There’s no football on the island and no island for football, a trip to the lagoon without kickoffs

Venice is not Disneyland, laments a now-famous social page. Venice cannot be grassroots football, confirms the sad present of the Stella Rossa, an amateur team forced by its Federation to play only and exclusively on the mainland. There is no football on the island and there is no island for football, this is the message that the institutions wanted to reserve for a club that has been committed for over ten years to sustain the human and social capital of an increasingly tourist and artificial city. Men and women who represent the last bastions of the popular lagoon resistance, athletes and fans who see in their sporting entity a pole of aggregation and an awareness-raising tool, a means of denunciation and a tiny, almost imperceptible, flame of hope.

“Today the inhabitants of the historic center are more or less 49,000, when I was born they were twice as many,” Enrico Quieto, Stella Rossa footballer and activist, frames in a few, dry words the paradoxical and dramatic condition of a wonderful city, a floating gem that is guilty of its own beauty and is increasingly a victim of the social transformation process. More and more sestieri and canals are turning into an open-air museum, a monumental amusement park to be destined for abnormal tourist flows and schizophrenic consumerism. “The social environment is affected and ruined by these measures,” continues Ignacio Contreras, a Chilean anthropologist but Venetian footballer by adoption, “If you take football away from Venice, you are making a huge mistake. This is a cultural city, it seems obvious to me, but football is extremely important to all of its inhabitants and beyond, as evidenced by the presence in our roster and among our fans of people who live on the mainland and who, continuously, come here to both practice and support the vision of this club.”

The importance of the Venetian football also echoes in the words of midfielder Antonio Fantinelli. Antonio reasons between choruses, cheering on his friends-activists engaged in a friendly night match against Salsedine, one of the very few mainland teams to support the Stella’s demands and ideals. These ideals are not only about sports, they are mainly related to a crucial factor for Venice, the social one. It’s not good to live Venice as a Venetian, the present here is really sad. Football, but also basketball and volleyball have become essential tools to keep the community together. Venetians have no real opportunities, no future. Of course, football or Stella Rossa won’t be the reasons for the new generations to stay here, but they’ll certainly help them understand that the Venetians are still active and participatory and that the equation ‘fewer Venetians = fewer problems’ is not accepted by everyone.”

“They have many more problems than we do,” point out the Stella’s opponents on the sidelines of a friendly match soaked in Moretti beers and glacial humidity. On the romantic field of Sant’Alvise that directly overlooks the lagoon (one of the very rare Venetian football facilities), members of the Salsedine bring up yet another paradox related to the current ban: “This decision makes no sense, because mainland teams, like us, should come to play on the island once, maybe twice a year. It is the Stella players who have to face an entire league by traveling basically every week. We should make very few sacrifices compared to these guys and other sportsmen on the island. Playing sports in Venice is very difficult from a logistical point of view: untangling the calli, taking vaporetti, transporting technical equipment, finding an available field for practicing… These are all issues that the Stella Rossa guys have to deal with on a daily basis. If we add to this situation the absurdity of this decision, the outcome can only be the decline of Venetian football and the annihilation of its social force.”

Large cruise ships and second houses, ghost districts and kitsch souvenirs. In the shadow of the Rialto Bridge, the city’s heartbeat seems to be increasingly on the wane, as Stella Rossa defender Nicola Calenda confirms over a cod mousse. “Our will is to pass on a city perspective to future generations, but is a really tough goal. The Stella Rossa project was born from a group of friends twelve years ago, over time it has branched out and involved many people, figures who have allowed us to project our thoughts into sports and cultural activities, into the processes of integration and the fight against racism. Here we don’t play football, basketball or volleyball, we do much more. We engage in discourse and address city issues, we try to fight small battles, to counter a parable that seems inescapable. The inability to play in the city center is only a reflection of what’s happening to the whole city. We already know that here the smallest and weakest are struck first in order to incontrovertibly change what surrounds us. But we’ll continue to resist.”

And the indomitable, irrational social resistance also passes and will pass through symbols like Sócrates Brasileiro Sampaio de Souza Vieira de Oliveira, for everyone simply the ‘Doctor of Football’. On the Stella Rossa pop uniforms appears the profile of the footballer-philosopher, who came to Italy in the mid-1980s to study Gramsci and spread the footballing beauty word. The ‘Democracia Corinthiana’ theorist for this Venetian collective serves as a true spirit guide, moving words, thoughts and actions out of the green field, in order to dig into the city’s consciousness. “Football is a collective sport and there is no need for everyone to run. There are those who run and those who think,” said once the elegant midfielder. And in the darkness of a cold Venetian Monday night, there are those who still run and there are those who still think, “There are still those who carry out vital projects in order to improve and lift the fortunes of this city and those who inhabit it,” concludes Enrico Quieto with an intense poetic vein, “I think this should be the goal of everyone: trying to improve our condition and the condition of our children, of the future Venetians.”

Text by: Gianmarco Pacione
Photo Credits: @Rise Up Duo