Each year many thousands of football fans make the 3 km trip across the Strait of Messina to reach Italy.  Its said many Juventus fans from Sicily head north each weekend to watch Juventus.  Such is the support for the Turin giants Juventus chose to play a few home games in Palermo; a move seen as a progressive especially during the later years of the unpopular Stadio delle Alpi.

Many Italians on the mainland still often think of their near neighbours in Sicily as foreigners and with the journey from Milan to Palermo being a 1600km round trip its hardly surprising.  Essentially seeing the Sicilians as ‘different’ is a generalisation that many Sicilians themselves would not take any issue with and often rejoice in due to the stark cultural differences.

Sicily feels different to the main Italian peninsula in many ways from the daily way of life, to linguistic differences through to distinct forms of cuisine.  The run down crumbling pavements in Palermo tell a tale of under investment and even neglect by the central Italian government yet this is a place with some of Italy’s best historical and natural landmarks. Just about every classical empire over the last 3,000 years has pent time on Sicily from the Normans, Bourbons, Romans, Greeks, Saracens to the Spanish.  As a consequence many ancient ruins define the island from ornate Arabic temples to mosaic filled churches that have all been left behind over the centuries.

Despite sitting in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, Sicily is a very diverse land.  The island is also the largest in the Mediterranean dwarfing other islands including the nearby Malta.  It has a landscape of tall mountains, a charming if crumbling capital in Palermo and one of the most famous landmarks of all in the natural wonder of Mount Etna.

Rivalry in Sicily

During Italia 90 the Renzo Barbera Stadium ‘La Favorita’ was joint home to the unfashionable Group F alongside Sardinia where England played its matches.  Group rivals in the Irish Republic, the Dutch and the Egyptians played 3 group games on Sicily. A picturesque stadium that sits nearby Monte Pellegrino perhaps only a 1989 stadium tragedy in Palermo meant that the Sicilians were entrusted with only three group matches and all three turned out to be largely uneventful games. Yet the star of the Italian World Cup turned out to be a Sicilian footballer from Palermo called Salvatore ‘Toto’ Schillaci who had learned his goalscoring trade with little Messina.

The most popular team on the island continue to be U.S Palermo now once again a Serie A club following successful promotion in 2014. Last season (2014-2015) saw a return to form with the club challenging for a European place thanks to the goals of Pablo Dybala a player who has since subsequently left Sicily as Schillaci did for Juventus.

Known for the pink home shirts, colours which supposedly came about after the original red and blue shirts faded in the wash, Palermo are the only club from the island to do anything in European football and this factor is likely to continue with Messina and Catania both playing in the third tier of Serie C Lega Pro.

Only little Trapani the Granata some 100km west of Palermo have a team in Serie B at the moment.  This town, rather than Catania, is the location of the stadium that Palermo used during periods of stadium reconstruction.

Given the distance in the Italian football system between Catania and U.S. Palermo it’s likely to be some time before the big Sicilian derby the Derby Di Sicilia is contested again.  Problems for Catania known as the Elefanti currently run deeper than on the field with the club owners being found guilty of match fixing. This led to a 9 point deduction and eventual relegation from the more respectable Serie B.

Messina, the former club of Toto Schillaci, are also currently a Serie C Lega Pro club.  However, given the strategic position of the club on the far north east corner of the island its biggest rivals are those from the mainland in Reggio Calabria with whom they are separated by via the Strait of Messina.  Following bankruptcy and an implication in another match fixing fiasco Reggina are now in Serie D and therefore the Derby dello Stretto (Derby of the Strait) is also not currently taking place.

Outside of the three biggest clubs a number of Sicilian sides also play in the regionalised fifth tier of Italian football and in the case of Siciliy this is the Eccellenza Sicily. But many of these sides are no more than proud village teams, though still no less proud of the clubs place place on the Italian football map.

You can see some of my images from Sicily here.