No other club in Italy has a past like the Biancocelesti (white and sky blues). Formed on almost military lines by Luigi Bigiarelli in 1900, Lazio were the team fascist dictator Benito Mussolini took his children to see. Despite such political favouritism, Lazio achieved little of note.
Taking their support from the surrounding region of Lazio, in greenbelt suburbs such as Pairoli, the club flitted between divisions, won one Coppa Italia and only achieved anything newsworthy when they turned nasty. Coached by Juan Carlos 'Poison' Lorenzo, they became notorious for gamesmanship.
All that changed in 1974, when Lazio were fired to their first Serie A title by a brave, big-hearted striker raised in South Wales, Giorgio Chinaglia. But it couldn't last, and the team fell apart: Chinaglia left for New York Cosmos while Luciano Re Cecconi was shot dead in a jeweller's shop in a tragically misjudged practical joke.
It took the arrival of entrepreneur Sergio Cragnotti in 1992 to lift the club onto another level. Pouring in millions – but dragging the club deeper and deeper into debt – Cragnotti oversaw a decade in which Lazio never finished lower than seventh. They won a European trophy (the last Cup Winners' Cup), three Italian Cups and, best of all, in their centenary year, a scudetto.
Having splashed out on Paul Gascoigne, Alen Boksic and Christian Vieri, Cragnotti's smartest move was to hire Sven-Göran Eriksson as coach – and allow him to sell the fans' favourite Beppe Signori.
Eriksson crafted a midfield of Pavel Nedved, Juan Sebastian Veron and Sergio Conceicao, and Lazio won the title on the last day over Juventus. Buoyed by success, Cragnotti upped the ante, splashing out on such luxuries as £35m Hernan Crespo. As the club's wage bill soared, their form dipped. Salaries went unpaid, stars left and debts mounted, especially when Cragnotti left with a financial cloud hanging over his multinational company.
Coach Roberto Mancini worked wonders for two seasons but new president Claudio Lotito insisted on a bargain-basement operation (Paolo di Canio moved to Lazio for love – and a third of the pay he would have earned at Charlton). Di Canio made headlines for repeatedly making fascist salutes, most notoriously when celebrating Lazio's derby win over Roma.
Since then there has been a string of managers trying to return this massive club to where its supporters think it belongs: the European places. Since 2004, they've only twice finished in a single-figure place, and neither of those was a particularly happy occasion.
In 2006, their original sixth place was rapidly recalculated after the Calciopoli scandal – originally to relegation, although this was reduced on appeal. And when they managed to finish third in 2007, they were actually closer to the relegation zone than to rampant champs Inter – but what was worse was that Roma finished second.
As with many great rivalries, the neighbours will always preoccupy Lazio fans, but the more level-headed will first be hoping their own team can regularly trouble the top six. Even so, a Lazio game is usually an experience to behold.
The 82,000-capacity Stadio Olimpico is two miles north of the city centre, either via Ottaviano on metro line A then bus 32, or to Flaminio on the same line and tram 225. Allow 20 minutes from Termini station.
Roma sell tickets at the AS Roma store (Piazza Colonna 360), from Via Appia Nuova 130, near Re di Roma metro, and at Ricevitoria Lotto outlets. Lazio's outlet is at Via Farini 34 and at Lottomatica's outlets. Sell-outs are rare.
Club address Via di Santa Cornelia, 1000 - 00060 Formello, Roma
Telephone +39 06-97607111
For regular updates on the crazy world of Italian football, see our blog Serie Aaaargh!
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