Roman Holiday

ROME, Oct. 30 (delayed)--Rome's cellar-dwelling football (soccer) team battled Navaro to a 0-0 tie here today, thereby saving itself from expulsion from the "A" league, on grounds of incompetence.

Incompetence, however, is the word which best describes all phases of the play and umpiring, but on this warm and sunny autumn afternoon it really didn't seem to make much difference. The highlights of the day were provided by the sidelights of the game.

The first of these came 12 seconds after the opening whistle, when a Roman score was recalled for an offside; the argument that followed stopped play for five minutes. One could follow every phase of the discussion quite clearly merely by watching the extraordinarily vivid gesticulations of the players. The most interesting performance was staged by the Navaro goal-guard, who put on a private demonstration of shame and rage by lying face down in front of the goal and beating the unoffending earth with his fists, feet, and forehead. Even after the umpire's decision had been upheld, the goalie refused solace and continued his violent soliloquy long after the game was resumed.

The next diversion came when two forwards leaped into the air to head the ball, headed each other instead, and fell senseless to the ground. This produced the greatest enthusiasm of the day among the crowd, who rose cheering clapping and laughing. It was the signal for the lady next to me to produce a large bottle of Chianti and pass it around to her neighbors.

One other act of violence occurred when a Roman player followed his own kick into the goal and jumped on the Navaro goalie's prostrate form. The latter lay there motionless, in an attitude of death, until the local Dr. Quigley scuttled out, regarded him for a moment, and then prodded him thoughtfully a couple of times with his foot. This indignity so outraged the goalie that he jumped to his feet to berate the doctor, and was promptly pronounced fit for duty.

Otherwise little happened. Navaro blew its best chance to score because the right forward was so busy exhorting his teammates to acts of valor that he failed to notice he had the ball and a clear shot at the goal. Rome lost a scoring shot when a one-man rush ended with the forward tripping over the ball and falling down. All other rushes ended in a sudden confusion that all players seemed to feel as soon as they entered the enemy's zone.

After the game the crowd came to life. One group promptly stormed the umpire's quarters, forcing mounted police to form a guard for his withdrawal and motorcycle police to escort him from the city. Another group surrounded the locker rooms for two hours, screaming for the coach's blood. A third, and still larger party, marched back into town and held up traffic until 9 p.m., as they demonstrated their disapproval in front of the League headquarters.

My Italian host apologized as we threaded our way through the throng. "I'm sorry it was such a quiet game," he said.