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Tammy Abraham and Chris Smalling's epic Roma adventure and how they've become cult heroes

Apr 02, 2024

Tammy Abraham and Chris Smalling have established their cult hero status among Roma's fanbase since their transfers away from the Premier League to the Italian capital

Once every fortnight as you walk through the Giardini Viale Pinturicchio, there is a moment when your lungs are filled with the smell of flares as the red and yellow smoke temporarily obscures your vision.

Swept up by the crowds moving simultaneously in one direction, moving towards the Ponte Duca d’Aosta, across the River Tiber; this is unmistakably Rome, surrounded by ancient landmarks yet with a vibrancy that only truly manifests itself with the anticipation surrounding matchday at the Stadio Olimpico.

The 70,000-capacity arena looms large in the background; one of Europe’s most iconic sporting arenas, shared by fierce rivals Lazio and Roma, which produces a red-hot atmosphere which can match any other on the continent.

This is the stadium which has become home to two English stars, who are established as cult heroes for one half of the Italian capital.

As throngs of Roma fans cross the Tiber on matchday, they pass-by multiple stalls selling memorabilia of their Giallorossi idols. One such stand even sells Roma shirts with the names and numbers of a select few stars, with special prominence afforded to two: Francesco Totti – the local symbol who spent the entirety of his glorious 25-year career at the club, for whom he scored over 300 goals – and Tammy Abraham, the Camberwell-born striker who joined from Chelsea a year ago.

“Tammy is a true Romanista, he is one of us,” explains Paolo, who runs the stall on matchdays. “For every match, fans are asking me for a shirt with his name or a scarf with his face. We all love him.”

But how has a Londoner become such a symbol in the Italian capital? “It is his attitude, his enthusiasm and his love of the fans, that is what us Romanistas want,” continued Paolo. “You can see it with his goals, his celebrations…and how he always makes time for supporters after the game. We love him, and we think he loves us.”

Have Your Say! Should more English stars consider moving abroad? Tell us what you think here.

Paolo spoke to Mirror Football in the hours before Roma played Serie A leaders Napoli. The Neapolitan visitors deservedly won 1-0 as the home side failed to lay a glove on them. Abraham was isolated up front and was substituted off just after the hour mark, making it eight games in all competitions without a goal.

Yet as he made his way from the pitch, the whole stadium stood to applaud his efforts. The entirety of the Curva Sud – housing Roma’s colorful and noisy ultras – chanted “Tammy! Tammy!” The rows behind Jose Mourinho’s dugout stood again after the striker had embraced his boss, to show their appreciation. Fans in Italy can turn on players, particularly in poor runs of form, but not here – the striker is adored.

Four days later, Abraham ended his goal drought – netting in a Europa League win in Helsinki. It was his 30th for the club, of which nine came in their run to lifting last season’s inaugural Europa Conference League. It was the club’s first major European trophy and immortalised Mourinho, Abraham and his teammates in the Italian capital.

Yet as is typical for a Mourinho team, it is the defence upon which success is built. In the final victory over Feyenoord, Chris Smalling was named Man of the Match. The 32-year-old is enjoying the form of his career in Rome and has built a similar status to Abraham among the Giallorossi fanbase.

Roma fan Marco made his way to watch his side play Napoli with a replica kit emblazoned with ‘Smalling 6’. “Maybe it is no surprise that us Italians love good defenders,” he joked. “We have our icons like Francesco (Totti), Vincenzo (Montella) or Lorenzo (Pellegrini) but Chris is different. He came to us (on loan) and loved it so much he wanted to stay. We were delighted when he did, and that he addressed us in Italian.” Such is Smalling’s status, fans have even christened him with the ‘Smalldini’ nickname – a nod to Paolo Maldini.

Many English stars struggle to settle abroad due to a clash of cultures or struggles to learn the local language and adapt. Yet both Smalling and Abraham have embraced the challenge, with both confidently speaking to local media in Italian – a huge endearing factor to fans.

Roma General Manager Tiago Pinto told Mirror Football : “We always try to make their adaptation process as smooth as possible. We gave them the opportunity to take Italian lessons and learn the language. It plays an important role in their everyday life.

“However, as you said, this is also proof of the players’ will to feel engaged with the club and the city. They feel at home in Rome and speaking Italian is a consequence. We were very proud when Chris and Tammy gave their first interviews in Italian, as you would be in a family”.

Roma, as a club, always strive to ensure their new signings – regardless of their background – feel comfortable in the Italian capital and show the empathy (which can often be sorely lacking at football clubs) required for players to feel at home and provide them with the environment to produce their best sporting output.

Pinto added: “Both Chris and Tammy had a huge impact on the Italian football. As for Tammy, not only did he score 30 goals but he also contributed to the team with seven assists in his debut season. He is a very important player because although he is a striker he is first of all a team-player and creates goal-scoring chances.

“We are very happy to have both of them with us. Regarding Chris, when he is fit, and luckily he has been so in the last year, he is one of the best defenders of the Italian football. They are happy here; we are happy with them and their big contribution to the team.”

Smalling and Abraham have made The Eternal City their home, idolising themselves not only with their level of performance and European success, but their openness to the Roman way of life.

There are few matchday experiences that match those generated by Roma’s passionate fanbase, and few players attain such iconic status as the two South Londoners.