international soccer.

Unfortunately, these are also the games for which tickets are most expensive, most sought after, and—given that Gli Azzurri play exclusively in the European and World Cups and their relative qualifying matches—hardest to come by. You can check the official calendar to see dates and cities of upcoming matches.

Serie A:

National soccer teams in Italy are divided into four leagues—from Serie A to Serie D—and Serie A (officially “Serie A TIM” after the telephone company sponsorship, but no one actually calls it that) teams are the 20 top-ranked teams within Italy. Though the ranking is revolving (with the bottom Serie A teams sometimes demoted to Serie B and the top Serie B teams promoted to Serie A), Italy’s most historic and legendary teams—including Juventus, AC Milan, Inter Milan, Napoli, and Roma—form the consistent core of Serie A.

Stadio Olimpico - FORZA ROMA!

(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr.)

The high level of players’ skill and fandom enthusiasm has its price: tickets can cost more than €100 and reaching the match itself is sometimes a challenge, as the immense home stadiums are built to seat tens of thousands of singing and chanting fans and thus often located far outside the city center.


(Photo by luigig via Flickr)

The unfortunate dark underbelly of Italian soccer most often shows itself at Serie A games: hooliganism. The same passion that makes attending a game so much fun can sometimes cross the line into anarchy, and there have been incidents of crowd control problems and rioting at some Serie A games. Though tough anti-hooliganism laws over the past few years have curtailed much stadium violence, pandemonium still reigns supreme at many Serie A matches .

Serie B:

If you are hankering to see a game but deterred by the ticket price and crowds of Serie A matches, attending a Serie B match can be an excellent compromise. Though the player skill may be less than that of Serie A players, you will still see amazing athletes with equally enthusiastic fans (just fewer of them who are—generally—a bit less unruly).

Ternana-Modena Serie B

 (Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr.)

Tickets to these games are often easier to come by and dramatically less expensive, and the stadiums not as far from the city centers. For a calendar of Serie B games, click here.

How to Get Your Tickets

The first step is to check the calendars of the Nazionale, Serie A, or Serie B team which interests you to see if your travel dates match up with a scheduled game. These calendars can be a bit confusing to the uninitiated (even the initiated often have trouble interpreting them), so here’s a handy tutorial on how to read an Italian soccer schedule.

Tickets to games can be bought directly at the stadium (though usually not the day of the game for security reasons, so purchasers need to go at least a day or two in advance), at one of the team’s clubhouses in the city center (again in advance), and online (though not all teams—especially not those below Serie A—offer this option). When buying tickets at the stadium or clubhouse, it is often cash only.

Curva nord

(Photo by oscar federico bodini via Flickr.)

All tickets to Italian soccer games are printed with the ticket holder’s name (again, for security reasons), so be sure to bring a picture ID with you both when you are picking up advance-purchase tickets and when you actually go to the match. If you show up at the game with tickets but no corresponding picture ID, you won’t be let in!

How to Enjoy Your Game

A little preparation can go a long way in enjoying your calcio experience. To keep your finger on the pulse of Italy’s Serie A, SB Nation has an excellent English-language blog.

For a brush up of Italian soccer terms, take a look at this excellent primer.

For an entertaining interview with two Italian soccer commentators about the intersection of Italian culture and soccer, download the Eye on Italy podcast.

Remember, Italians take their soccer seriously: it behooves you to support the local team when attending a home game (or, at the very least, maintain a diplomatic impartiality) and avoid sporting the colors or cheering on the opposing team. The easiest way to do this is to buy the home team’s scarf on the way to the stadium.

If you are going to a soccer game in Italy - buy a scarf.

(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr.)

Also, the more rabid fans tend to group at the ends of the stadium (called the curva where the seats are less expensive), so to avoid much of the mayhem it’s best to choose seats in the stadium’s side sections.

italian fans

 (Photo by LordKhan via Flickr.)

A good, all-purpose cheer is Forza! (which means something along the lines of Go, go, go!!!). With that single word, you’re ready for your first calcio match in Italy. Forza!

Travel Specialists

Maria Landers

Brian Dore