Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Rome the city of Angles and demons

Rome the city of Angles and demons.
What were UEFA hoping for when they awarded tomorrow's Champions League final to Rome?

Alfresco pasta and vino in the Italian sun, no doubt, as Puccini wafts through the ancient walls of the Centro Storico and evening strollers pause beside the Trevi Fountain to contemplate 'La Dolce Vita' over a gelato and espresso.

UEFA cannot have forgotten the recent history of soccer violence in the Eternal City, so what excuse is there for brushing it under the carpet? Italy has the worst hooligan problem of any European country but domestic squabbles apart, Rome has been a danger zone in recent years for travelling fans, particularly English ones.

In 1984, the Eternal City hosted Europe's showpiece final, when Roma despite having home advantage, lost on penalties to Liverpool. Football writer Brian Glanville recalled the atmosphere outside the Stadio Olimpico turning nasty as he witnessed the extraordinary sight of Lazio ultras thrusting knives into the hands of Liverpool fans, united by a common enemy.

The seed of hatred of Italian clubs in Liverpool minds was sown that night, and bore bloody fruit the following season at Heysel, where 38 Italian fans perished after being charged by Liverpool hooligans.

In recent seasons, English fans have been victimised by Italian police as well as hooligans, the lines of distinction becoming quite blurred.

I was in the Stadio Olimpico in 1997 as random England supporters were beaten mercilessly by baton-wielding carabinieri (Italian national police) thugs. The helmeted hordes of police were like a gang running amok. Then we were locked inside the empty stadium at the final whistle for three hours and provided with no transport back to the city.

In 2006, Middlesbrough fans flew to Rome for a UEFA Cup semi-final with Roma and were attacked by an ultra gang armed with axes, knives, sticks, firecrackers and firebombs. Three Boro fans were stabbed and ten others required hospital treatment as the carabinieri stood by and watched.

Two years before Swedish referee Anders Frisk was left bleeding as a Roman thug hurled a cigarette lighter into his face from the stands in a UEFA Cup tie with Dynamo Kiev.

More recently, Manchester United fans have found themselves on the wrong end of Roman aggression.

In 2007, mayhem broke out within the Stadio Olimpico during a Roma v Man United CL clash, as carabinieri, in an almost replica of their assault on England supporters a decade earlier, waded into the travelling fans swinging wildly at anything that moved. 11 United fans were hospitalised.

Then earlier this year, a coach of Arsenal fans was attacked by Roma ultras and one supporter was stabbed.

The pattern inside the stadium is well-known. The Italian fans begin hurling small objects - drinks cups, coins and pieces of plastic over the fence at the English fans. The carabinieri stand by and watch until a missile is returned and then they wade in on the English, utterly overreacting and punishing scores of innocent people instead of isolating and removing the troublemakers.

Italian ultras know from long experience how to provoke their opposing fans and spark the cops into running rampage. Clearly, with such an untamed hooligan problem and violent, out of control police in charge, Italy has not earned the right to host a major international football tournament or showpiece final.

UEFA and the Italian government have refused to admit any problem with the choice of venue, but the UK's Foreign Office has had no option but to warn fans to avoid the Piazzale Flaminio metro station, the Ponte Duca D'Aosta bridge and the Campo de Fiori square and to not approach the stadium by any means other than the official shuttle buses - Some welcome!

While England has largely left its hooligan past behind, Italy keeps the fire depressingly stoked. Unlike here, its stadia have a heavy police presence, fences in front of the stands and militaristic gangs controlling the venue and intimidating clubs to give them free tickets.

Now the Rome Mayor, Gianni Alemanno, who previously tried to imply there was no football hooligan problem in his city, has labelled the day 'delicate', adding, "I have asked interior minister Roberto Maroni to have maximum attention from the security officers to avoid any incidents."

Alemanno, incidentally, quite openly wears a neo-fascist cross to show his roots in the Italian Social Movement, the successor to Benito Mussolini's fascist party (it retains the fascist torch as its symbol). His wife is the daughter of the notorious right-wing extremist Pino Rauti, who was tried on terrorist offences in the 1970s. When Alemanno was elected Mayor of Rome in 2008, skinheads gave nazi salutes and chanted 'Duce, Duce!' (Leader, leader), the famous battle-cry of Mussolini's supporters.

Italy lost the right to host Euro 2012 partly because of its hooligan problem, so again one wonders what the UEFA executives in Switzerland were thinking when they awarded tomorrow's final to Rome when there was a good chance an English club would be there.

One can only assume as they are whisked away in their limousines to their expense-account hotels that the world of the ordinary fan on the street remains a mystery to the men in suits.

Could there have possibly been a riskier choice of venue?

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Bet with Bet 365

World Soccer News

Soccer betting tips

Soccer Books & DVDs

No comments: