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The Irresistible Rise of Italian Football Hooliganism

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Now will you act?Apr 5 2007

By Simon Haworth and Anthony Vickers, Evening Gazette

Bloody scenes of British football fans being violently attacked by Italian police and thugs prompted fury on Teesside today.

A year ago, innocent Middlesbrough fans were stabbed by hooligans and beaten by riot police in Rome.

Last night Manchester United fans suffered a similar ordeal.

"No lessons have been learned at all - if anything things are getting worse," said Euro MP Stephen Hughes.

Eighteen British fans were taken to hospital after their Champions League match in Rome. Baton-wielding riot police laid into them inside the stadium after trouble broke out.

A call was today made on Teesside for both British and Italian Governments and UEFA to act before someone is killed.

The Evening Gazette launched its Protect Our Fans campaign last March after hundreds of Boro fans complained of their treatment at the hands of the Rome authorities. A petition of more than 1,000 names was sent to the European Parliament and is being investigated.

Mr Hughes MEP, who has backed the petition through the European Parliament, is now calling on Italian clubs to be suspended from Europe.

"It really is beyond the pale. Sooner or later someone is going to be killed," he said.

Mr Hughes added that, as in the Middlesbrough fixture, the Italian police failed to stop Ultra hooligans attending the match and to stop them from bringing missiles into the Stadio Olimpico.

Cllr Dave McLuckie, chairman of Cleveland Police Authority, who was in Rome for the Boro match, said today: "I am not surprised by these scenes. Our experience, which was a horrendous one, mirrors what happened to Manchester United fans last night.

"They have learned nothing. The same thing happened when Hasselbaink scored for Middlesbrough. The Roma fans attacked us and the Rome police attacked us as well.

"They are carrying on injuring British fans when they are in their city and it's an absolute disgrace."

Cllr McLuckie said he hopes the graphic pictures shown on Sky television will be enough to prompt the British Government to act.

"I saw one man last night being beaten to a pulp," he said. "It was nothing short of a serious assault.

"Our Government should act now to ensure British citizens should not be put in that position when they travel to other EU countries."

Rob Nichols, editor of Boro fanzine Fly Me To The Moon, also saw the trouble first-hand last year.

He said: "I thought it was really sad that no lessons appeared to have been learned. It's not like we're saying this with hindsight - Boro fans have brought it up before and it was even brought up again last week.

"I read about the preparations for Man Utd fans going out there and it all seemed very familiar. You just hoped everything would be OK.

"I know when I came back from Rome, the company that ran the flight out there told me to do as much as I could to highlight what had happened.

"They said they had run football flights and trips all across Europe and never seen anything like that before.

"They said other English fans would have to go back to Italy and to see other people having to suffer makes it all seem so senseless."

UEFA has announced it will launch an investigation into the crowd trouble. "Eighteen Manchester United fans needed medical attention at local hospital," a spokesman for the Rome police said.

"Sixteen of the fans were discharged while two of the fans will remain in hospital overnight. They are not in serious condition.

An estimated 4,000 Manchester United fans travelled to Rome for the quarter-final first-leg tie.

Manchester Utd had issued a statement on their website warning their fans to be careful.

The Italian game was effectively closed down in February following the death of a policeman at the Catania-Palermo Sicilian derby.

Must travelling supporters be killed before the football authorities take decisive action against Italy?

The sight of baton-wielding riot police wading viciously into Manchester United supporters in the Stadio Olimpico last night was shocking and saddening but it certainly wasn't a surprise.

As Boro fans who travelled to Rome last March know only too well, the policing operation there is aggressive, confrontational, provocative and is based on systematic breach of guests' civil rights.

As Boro fans will know that operation is aimed entirely at the away fans - leaving the notorious Ultras a free hand to attack visiting fans at will.

The Rome police were not interested that innocent tourists had been ambushed in their city, subject to a cowardly attack by thugs. It is seen as par for the course.

And when Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink scored for Boro it sparked a charge in the stadium by Roma Ultras that stewards and police made no attempt to stop. The police were ready with batons poised to strike at the first sign of retaliation. It is only because of commendable restraint by Teessiders that the scenes seen last night were avoided.

And those disturbing scenes are not unusual, they are a normal part of the Italian football landscape. It is only a month since the entire professional game was suspended after a policeman was murdered in Sicily as part of the organised gang warfare that stains the game.

It is down to UEFA to take bold and decisive action. Roma must be kicked out of the Champions League and Italian clubs suspended from European competition until they put their house in order. It took Heysel and a five year ban to create a dynamic change in England. Italy needs the same treatment.


March 14, 2006 - The night before Boro play Roma away in the UEFA Cup, 13 Boro fans are injured including three stabbed in an attack by Roma's Ultras gang.

March 16 - Accounts emerge from Middlesbrough fans of mistreatment by Rome police. Gazette offices flooded by calls and letters from Boro fans complaining of the treatment in Rome.

March 24 - Gazette launches Protect our Fans campaign and a dossier created.

April 8 - Dossier handed to Stephen Hughes MEP who takes it to the European Parliament.

April 25 - UEFA start disciplinary proceedings against Roma for incidents inside the stadium.

May 31 - The dossier is placed on the agenda of the European Parliament's Petitions Committee but during June and July fails to be discussed on two occasions.

August 24 - European Parliament confirm dossier is being investigated by two of its powerful committees and the European Commission.

September 7 - Fans Peter Green and Cllr Dave McLuckie invited to address MEPs in Brussels.

February 2, 2007 - An Italian policeman is killed when he is hit by a firebomb lobbed by fans during riots in the Sicily derby between Catania and Palermo.

March 16 - One year on the European Parliament reveals it sent a letter demanding a response from the Italian government in October, which has been ignored.

April 4 - Manchester United fans are attacked by baton wielding police during their 2-1 defeat in Rome.


Quick summary.

Manchester United fans were pelted with missiles by Roma fans on Wednesday night after Roma scored in their Champions League match. They were apparently unopposed by stewards and police. Retaliation by some Manchester United fans was met with baton charges by Italian Police in full riot gear. 18 British fans were hospitalised by the missiles and the police action against them.

As background to this incident, an Italian policeman was killed in February of this year, leading to temporary suspension of the Italian league.

Last March, Middlesbrough supporters received similar treatment, after first being attacked well away form the stadium by Italian Ultras, some of whom were wearing riot helmets. Several people were stabbed, including children. Fortunately there were no deaths. No action was taken by Italian police against the perpetrators. Middlesbrough fans were then herded toward the stadium by police in full riot gear - not for their own protection, but in an atmosphere of violence and intimidation being generated by the police themselves. Once inside the stadium, when Middlesbough player Jimmy Flloyd Hasselbaink scored, a section of Roma fans pelted the Middlesbrough supporters with missiles. Again, the stewards and police made no attempt to prevent this. There was a large contingent of riot police in the Middlesbrough section. Fortunately the Middlesbrough fans were restrained and did not retaliate - no doubt they would have been baton-charged by the large contingent of riot police of they had.

The Middlesbrough incident is currently the subject of an investigation by the European Parliament, with a petition of over 1000 names asking for a full investigation into the incident.

I agree with the author of the article that it will take another disaster of Heysel proportions to force the Italian authorities (and UEFA) into taking this problem seriously. Further to that, much of the evidence points to collusion between the Ultras and the Italian Police. How deep this collusion is, and at what level in the Police force, is open to debate.

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