Inside Italy’s ultras: the dangerous fans who control the game | Tobias Jones

When a key figure in a powerful ‘ultra’ group killed himself in July, police suspected the mafia was using the ultras to get into the game

On 7 July this year, Raffaello Bucci’s body was found at the bottom of the so-called “viaduct of suicides”. Just a day before, he had been interviewed by police investigating links between football and organised crime. The viaduct is an impressive structure connecting Turin to Cuneo, a city 100km to the south, and south-eastern France. The arches carrying the dual-carriageway over the Stura di Demonte river are 45 metres high. It was on this same spot that Edoardo, only son of Gianni Agnelli (the late owner of Fiat and Juventus), ended his life in 2000.

Bucci’s life, as well as his death, linked him to the Agnelli family. Although he grew up in San Severo, a town 850km to the south of Turin, Bucci was – like many southerners who move to the north – a hardcore Juventus supporter. He had grown up watching the greats of the “old lady” of Italian football: Platini, Baggio, Ravanelli, Vialli, Del Piero. Juventus was, according to one of his oldest friends, “an obsession”.

Bucci was christened Raffaello but everyone knew him as Ciccio. His roots were humble: his father was a school caretaker, his mother a housewife. They were very Catholic and – according to friends – indulgent. By all accounts Bucci was a lovable rogue: cheerful, fun and a “trascinatore”, a natural leader. He went to a technical secondary school to study book-keeping, where he had a wide groups of friends – he was elected student representative, but also hung out with teachers playing football pools in the bar.

As soon as he left school he moved, in the mid-1990s, to Turin, in the north-western region of Piedmont, the home of his beloved Juventus. With its perfectly parallel grid of streets framed by two sedate rivers and the Alps to the north, the city is august and grand. It is also a place of bon-viveurs, renowned for its fine wines, chocolates and aromatic drinks (Campari, Martini and Cinzano).

Bucci didn’t find a job as an accountant, but he had energy and imagination, and soon found an opening in the lucrative world of match ticket sales. He began sourcing and selling tickets to his friends, and friends of friends. He saw himself as a reliable fixer for his fellow, fanatical Juventini. In photographs from those years, he does not have the tough-nut look of many touts: he had a long, thinnish face, a cheeky smile and ever-present shades.

Football fans in Italy are notorious for their feverish support: the Italian word for fan, “tifoso”, translates as those who have typhoid. But Bucci was drawn into the even more ardent world of the “ultras” – tight-knit firms of fanatics, created not just to support a team but to promote the group’s own brand and business interests.

The first ultra groups were formed in the late 1960s, when supporters from Milan, Inter, Sampdoria, Torino and Verona formed vociferous and sometimes violent gangs. The original groups were often from the far right, or were influenced by the romance of leftwing guerrilla and partisan insurgencies (hence names such as “Brigades”, “Fedayeen” and “Commando”). Over time, as hooliganism increased, the names of ultra groups became anglicised (“Fighters”, “Old Lions”, “Boys”) or wilder (“Deranged”, “Out of Our Heads”).

By the mid-1970s, every major club in Italy had its own ultra group and a decade later, most had dozens. The firms had spent the intervening years splintering, regrouping, renaming and reinventing themselves – all in order to take possession of the centre of the curva. This area, behind the goal, has traditionally been the place where a club’s poorest, but most devoted, fans assemble. The curva is every bit as territorial as a drug dealer’s corner, and ultras stake out their turf in similar ways: fights, stabbings, shootings and, sometimes, by making alliances and business deals.

There are 382 ultra groups in Italy, of which some are still explicitly political (40 far-right and 20 far-left). Because Juventus draw their support from all over the country, their ultras are more eclectic than those of most other teams. Bucci became involved in a group called the Drughi. The name is taken from the Droogs of A Clockwork Orange – young men, known for their louche and stylish violence. The firm’s logo, displayed on flags, banners, badges and hats, consists of four silhouettes with batons and bowlers, set against a white or orange background. A poster of Benito Mussolini forms the centrepiece of their private members’ club in Mirafiori, three bus-stops beyond the end of Turin’s metro.

In a sport characterised by the perceived disloyalty of players and owners, the ultras see themselves as the only faithful elements of a club. In a rootless world, they offer a sense of belonging. That, certainly, was part of the attraction for Bucci.

But there has always been a dark side to the ultras. They have been at the centre of most violence on the terraces in the last 50 years and are involved in illicit businesses: ticket-touting and counterfeit merchandise, even drug dealing.

To begin with, Ciccio Bucci didn’t see that dark side. He was living a charmed life, making money and friends on the semi-legal periphery of Serie A. He even saw his ticket-touting as a way to realise his dream of one day working for the great club. Like so much in Italian life, the relationship between Juventus and its ultras was not one of open confrontation but of secretive compromise. In return for a safe and supportive stadium, Juventus helped the ultras make millions of euros a season from touting. As Michele Galasso, a lawyer who has represented both Juventus and ultra leaders, says: “The compromise between Juventus and the ultras was simply the compromise between the rules and the realities.”

* * *

Although the ultras are, in some ways, comparable to old‑style English hooligans, they take their planning to quasi-military levels. They ambush rivals to capture their banner, like an enemy flag. They also announce their presence in the stadium by executing drills and salutes, through flags and chants, by banging drums and setting off flares. Each firm has its own uniform and meeting place – normally a bar or private members’ club, filled with logos, slogans and memorabilia. Before a big match, these clubs look like the back room of a bank: stacks of tickets and banknotes surrounding middle-aged men, with half-moon glasses on the ends of their noses and calculators out.

When Ciccio first moved to Turin, in the mid-1990s, it had seemed as if the ultras were becoming ever more powerful. They could block the purchase of players they didn’t like (a small, antisemitic faction of ultras attached to the north-eastern club Udinese objected to the club’s attempts to acquire the Israeli forward Ronnie Rosenthal), or the sale of those they did – like the mooted transfer of Beppe Signori from Lazio to Parma – by threatening whole-stadium boycotts that would cost clubs millions in lost revenue.

As the ultras grew in influence, the number of people injured inside and outside football stadiums increased from 400 in the 1995-96 season to 1,200 in 1999-2000. The names of “martyrs” of ultra-related violence could often be seen spray-painted on the walls of cities across Italy. There were tributes to both ultra members and regular fans: Claudio Spagnolo (knifed on his way to a match); Vincenzo Paparelli (who died when a nautical rocket fired by an ultra flew the length of the pitch and hit him in the head); Antonio De Falchi (a Roma fan murdered outside the stadium); Antonio Currò (killed when a Catania fan threw a homemade bomb into a group of Messina fans); Sergio Ercolano (who fell to his death in 2003).

At times the ultra label has been little more than a fig leaf for neo-fascism. When the Dutch player Aron Winter the son of a Muslim father and a Jewish mother signed for Lazio in 1992, graffiti was sprayed outside the club’s training ground that read “Winter Raus” – an echo of the words “Juden Raus” from Nazi-era Germany. In 1997, ultras from Juventus’s local rivals, Torino, threw a Moroccan man, Abdellah Doumi, into the Po river. One of the men owned a dog named Adolf. Bottles and a vacuum cleaner were thrown at Doumi, who could not swim. “Dirty black shit,” the attackers shouted as he drowned.

In 2004, a group of Roma ultras caused the cancellation of a derby match against Lazio four minutes into the second half, after a rumour spread around the stands that a boy had been killed outside by a police car. Fans from both sides protested furiously against the police, even after several statements were made over the stadium tannoy that nothing of the kind had happened. The images of the Roma captain, Francesco Totti, surrounded by ultra leaders telling him not to play, became symbolic of the power of the firms over Italian football. As he walked back to the players, Totti called out to the manager: “If we play on, they’re going to kill us.”

Some of those drawn into the world of the ultras are not fans, but simply petty criminals hoping to make easy money. In a recent phone call recorded by police as part of the investigation into links between ultras and organised crime, one ultra was asked by a friend if he was going to the stadium on Sunday. “If we’re making money, yes,” came the reply. “Why [else] should I give a shit?” There are even occasional stories of ultras switching teams, not as fans but as investors.

But no one could accuse Bucci of anything other than loyalty to Juventus and the Drughi. He was so good at selling tickets that he earned a gold star on the wooden beam in the Drughi’s private club: “R Bucci” it said. He was at the stadium for every game. It was often Bucci who led the supporters’ chants with a megaphone.

In 2004, Bucci met Gabriella, a woman from Cuneo. They married and had a baby boy together. The couple lived in Beinette, a village just outside Cuneo. The area is a strange combination of the rustic and the industrial. Cows graze between the houses, and in the distance you can see the first of the mighty mountains of the Alps. Opposite Bucci’s house, however, is a metal-recycling depot and at several road junctions nearby prostitutes in miniskirts sit next to fields filled with eight-foot-tall stalks of corn.

Bucci commuted back and forth between Beinette and Turin, an hour north-east, where he had a little flat above a bar near the Juventus stadium. He was always on his phone. He had a terror, his wife later said, of losing it. It would ring all hours of day and night with people begging for tickets.

Bucci may have been the go-to man for tickets, but he was never The Man. That was Dino Mocciola, leader of the Drughis, who spent 20 years in prison for armed robbery and murder of a policeman. Few people get close to the notorious Mocciola: after his release from prison in February 2005, he was banned from matches, so unlike other ultra leaders, there are no photos of him on the terraces – only the mugshot taken when he was arrested in 1989. One source in the Turin flying squad describes Mocciola as a Scarlet Pimpernel: he hasn’t used a phone for years. Not even his lawyers, they say, know how to reach him. But such is his notoriety that soon after he had served his time, opposing fans from one of Roma’s ultra groups held up a banner at Juventus’s stadium saying: “Ciao Dino. Bentornato” (“Hi Dino. Welcome Back”).

The Drughi had become sidelined whilst Mocciola was in prison, shunted from the centre to the fringes of the curva, with all that implied for their prestige and their business interests. “Predominance in the curva is worth gold,” one journalist wrote at the time. “It means being the intermediary of the club. It brings free tickets, favours and travel allowances.”

With Mocciola out of prison, they began to reassert themselves. In April 2005, an ultra from a rival Juventus group, the Fighters, was stabbed – by a Drugo, it was assumed. The resulting feud lasted more than a year: in the summer of 2006, two Drughi (including Mocciola) were stabbed and 50 fans arrested in clashes between different Juventus ultras. But by then, under the leadership of Mocciola, the balance of power had shifted: the Drughi were the top dogs. The Fighters split and merged into other groups and Mocciola claimed his position as the undisputed king of the curva.

Because he was banned from matches, Mocciola needed a lieutenant near the turnstiles, bossing the terraces and liaising with the club. Bucci seemed to know everyone and, with his accountancy training, had a good head for numbers. He was close to Juventus staff, sometimes even sleeping over at the flat of Stefano Merulla, the head of the club’s ticket sales division. He was the perfect candidate.

Ciccio Bucci’s body was found at the bottom of the so-called ‘viaduct of suicides’
Ciccio Bucci’s body was found at the bottom of the so-called ‘viaduct of suicides’ Composite: Facebook

* * *

Bucci had arrived. He was close to his beloved club and to its fans. He had an income, and a family. “When Ciccio came back south,” a friend of Bucci’s told me, “he would always talk about Gabriella and his son, and show us photographs.”

But it could not last. After years of her husband’s frenetic wheeling and dealing, and late-night dashes back to Turin, Bucci’s wife had had enough. He was rarely at home and, according to Gabriella’s sister, they argued about how he spoiled their son. Gabriella didn’t like it when Bucci took their young son into the city and kept him overnight. In 2011, the couple separated, but remained on good terms. Bucci bought a small flat in Margarita, a neighbouring village with a small castle and rust-coloured brick church.

His position as the middle man between the legitimate and criminal worlds was also about to become harder. In 2007, a young policeman, Filippo Raciti, was killed during clashes between police and Catania fans.

The killing of Raciti finally persuaded Italian politicians to confront the menace of violent football fans. All matches were suspended for a week. Strict measures against ultras included banning flares, megaphones and drums. Banners now had to be preapproved by clubs. Armoured vehicles and security cameras were present at all grounds.

Juventus had particular reasons for wanting to stop the violence. The club had recently acquired the Stadio delle Alpi from the city council. The club was planning to build a new, 41,000-seater stadium on the site, meaning that it would be one of only three clubs in Serie A to own its own sporting venue (all the others are owned by town or city councils). The income would be immense, and the security state-of-the-art. There was so much money at stake, the last thing the club hierarchy wanted was for the club to be fined, or even docked points, as a result of their ultras’ behaviour.

The upper echelons of Juventus needed to reach a compromise with their hardcore fans. It was a compromise that would later become the subject of a police investigation: when interviewed in July this year, the head of Juventus’s ticket sales, Stefano Merulla, admitted that the club would supply hundreds of match-day tickets, on credit, to the leader of each ultra group, through a ticket agency called Akena, in return for good behaviour. This was in clear contravention of the rules, which stated that no more than four tickets could be sold to any individual.

Juventus has strenuously denied any wrongdoing. In a statement to the Guardian, the club said: “No manager or employee of Juventus is under investigation, and those that were heard by the judicial authority were called as witnesses. It should be noted also that Juventus, as emerged from the investigations, has always fully cooperated with law enforcement agencies.”

Match-day tickets were just the bread and butter of the compromise. The real meat was in season tickets. At the beginning of each season, a foot-soldier from one of the ultra firms would go all over the city renting identity cards from people so they could be duplicated. He would then photocopy hundreds of ID cards or passports and use them to buy a stack of season tickets from Juventus. Since the named ticket-holder had no interest in attending the matches, the gangs could rent the season ticket, game by game, to the highest bidder. (All it required was that the security detail on the turnstiles did not notice the discrepancy between the season-ticket holder’s name and that of the entrant. As there were vans filled with ultras parked outside the Curva Sud, of course, they never did.)

In a startling admission to police years later, Merulla stated that he knew the ultras were “doing business” with those tickets: “The compromise,” he said, “was a good solution for everyone.” Juventus had a vibrant but safe stadium and won five consecutive championships between 2011 and 2016. The Agnelli family – due in part to their ownership of the city’s newspaper, La Stampa – continued to be revered as Turin’s quasi royal family. Meanwhile each of the handful of most powerful ultra firms was making serious, hassle-free profits.

With as many as 300 match-day tickets, and 300 season-tickets, each paying an average of €50 a game, and with 30-plus games a season (depending on cup runs), each ultra gang could make close to €1m a year. It was good money for minimal risk (ticket touting is not a criminal offence under Italian law, only an “illecito amministrativo” – administrative fraud, punishable with a fine). Little wonder Bucci always had ready money. Little wonder that various mafia families were beginning to cast an envious eye on the Juventus ultras.

* * *

In the postwar period, it was decided that the best way to diminish the power of the mafia in southern Italy was to banish its worst elements from their home territory and relocate them to the more law-abiding north, far from their criminal associates. Begun in 1956, the policy was called “soggiorno obbligato” – a “compulsory stay”. Of course, instead of removing the mafia from the south, these measures simply exported it to the north.

The Calabrian mafia – known as the ’Ndrangheta – from the region that forms the toe of Italy’s boot, proved itself more adept than any other at insinuating itself into northern Italy. Beginning with the sale of counterfeit bergamot orange oil (the original is grown in Calabria and used as a flavouring in Earl Grey tea), the ’Ndrangheta exported its businesses to the north: moneylending, extortion, illegal gambling, construction cartels and drug trafficking. Piedmont, which borders France and Switzerland, was one of the industrial hubs of Italy, and a magnet for the Calabrian mafia.

By 2013, two particular Calabrians were of interest to anti-mafia investigators: Saverio Dominello and his son, Rocco. They were suspected of being part of the powerful Rosarno clan, involved in extortion in small towns between Turin and Milan. Investigators believed that the Dominellos were also mixed up in nightclubs and narcotics. The father, Saverio, was an old-school, surly type, but Rocco was often described as garbato – “smooth” or “graceful”.

From recorded conversations in the spring of that year, investigators deduced that the Dominello family were planning to move in on the ticket touting business in Turin and wanted to form their own ultra group, called the “Gobbi” (or “hunchbacks”, a nickname for Juventus supporters). Saverio and Rocco Dominello knew they had to tread carefully and obtain the approval of the other ultra groups. “If the plate is round,” Saverio Dominello was recorded as saying, “it’ll be cut five ways.” This was old-fashioned spartizione: slicing up the profits between different cartels.

Slowly other interested parties were sounded out about the new ultra group. The head of the Viking ultras, a poker player known to have Sicilian connections, gave his assent. ’Ndrangheta strongholds in the south also agreed. The man who was fronting the new ultra group was under police surveillance, and boasted over the phone about having the support of mafia clans: “We’ve got our backs covered, we’ve got the guys who count. What the fuck more do you want?”

On 20 April 2013, the Drughis’ top man, Dino Mocciola met with the Dominellos and their associates. The Dominellos arrived with ostentatious humility in a Fiat 500, while Mocciola rolled up in a Series 1 BMW. They went into a cafe in the village of Montanaro for a meeting that lasted almost two hours. A police listening device hidden in one of the Dominello group’s cars caught the men boasting about the power of the new Gobbi ultra firm: “You’ve had the honour to sit at table with Dino … no one can touch you. You’re the number one … you can lay down the law if anyone behaves badly.” The next day, in a crunch match against Milan on 21 April 2013, the new group announced itself with a huge banner in the stadium: “Gobbi”.

All over Italy, the ultras were reasserting themselves. The popularity of the firms was on the rise among fans, and a lack of political will meant that their influence went unchallenged by the authorities. In 2012, a relegation run-in against Siena was halted for 45 minutes when Genoa ultras threw fireworks on the pitch and screamed at players to take off their red and blue home shirts in shame after they went 4-0 down. All but one of the players sheepishly put on their away shirts. Other matches were abandoned because of fan revolts. In 2013, in the Lega-Pro, the Italian third division, a match between Salernitana and Nocerina was stopped when five players from Nocerina, whose ultras had been banned from attending matches, feigned injury in protest. The game had to be abandoned.

Rocco Dominello quickly became influential among both Juventus officials and different ultra groups. He was introduced to Stefano Merulla. He also became a close friend of Juventus’s security manager, Alessandro D’Angelo, and by June 2013 was giving him orders. When D’Angelo told Dominello that the rival Vikings’ allocation of tickets had been reduced, Dominello said: “Like I told you to”. He also bragged that people “are scared of me”.

Napoli and Juventus ultras clash at Naples’ ground, during a Serie A match on January 9, 2011.
Napoli and Juventus ultras clash at Naples’ ground, during a Serie A match on January 9, 2011. Photograph: Claudio Villa/Getty Images

Juventus did nothing to halt Dominello’s rise. In January 2014, a Swiss citizen complained to the club that he had paid €620 for a ticket officially worth €140. Internal checks by the club proved that the ticket had initially been supplied to Dominello by D’Angelo. Merulla was beginning to have suspicions about Dominello. “I don’t know what job he has, I don’t know what influence he has,” Merulla said in a phone call to another ultra member, intercepted by police. Dominello was, he said, “mysteriously powerful” – code for mafioso. And yet, despite all those fears, just a week after the Swiss fan’s complaint, D’Angelo told Dominello they would find a way to get him tickets using “a different code”.

As you read police transcripts of D’Angelo’s sweary telephone conversations, it becomes clear that he was way out of his depth. He relished being matey with the ultras and was seemingly blase about their darker dealings. A source within the Turin flying squad told me “there was an error of judgment [by Juventus management]. They thought they could handle it.” One judge later wrote that D’Angelo and Juventus appeared to behave with “subjection and submission” with regard to Rocco Dominello. Part of the problem, as always in Italy, was a nepotistic system that promoted friends instead of professionals. D’Angelo’s father had been Umberto Agnelli’s chauffeur, and Andrea Agnelli (now Juventus’s president), had been a childhood friend.

Through 2014, the ultras became even more troublesome. For the Juventus-Torino derby that spring, Mocciola called a fan strike in a show of power to the club’s hierarchy: he wanted the Drughi to receive more tickets, at cheaper prices. For years, D’Angelo had looked to Bucci as the go-between to shore up the Juventus-ultra compromise, but now he called the Calabrian, Rocco Dominello, instead: “I want you [ultras] to be calm, and us [Juventus] to be calm, and we’ll travel together.” It was clear that Bucci’s influence was on the wane.

The final of the Coppa Italia, on 3 May that year, between Napoli and Fiorentina, was marred by violence before the match. A fascist ex-AS Roma ultra shot three Napoli fans, one of whom later died. Napoli ultras were so incensed that they prevented the match kicking off for half an hour. The Napoli ultra leader, Genny ’a Carogna (Genny the Swine), proudly wore a black T-shirt urging the release of the man jailed for murdering the policeman Ispettore Raciti back in 2007.

* * *

On 25 November 2014, investigators made a breakthrough in their search for links between the ultras and organised crime. Andrea Puntorno, a 39-year-old Sicilian living in Turin, was arrested for importing heroin and cocaine from Sicily and Albania. Puntorno was the head of another Juventus ultra clan, the Bravi Ragazzi (“The Goodfellas”). Between 2004 and 2011 Puntorno had declared an income of just €2,600 per year, but he owned a house, a car and a motorbike. The Bravi Ragazzi already had a bad reputation: on 19 December 2011 various members had organised a violent pogrom, setting fire to a travellers’ encampment in Continassa, on the edge of the new Juventus stadium, forcing 20 families to leave the area and clearing it for developers to move in.

Puntorno’s arrest was, a judge later wrote, the first evidence of “a dangerous and worrying business link between members of the ultras and individuals belonging to mafia clans”.

After his arrest, Puntorno’s wife was threatened and intimidated by her husband’s business partners. She decided to become a witness for the prosecution. She described the processes by which her husband would sometimes make €30,000 from a single Juventus game, much of the money being distributed to the relatives of members of the firm who were serving time in prison. Profits from tickets sales were invested in wholesale drugs purchases, and vice versa. “This business went on for many years,” she said. “Season tickets were supplied to Andrea … by Juventus at the beginning of every season, whilst every match Andrea managed to get more tickets.” She said that the profit margin on each ticket was between €30 and €100. The Bravi Ragazzi also had a monopoly on counterfeit merchandising, or what are called in Italian “gadget”: badges, shirts, keyrings, bumper stickers, scarves and so on. Investigators were now in no doubt that there was not just one, but many criminal gangs circling around the profitable business of ticket touting.

Meanwhile, the Drughi had turned against Ciccio Bucci. There was a whispering campaign against him, suggesting that he had touted tickets online and that he was a police informant. When the short-lived Gobbi merged with the Drughi, Bucci found himself sidelined by Rocco Dominello. Bucci’s former champion Dino Mocciola turned on him, and gave him a beating. Bucci, in fear for his life, retreated back to his home town for the whole of the 2014-15 season. Always a thin man, he lost 8kg and told Gabriella that people were trying to “take him out”.

From San Severo, Ciccio tried to plot his comeback. He called Alessandro D’Angelo in November 2014 and alluded, albeit in veiled terms, to Rocco Dominello’s mafia links: he called Dominello “that type of person”. “Ah, OK,” said D’Angelo. “Only at that point,” commented the public prosecutor in a later document, “does D’Angelo seem to understand.”

By now, Juventus were aware that they had allowed wolves into the barn, and that more were trying to get in. The club was under pressure from racketeers to give building work at the new stadium to a particular construction company, in order to avoid vandalism and stop the intimidation of workers. The club felt that Bucci was one of the few ultras with whom they could still do business. He had been a fixture at the club for a long time and was well liked. The commercial director of the club, Francesco Calvo, said that Bucci was a man who “inspired empathy”. The club’s elderly lawyer, Andrea Galasso, called him “a simple, sunny, enthusiastic, clean guy”.

So, a plan was hatched to give Bucci an official role within the club. He would work as a consultant alongside the club’s supporter liaison officer. Bucci’s employer was Telecontrol, a Turin security firm. From down south, Bucci phoned D’Angelo to pitch how he would work with the ultras: “It wasn’t my intention to sink this ship,” he said, “but a bit of water needs to get in.” It is unclear whether he meant the club would be allocating fewer tickets to the ultra gangs, but he did seem to realise that when, as he put it, “people got their feet wet”, they would turn on him. “They’ll be calling me shitface,” he said.

By the start of the 2015-16 season, Bucci was back in Turin. It seemed that his childhood dream had come true: he was working for the club he had worshipped since he was a boy. The last time the club’s lawyer saw Bucci, on the occasion of the Torino-Juventus derby in March this year, he received an enthusiastic hug: “I’m an official figure,” Bucci said, smiling happily.

The trouble was that Bucci had, in his words, “a foot in both rivers”. He was “double-dealing”: aiming to satisfy the demands of Juventus, ordinary fans, various ultra groups and even the police (“they call me every day” to confirm tip-offs, he once complained). As he did at school, he was trying to be friends with everyone. But the ultras would not accept any reduction in their ticket allowance, and Bucci was ostracised and branded a traitor to the Drughi’s cause. While his dream of working for Juventus had come true, after a year the position was no longer quite as attractive as he had imagined. In the spring of 2016, Bucci’s mother died. He was isolated and, despite all those incessant phone calls, alone.

On 1 July this year, Rocco and Saverio Dominello, and 13 others, were arrested for a variety of mafia-related crimes. They have denied all wrongdoing. Dominello and son are in prison, awaiting trial for mafia association and attempted murder. Andrea Puntorno was convicted of drug dealing at trial, and was later released on probation with a fine of €500,000. On 6 July, Bucci was questioned as “a witness to the facts”. The transcript of his interview the day before his death gives no hint of despair or terror. One of the investigators told me that Bucci appeared “calm and good humoured”. He made no startling revelations, only confirming what investigators already knew: “I don’t deny having received tickets. It’s not as if Juventus gave them to us. We called and asked for up to 300 tickets. We bought them on credit and paid the balance afterwards.”

That night, though, he phoned his ex-wife and apologised to her and their son for any “lack of respect”. She didn’t understand and Bucci could only say he was “totally paranoid”. He was “100%” convinced that he would be arrested and that Juventus would sack him. His lifelong ambition was over before it had really begun, and he feared he would have to sell his house. He phoned her again at 11.30 the following morning, saying he was going to work. Half an hour later, he jumped from the famous viaduct. Two workmen witnessed his fall, and were able to assure investigators that Ciccio had not been, as the saying goes, “suicided”.

It is not, clearly, a story that reflects well on Italy’s biggest club. Juventus was complicit in large-scale ticket-touting and conducted business, albeit unwittingly, with criminal elements. Ciccio Bucci, a man who had always been passionate about the club, was compromised and even scapegoated. He found himself caught between not just Juventus and its ultras, but between police and the Calabrian mafia. In the end he could see no way out other than ending his life.

• Follow the Long Read on Twitter at @gdnlongread, or sign up to the long read weekly email here.


Tobias Jones

The GuardianTramp

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The Long Read: Fifa belongs to a select group of titles familiar to people who have no interest in gaming – or even real football. What’s the secret of its success?

Simon Parkin

21, Dec, 2016 @6:00 AM

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Football wars: what the murder of ‘the Uncle’ says about life inside Italy’s ultras
After the Inter Milan gang leader Vittorio Boiocchi was gunned down in the streets, Tobias Jones examines the changing face of a powerful sporting subculture

Tobias Jones

05, Nov, 2022 @5:00 PM

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An unsolved murder at Italy’s most notorious tower block
The long read: Earlier this year, the remains of a teenage girl were found near Hotel House, a crumbling building largely occupied by recent immigrants, which many Italians regard as a den of drugs and violence. Did prejudice hamper the search for justice?

Tobias Jones

31, Jul, 2018 @5:00 AM

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Going underground: inside the world of the mole-catchers
The Long Read: A bitter battle is raging within the mole-catching community over the kindest way to carry out their deadly work

Brendan Borrell

08, Mar, 2017 @6:00 AM

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1MDB: The inside story of the world’s biggest financial scandal | Randeep Ramesh
The Long Read: How a jailed former banker and a lone British journalist broke a story that shook the world

Randeep Ramesh

28, Jul, 2016 @6:24 PM

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The neo-Nazi murder trial revealing Germany's darkest secrets | Thomas Meaney and Saskia Schäfer
The Long Read: The only known survivor of a far-right group accused of a series of racist killings is now on trial. But the case has put the nation itself in the dock

Thomas Meaney and Saskia Schäfer

15, Dec, 2016 @5:59 AM