The since dissolved Movimento Sociale Italiano (Italian Social Movement), with it clerical-conservative vision of a centralised Italian state, may not be the first thing people associate with the Italian Ultra movement. However, its role in the fledgling Ultra groups of teams now synonymous with right-wing politics in the late sixties and early seventies should not be dismissed.
Even before its formation, football and politics were intertwined in Italy. Mussolini himself had little doubt over football’s usefulness as a tool which mirrored the fascist ideals of strength, virility and power.
Founded as a post-fascist political group in 1946, the organisation drew the bulk of its support from Rome, Bari and Naples, playing on calls for social unity and southern resentment of the affluent north. It looked to stand out in terms of its loyalty to the previous regime, and was able to hold its hegemony over specific regions within the multi-faceted culture of fascism in the country. 1972 saw the party reach the peak of influence holding 56 seats in the Italian Chamber of Deputies.
Backed considerably by support from the Lazio region of Italy – home to many of the middle classes, police, military and former vehemently pro-Mussolini supporters – it gained 14.8 per cent of the popular vote, with a further 17.4 per cent in Rome.
The ‘success’ would have been unthinkable years earlier. In the late 1960s the old guard support of the Italian right was dwindling across the party’s heartland, allied with the rise in left-wing youth groups at the time. Giorgio Almirante, who took up the leadership of the party in 1969 realised that its future survival relied on youth engagement and support. In 1967 his party had lost almost a fifth of the activists that it had counted on in 1960 while the 1968 election results brought in the party’s lowest ever return of 4.5 per cent.
His first role saw the suggested creation of a Destra Nazionale. This constituent group was created to draw support from anti-left leaning groups, broadening support in conservative and radical Italy, which led to an eventual merger with the Monarchist National Party. His attempts to redefine the political right of Italy was closely aligned to increased engagement and mobilisation of centre and extreme-right youth groups.
Ultras groups across Italy sympathetic to its vague policies of traditional social values and law and order included those of Ascoli, Hellas Verona, Padova, Triestina, Inter and Lazio, with the latter two the most fruitful. While teams in the Veneto like Hellas Verona and Padova sided with the centre-right regionalist Liga Veneta Party – the predecessor of the Lega Nord – significant ground was made with Lazio’s ‘VIKING Lazio’ and Inter’s ‘Boys SAN’.
In the late sixties, A.C. Milan was viewed very much left of the political spectrum, with close ties to the city’s railway workers. Nothing is ever black and white, nor could any footballing city be spilt accurately within a political context, but Inter was considered the team of the middle classes of Milan and its suburbs, with fans sharing similar social conservative views.
The Lazio region already had a staunch following of the party, so the focus was magnified on Inter. Although support for the Italian Social Movement was weak in the Lombardy region, they had a significant support within the main Ultra group of Inter. The bulk of Inter’s Boys SAN comprised members of the Fronte della Gioventu, the youth element of the Italian Social Movement. Its neo-fascist influence remains.
While Almirante’s plan worked initially, his impact on Italian football culture was much more significant.