WHAT will it take before European football acts to stop the thuggery of Italian fans? Will it take innocent women and children to come back from Rome in body bags before UEFA act?
What will it take before the Italian football club owners break their silence on the Ultra games that have made their own stadiums warzones with firebombs and knives and missiles being used routinely and almost without comment ? Before the Italian government confronts this endemic lawlessness on the streets and the blind eyes turned and even collusion within their own police? Before the British government stands for its citizens when they come under vicious cowardly attacks in what is supposed to be a civilised capital city in a modern Europe?
Boro fans will be disgusted with the Rome police, angry at the memory of their own treatment in Rome and shocked by the viciousness of the baton-wielding cops. But they won’t be surprised.
On the streets of the Eternal City and inside the Stadio Olimpico ordinary travelling Teessiders were treated like scum and it is only because of their commendable restraint that they did not react to the provocation, did not give the Carabinieri the excuse they so clearly sought and were not subjected to the savagery we saw unleashed on Manchester United supporters last night
There is no place for this systematic savagery in football.
Roma must now be banned from all European football. In truth they should have been kicked out last year after the scandalous treatment of Boro fans – refused protection when under attacks from thugs, detained under armed guard in the Villa Borghese, denied access to drinks or toilets, rouighly searched and possesions arbitarily confiscated, pushed around by armed cops, left unprotected from a barrage of missiles, detained unreasonabley after the match – but as we all know, low profile Boro are not newsworthy enough to cause a media storm.
Our treatement was shamefully ignored. Backed by some dogged individuals, local MEPs and some dedicated lawyers who specialise in the European Charter the Gazette’s Protect Our Fans campaign has slowly pushed the case through the Byzantine EU legislative system. It has been passed the powerful Petitions Committee and could not be scheduled for debate by the full Parliament. But it is a slow proces.
To be honest it is a priocess that should not be neccessary. The evidence is stark that Italian football is compeltely out of control. It is only a month ago that the entire professional game was suspended because a policeman was murdered in a riot in Sicily causing much hand-wringing from football chiefs and politicians. There was some contrition from clubs, some talk of cameras, better stewarding and an approach based on “the English model”.
Yet in its first big test since that shocking wake-up call Italian football has failed. The police, the Ultra’s, the clubs, the media, the politicians who took umbrage at Manchester United warning its fans to be wary are all equally culpable and none of them can be trusted to take the decisive action to solve the problem. There is no political will to carry out a cultural revolution.
So it must be initiated from outside. Italy needs the kind of short, sharp shock English football got with the five year exile from Europe. That draconian measure forced the English game to face up to some harsh realities. Between Heysel and Hillsborough English football was involved in a deep-seated re-examination of almost every aspect of an anarchic, lawless game that was sliding towards oblivion.
But there were Italian fans at Heysel too, waving guns and knives and goading Liverpool supporters. Has the Italian game considered it’s own deeply disturbing terrace culture?
Italy’s Ultras are out of control. What Boro fans saw in Rome was just a sideshow. What Manchester United fans faced just routine. Riots are common. Missile throwing is the norm. Deaths are par for the course. Racist chanting is endemic. Italian football is like 1983 in England. With flares.
The Ultras have a power that English fans could not conceive of. They control and police the Curva themeselves, selling tickets to raise the money to buy banners and fireworks. They confront players on training grounds and club presidents in the boardroom. Crossing the Ultras can bring personal recrimination and a financial backlash.
And that is the nub of the problem. Italian football has a political and cultural crisis that the big club owners are scared to tackle.
The prospect of a European ban may actually help the owners. It will provoke a crisis and concentrate minds. If the risks of losing the route to the Champions League cashcow outweight the risks of tackling the Ultra then the Serie A big boys may make their move.
Gates in Italy are in freefall. Looking at the facilities in the Stadio Olimpico (those toilets!) you can see why they don’t have a family audience. You can see why ordinary people are turning away. We have been there. Changing the demographics inside the ground may help dilute the aggression in the way it did in England.
But also they need a concerted police operation to isolate, arrest and punish the ringleaders of organised violence. And that can only succeed with the full co-operation of the clubs and a press that has rarely taken issue with the culture of violence.
But on what grounds would Italian clubs be banned? Well, they have plenty of previous. They have been repeatedly warned and fined for disorder, missiles thrown at fans, players and referees. Anders Frisk was left bloodied at the Stadio Olimpico. They are just technical disciplinary issues that have allowed UEFA to pussy foot around for so long.
Italian clubs should be banned for the simple reason that they can not guarantee the safety of travelling fans. And they can not. That Boro needed a 3,000 strong para-military force to provide protection as they travelled to and from the ground sends out a strong signal that Roma can not guarantee the safety of visitors. And the failure of 1,000 riot police to prevent an attack inside the ground – or make any attempt to arrest the perpetrators – underlines that.
That United should likewise be attacked – and then the police wade into the victims – makes it abundently clear that last month’s deaths and brief period of introspection has produced no voluntary change in behavior by the Ultras or tactics by the police.
So it must be imposed. If Roma can not guarantee the safety of visiting fans then they should not allowed to stage a match and they should not be readmitted to the European family of football until they can.
Boro got away lightly in Rome. Incredibly so did Manchester United. Someone could quite easily have been killed. Would that make any difference? Will it take a Heysel in Italy before UEFA Act?