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A violent attack in Rome left one Spurs fan fighting for his life in hospital

By Gary Walker

The news, as it filtered through, was all too familiar. As a lifelong Tottenham Hotspur fan, I’ve travelled to many of the countries of Europe to watch my team in action, and can proudly say I’ve never seen our supporters disgrace themselves. But as I woke this morning to the awful radio reports from Rome, my lillywhite heart sank.

The Daily Mail, that loathsome attack dog of conservative alarmism, usually so ready to stick the boot into English football supporters abroad, treating them with a level of contempt equal only to when describing asylum seekers, homosexuals and unemployed single parents, were most bold with their headline.

“Tottenham fans STABBED in attack by hooligans, wielding knives, baseball bats, belts and knuckle dusters ahead of Lazio clash,” screamed the Mail’s website, breaking the news that 10 Spurs fans had been injured ahead of the Europa League match at the Stadio Olimpico. As I write, one of those Tottenham supporters, reportedly Ashley Mills, lies in hospital hundreds of miles from his home and family, with serious injuries to an artery.

The Mail, taking a surprisingly rational stance, went on to quote Marco Manzi, the landlord of the Drunken Ship Pub, where the attack had taken place. Manzi explained that the English fans had been well behaved and enjoying a drink, when a group of around 100 Lazio ultras – a traditionally right-wing group with a long history of violent incidents – turned up on scooters and laid siege to the pub. The Tottenham supporters are said to have attempted to flee, but were attacked outside, leaving one slumped in an alleyway, bleeding heavily from a knife wound.

The pub, in the Campo Fiori, is in one of Rome’s main squares – traditional meeting points for English fans ahead of European away matches – and was the scene of a similar incident in 2006, when three Middlesbrough fans were stabbed.

Perhaps, while our thoughts are with the young man who is seriously ill in a Rome hospital, we should take a small amount of heart from the fact that firstly this is not another tale of English fans running riot in a European city, while the locals cower in fear. And secondly, from the fact that it isn’t being reported as such by this country’s media.

The English game has largely got its act together following the black period that was the 1970s and 80s, with the support of wider society; and events such as those in Rome are now rarely seen on British soil. Thankfully, public perception of English supporters abroad is finally beginning to shift in line with the reality of what happens on these trips. I’ve been with Spurs fans in Leverkusen, Seville, Prague, Krakow, Amsterdam and Milan and never witnessed scenes of disorder or violence.

Margaret Thatcher’s infamous question to an FA executive following the Hillsbrough disaster, of “What are you going to do about your hooligans?” was incisively and accurately answered with “Mrs Thatcher, when are you going to get your hooligans out of our stadiums?”

And thanks to the Taylor Report, CCTV, all-seater stadia, better stewarding and a positive relationship between clubs and police, following the vile and unacceptable events and subsequent cover-up at Hillsbrough, that has largely happened.


Why do the Italian FA and authorities, and UEFA continue to condone a pattern of obviously pre-meditated, violent behaviour in and outside the grounds?


But why isn’t it happening in Rome? And why do the Italian FA and authorities, and UEFA continue to condone a pattern of obviously pre-meditated, violent behaviour in and outside the grounds?

Tottenham had issued a warning to their supporters prior to the Lazio game, that they should avoid the Ponte Milvio, and for their own safety use shuttle buses to the ground. It wasn’t an isolated, freak incident that left that Spurs fan in hospital fighting for his life, if anything it was a likelihood.

And it’s easy for non-football supporters to say “If the danger is that high, just don’t go. Avoid the risk”. But why should we be denied the right to travel, to indulge our passions for visiting new countries, and for watching our team play on some of the continent’s grandest stages? It would be like telling music lovers to avoid gigs and festivals because they’ll probably get crushed to death.

During the match between Spurs and Lazio at White Hart Lane in September, a game attended by UEFA president Michel Platini, a large section of Lazio fans loudly and repeatedly racially abused Tottenham players, raining down monkey chants and offensive songs on the likes of Jermain Defoe and Aaron Lennon. Tottenham complained to Europe’s governing body. The result? A €40,000 fine.

To put that figure in context, Lazio’s annual wage bill is €66.2 million, with the German striker Miroslav Klose earning €2.1m.

In 2005, footage circulated the globe of Lazio’s Paulo Di Canio giving a fascist salute from the pitch to the adulation of the Ultras. Lazio was Mussolini’s club and the right-wing connotations have never been shaken off – how much the club has tried is open to debate.

But quite apart from the club’s roots in the fascist ideology, it doesn’t take much research to find a shameful catalogue of previous stabbings of English supporters in the Italian capital. Liverpool fans suffered knife wounds in 1984 and 2001; and in 2007 13 Manchester United fans were hospitalised after being ambushed.

So the question to Lazio, the Italian authorities, the country’s football association and to UEFA, for the sake of Ashley Mills and his family, and for all other football supporters visiting Rome and endangering their lives, has to be “What are you going to do about your hooligans?”.

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16 thoughts on “Rome: “What are you going to do about your hooligans?”

  1. totally agree mate, this seems to have been going on for yrs in Rome and nobody appears to have done anything. but it’s not just Lazio fans, some Roma fans too seem to think they are proving something by attacking groups of largely peaceful fans/visitors who do not want to fight. maybe supporters groups should boycott Rome, and see if that prompts their city authorities to do something. Italian football – beautiful as it can be – is shoddily organised and has financial issues so maybe threatening their income would cause some action – although it shouldn’t need that. probably the depressing fact is that the clubs are afraid to confront the ultras because they rely on their political support – but hey I’m just speculating

  2. This incident did make me ashamed to be a Calcio fan. Though looking at the recent/subsequent happenings in English Football shows how this kind of thing is making a comeback. The West Ham fans yesterday, the Chelsea fan doing the monkey impression at a Man Utd player, Suarez/Terry and the other various incidents that haven’t received much coverage due to the teams being smaller, makes the English taking their usual high horse stance quite laughable. The English media reaction blazing “”LAZIO” everywhere before any facts were known shows how seriously they can be taken and then the Police revealing 2 ROMA fans were arrested shows it even more so but I’d still question their (the English Media) motives. Shine a light on Italian Football and hope people look that way instead of the cesspit that English Football has become..?
    Yes the English have done much to combat racism in their society and football but how about not gloating/pointing the finger with such tiresome regularity and a total lack of awareness about their own problems?

    However, the clubs need to do more to stamp out this kind of behaviour and make it clear it is not acceptable. I have read that many of the hard-core Lazio Ultras no longer attend the matches in protest against the club trying to clean up their image. Linking Lazio to Mussolini, far-rights views and racism is easily done and in some cases lazily done for a headline or to win an argument but the simple fact is this kind of violence has no place in football and the Italian Govt/Police etc need to act.
    I’ve been to Rome a few times and never had any trouble but I know how atmospheres change around the time of a football match and it can happen in seconds, so I do hold my breath every time there’s a high profile match between opposing teams in Italy.
    Harsh times always bring out the far-right who are looking for any excuse to blame immigrants/minorities etc to further their “cause” and it’s a shame so many people fall for it. Education is needed and this could come from the players themselves speaking out more but it doesn’t seem to be taken seriously enough – as things that have been around a while rarely are.

    The clubs/authorities MUST do more.

  3. I’m glad somebody made the points talkinghangover did. Mr. Walker you have made a couple of errors in your article.

    Full disclosure, I am a Napoli fan and have no love for the city of Rome, but Lazio being Mussolini’s club is just repeating an invented ‘fact’ that arose from the fact that Lazio ultras are hard right. If Mussolini had a club, it was A.S. Roma as Mussolini believed Rome should have one club to represent what would be the capital of his new Roman empire. In 1927 he ordered all the local clubs of Rome to unite and forge one club, A.S. Roma; the only club which refused was Lazio and you can believe he didn’t take that well. It really only takes a Wikipedia search to discover this so why nearly every English language journalist makes this error fails me.

    Secondly, the stabbing instances you mention at the end of your article, why you fail to mention that these were all conducted by A.S. Roma fans is not obvious to me, unless you have a natural bias against Lazio, as every English language journalist seems to have. I understand, I naturally lean to the left and find the fascist support of Lazio abhorrent but why this seems to mean that Roma’s abundantly fascist support is ignored is not clear to me either. There is a myth that Roma fans are the lovable liberals, this has not been the case for over 15 years now with their hardcore support having been totally taken over by fascists; if you have not seen banners in their curva referring to Jews and ovens then it is only because you have all refused to look; these images are found with one Google search. I am sorry to break it to you but the point I am trying to make is not that Lazio fans are not fascist, they quite clearly are, but so are the Roma fans and I cannot understand how even a man like Paolo Bandini of the Guardian seems to be oblivious to this fact. You are English so you have an excuse.

    Lastly, why is this Roma rant relevant to your article? Because the disgusting and cowardly act perpetrated on Tottenham fans last week was not conducted by Lazio fans, as anyone who has read one Italian newspaper will tell you. It was conducted by a Roman neo-nazi group for entirely anti-semitic, not footballing, reasons. The only arrests so far have been of Roma ultras because the ONLY difference between Lazio and Roma ultras is that Lazio ultras have signed the Italian national Ultra contract to not carry knives and to not conduct unprovoked or un-arranged attacks. The only ultras in Italy who refused to sign this are the Roma ultras. In conclusion, the Lazio ultras are scum, however there are one group of ultras in Italy which are worse and it is the Roma ultras as they combine the same neo-nazi views of Lazio fans with violence; violence the Lazio ultras have solemnly sworn to not use anymore and have so far been completely good to their word.

    The most accurate part of your artciel is the headline, this is a CITY of ROME problem, not a Lazio one.

  4. Thank you for your comment Pepe. I’m glad the piece I wrote is creating a debate on this issue, as it’s clearly serious and multi-faceted.

    Your points are very informative. Firstly, I didn’t make mention of the fact that the attack was carried out by Roma fans because my article was written in the immediate aftermath of the stabbings, at a point where it had to emerge that Roma fans were responsible, and all media outlets were reporting that it was Lazio fans.

    I certainly don’t have a bias against Lazio – I don’t have partisan feelings for or against any Italian club, and have only been fortunate enough to visit Italy twice – visiting Turin on holiday and Milan for a Champions League game between Spurs and AC Milan: http://smallfootballworld.wordpress.com/2012/11/27/milan/

    I agree with your point that this is a city of Rome, or societal problem, rather than specifically Lazio’s. That’s why I made the reference to the exchange between an English FA member and Margaret Thatcher, over the Hillsbrough disaster being a problem from British society, not simply football.

    I found your viewpoint on facism and Italian football really interesting, and wonder whether you’d be prepared to write a short piece on the Lazio/Rome issue for this site? I think it would make a fascinating read and provide good balance. If you’d be interested, please email me at smallfootballword@gmail.com

    Cheers

  5. I was going to flesh out my post more about Mussolini/Lazio like Pepe did but i’ve posted on so many sites questioning the lazy views of the various authors i’ve got tired of it. I did notice that a day or two after the attack the headlines had changed from LAZIO ULTRAS to just LAZIO SPURS match – though the content of these articles did not change – to keep the Lazio myths going. These include many National Papers in England who should know better and like to think they are credible. Of course the posts that followed these “articles” just acted to inflame opinions..
    I still think its partly an attempt to deflect away from English footballs problems. After the West Ham idiots on sunday there now comes to light about Lukaku at West Brom being racially abused but the English papers still followed up the lazio Spurs article with some moronic Lazio Ultras shouting abusive chants against Roma and their Jewish fans as if this was more important to English fans than whats happening in their own Stadia – “See! the Italians still do it!”

    its becoming an epidemic.

    • Right. This isn’t a news organisation, nor newspaper. I don’t speak for the British media at large. This is a newly-setup blog site to cover football travel – specifically, but not entirely, British clubs (often Spurs) playing matches in Europe. As such, I wrote about what happened at the most recent Spurs match in Europe. It was also a subject close to my heart, as I have been on many European away trips with Spurs, so it could easily have been myself and my friends in that bar being attacked.

      In no way do I have a bias against Italy, or any other European country, in fact if anything I prefer going to watch Spurs play in other countries than I do in England – I find the experience less sanitised than in the Premier League, and I enjoy sampling new places and cultures.

      I am fully aware of what a ‘cesspit’ the English Premier League has become – oligarch owners, (some) racist players, (some) racist fans, rife with cheating, and often too expensive for working-class people to attend. In many ways, I am disillusioned by Premier League football in this country, but the remit of my site was to write about football and travel – my two great passions – combined, not to write about football generally – there are thousands of sites out there doing that already.

      I do stand by one of the points I raised in my blog, that English football underwent a huge revolution after the Hillsbrough disaster and the Taylor report – it’s stadia are now uniformly safe (if shorn of the atmosphere they used to have), policing is far better than it used to be, CCTV cameras are everywhere, and stewarding is taken seriously. From having watched Spurs play in eight or nine European countries, I would say the stadia are safer and more modern in England than anywhere else, the policing and stewarding are also better, and that knife crime is extremely rare. That doesn’t necessarily mean I think English football is better or more enjoyable – as I’ve said I prefer to watch Spurs abroad.

      I hope that makes clear why I wrote about the incident in Rome and haven’t written about the many problems and issues currently facing English domestic football.

  6. Pingback: Rome – “What are you going to do about your hooligans?” | thetalkinghangover

  7. Funnily enough i like Spurs and their manager in particular. I also like the Stadium, having been there a few years ago. The problems in Italian Football are widely known around Europe – mainly because they seem to be highlighted every 5 minutes by the English Media – not your fault i know – but I think this particular incident and the ensuing reaction to it has been one too far for me and many others. You could have updated your article once the FACTS were known but chose not to (and still havent) so you must expect this kind of reaction. And as for quoting the Daily Mail… jeez..
    However its a free site where you are free to publish what you like so i guess its up to you.

  8. Let’s be fair-minded about this, though. While some British media outlets may have taken a one-eyed view and stuck the boot into Italian football, while ignoring the fact that the game in this country is morally bankrupt, this is still a highly serious incident we’re talking about.

    A group of violent thugs armed with knives and other deadly weapons launched a pre-meditated anti-semitic attack on some entirely innocent people, beat one of them to within inches of his life, and attempted to end his life by stabbing him almost fatally. Another has been scarred for life across the top of his head.

    It was at least the fifth time this has happened to English supporters in Rome in recent years. I don’t think we should lose sight of the severity of what happened, however bad the reporting was. You’d have to cast your mind back a long way to find evidence of supporters of a foreign club being attacked with knives on English shores – and certainly not repeatedly in the same city. The fact remains that something needs to be done about Rome.

    And yes, I quoted the Daily Mail, who had interviewed the bar owner, as did several other news organisations. His views have been backed by up by several neutral observers and Spurs fans who were there. I don’t think anyone would be foolish enough to suggest what he said was factually incorrect. I also placed the Daily Mail in the context of being a “right-wing attack dog” and expressed surprise that they hadn’t reported this as fighting between rival supporters.

  9. It was a very serious incident yes and hopefully all the thugs involved will be jailed for a long time. I agree something must be done about the violence and the idots who chant racist abuse or use the clubs to attach their own absurd views to. A thug is a thug no matter which team he supports.
    I have nothing further to add.

  10. “The problems in Italian Football are widely known around Europe – mainly because they seem to be highlighted every 5 minutes by the English Media….”

    You appear to be suggesting that, had it not been for the nasty English media picking on poor Italy, the rest of Europe might not have noticed the latest in a long series of unprovoked attacks and stabbings in Rome and everyone would be a lot happier. The rest of your posts consist of classic whataboutism. As for a calcio(poli) fan dubbing English football a “cess-pit” – posso solo ridere.

  11. Pingback: Lyon | Small Football World

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