The Derby del Sole has long been a bit of a charged affair, with the once-close bond between the two fanbases fractured by regional hatreds and the ever-rising tide of ultra culture. There have been numerous clashes between fans over the last two decades, as well as any number of vile chants and worse thrown at one another during matches.
None of the conflict has ever been worse than before a match that didn't even involve AS Roma. Before the Coppa Italia final in Rome in May between Napoli and Fiorentina, Roma fans roamed the streets and fought repeatedly with Napoli fans. There were several huge brawls, and one of them ended with Ciro Esposito lying on the ground with a bullet in his chest.
Reports of what exactly happened that day, who started what, and what exact groups were involved vary significantly, but the truth is simple: hatred between these two fanbases lead to a 29 year old man who went to Rome to see a football match never going home ever again.
Tomorrow, Roma and Napoli face off for the first time since that fateful day. Tensions have been high between the two fanbases for months, and now both teams are begging their fans to maintain what tenuous peace there is. "Our message must be a football and a sports one," Rafa Benitez told the media in his pre-match press conference. "Today our responsibility must be to send a message of calm, respect – that’s the only way we can honor Ciro’s memory."
Roma manager Rudi Garcia agreed, adding that "football needs to be a celebration, not a war - friendship and respect for other teams. The great thing about football is it brings people together. A family should never have to think about whether or not to take their kids to the stadium."
Garcia is exactly right: a family should never have to worry about taking their kids to a stadium. No one should have to even consider "will I be safe?" before donning their club's shirt and heading out for the match. But too often, the answer to that question winds up being "no".
Steps have already been taken to try to keep the peace: Roma fans were barred from buying tickets in any sort of official capacity. There's only so much that can be done to keep determined fans from getting their hands on tickets, though, and there will be Roma fans in Naples tomorrow.
So let us add our plea to the voices already being raised: stay safe. Don't succumb to rage, or hatred. No matter what's happened in the past, violence is not the answer. Don't go looking for trouble. Please, just let tomorrow be about what happens on the pitch, not in the stands, and not outside the stadium. Please.