Monday, February 13, 2012

Defining Tifosi

Close your eyes for a moment and imagine yourself at a Grand Prix. The air is warm and tinted with the scent of burnt rubber. You can hear the sound of Formula 1 engines thundering in the distance and as they pass by your grandstand you can feel the vibration they create oscillating within your ear canal. You are excited, dehydrated and, unless you have a dark complexion, you are definitely sunburnt! The seat beside you is occupied by someone who also seems to be enthusiastic about Formula 1 and almost immediately you come to realise that this person is one of the legendary and sometimes notorious tifosi.

When I mentioned the word tifosi what type of person did it conjure? Was it male or female, thin or fat, did it have an issue with body odour or was it abnormally hairy? Was it shirtless with a character in Fernando Alonso’s name emblazoned on its chest and if so, was it incredibly wasted and carrying some form of explosive? Was it waving a massive home-made flag while sweating profusely under a red clown wig? Chances are that amongst all of the stereotypical images that flashed through your mind, what you didn’t imagine was me.

I was having this debate with my boyfriend, who is also possibly the biggest tifoso that I have ever met, the other day. While discussing our shared passion for Ferrari, we realised that we had slightly different views about the definition of the word tifosi itself. To Luca, who comes from an Italian family, the word describes any fanatical sports fan and in Italy is applied particularly to fans of various football teams and even cycling. Luca joked that for tifosi, there are only two emotions; love and hate. When their team is winning, they are enamoured, when their team is losing, they are filled with bitter rage! “Remember when they threw stones at Alain Prost?” he mused “Or when they cheered for Jean Alesi in the Tyrell because they knew he was going to be a Ferrari driver?” While I agree that many of Ferrari’s tifosi do seem to be a fickle bunch, I couldn’t help but feel that both Luca and I fall through the cracks, so do many others.

When I was a little girl, the word tifosi was almost sacred to me. In my mind it implied a higher bond with the team, more so than just a regular fan. As a matter of fact, I didn’t start referring to myself as a tifosa until I became a teenager and had a religious experience of sorts. While I will keep the details to myself, I will say that I went through a very difficult time in my life and my passion and admiration for Ferrari was the only thing that got me through it. I grew stronger as a person and because I drew my strength from my passion, I felt as though I carried the spirit of the prancing horse with me at all times. Experiences like that shape a person’s character and it was my love for Ferrari that shaped me into the woman that I have become. I will always support Ferrari, in both victory and defeat and there is nothing fickle about my passion. To be honest, I still get emotional when I think about it to this day.

While I understand that very few people have a passion as deep as mine, I find myself drawn to other tifosi whose love is obvious for all to see. I am always overwhelmed with excitement when I meet such special people and instantly ramble at a million miles an hour. I have so many questions like “What was it that made you become a tifoso/tifosa?” or “What’s the craziest thing that you have ever done in the name of Ferrari?” For me the answer is, quit my job, sub-let my apartment and move halfway around the world to a country whose language I don’t even speak! Lol! I am always fascinated to hear the different answers, listen to their stories and sometimes even get to look at their often extensive range of memorabilia. To place tifosi like us in the same category as the tifosi who watch the occasional race and dye their hair red once a year to go to Monza is like saying that a trekki who enjoys Star Trek and dresses up at the local comic book convention for a laugh is the same as a trekki who can quote every episode of the show, including the next generation, and lists Klingon as one of the languages on his resume. In my opinion, while similar, the two are very different.

Stereotypical tifosi are loud, colourful and often drinking alcohol. They are usually sporting a Ferrari shirt. Some of these shirts can be really old (depending on the age of the tifosi) because these particular tifosi have been tifosi for as long as they can remember. Many are Italian and support Ferrari purely because it is an Italian team. To them Ferrari is an extension of their national pride. They do not necessarily watch every race, but they never miss an Italian Grand Prix. Ferrari is something that they support socially with a group of their friends. They attend races together and in general have a fantastic time. If they are young, they like to party and enjoy painting their faces and setting off air horns. They are usually pretty friendly and often have interesting stories to tell about past Grand Prix that they remember. A few are prone to mob mentality and just like in any other sport, they can be very unforgiving if the team has had a rough year.

Sometimes tifosi are fans of a particular driver and thus become hybrids such as schufosi (fans of Michael Schumacher who became fans of Ferrari). These hybrids are usually the most vocal of all the tifosi. They will often paint banners and posters to their idols, sing and make up all sorts of funny chants and wait desperately outside the paddock club for their hero, calling out his name repeatedly. They know all about Fernando Alonso and Michael Schumacher, but ask them about Gilles Villeneuve and they will often look at you like a confused dog that has tired of chasing its own tail.

That isn’t to say that I don’t enjoy and appreciate these types of tifosi and their antics. If it wasn’t for them we wouldn’t have the sea of red that seems to dominate the grandstands at every Grand Prix. If it wasn’t for them we wouldn’t have the amazing Ferrari banners, props and other forms of decoration that you see during a race weekend. Most importantly of all, if it wasn’t for them we wouldn’t have the holes, ladders and structures that even us more reserved tifosi need to get closer to the action.

I guess in the end, it is just as impossible to define and categorize tifosi as it is to define and categorize Canadians! While there will always be traditional stereotypes, surprise surprise my father is not a lumberjack, the reality is that we come in all shapes, colours and sizes. The only way that we tifosi can be defined is by our love for Ferrari, no matter how intense or fickle that love may be. Some of us may not wear bright wigs and be kitted out in head-to-toe Ferrari gear (my boyfriend even has an annoying habit of wearing McLaren and Red Bull items) but make no mistake, we are sometimes even more passionate than the tifosi you thought about when you first closed your eyes.

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