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All Things Footie | Wednesday, April 13 | Jordan

The beautiful game?

Not in the beautiful country. Italy has long been a place that teams and supporters have feared to travel to—the might of Milan, Lazio, Juventus and the other great Italian teams has promised nought but humiliation and a slow, meticulous destruction of visiting sides by the kind of tactical, counter-attacking football that football-Italia is famous for. In recent years it’s more in fear of racist chanting, pitch invasions, crowd trouble, over-enthusiastic carabinieri and violence towards players and match-officials.

Last night’s ridiculous antics at the San-Siro were the latest in a long line of embarassing and high-profile incidents to marr the beaufitul game in Italy; from the racist, fascist nutters at Lazio to the psychotic Ultras of Inter, issues and parties with little to no interest in the actual game have tarnished the image of football in a only country with almost as rich a heritage as England (when it comes to football anyway). It’s no coincidence I’m sure that both of these countries are those with the worst reputations for troublesome fans. And it’s not undeserved in either case, however I can’t help but feel that one of the two countries gets a far worse press, and far more severe chastisement for fan behaviour, and I can’t work out why.

England isn’t entirely free of this kind of disruption, this season alone there have been several incidents—Roy Carroll getting struck by a bottle at Everton, the odd punch up at Birmingham City, one incident of a particularly bright Manchester United fan ceremonially hurling a flare onto the pitch at Southampton that was more comedy than dangerous—but with club support; strong, tight and fair policing (on the whole) and harsh punishments for offenders; nothing on the scale of Serie A. Last weekend alone there was serious trouble at five Italian games, with a total of 85 policemen injured. According to my favourite football pundit/presenter James Richardson:

“The hard-core support are very adept at getting flares and offensive banners into stadiums.

“Once they are in, the ‘curvas’—the ends of the stadium where the hard-core support go—are pretty much no-go areas.

“There is no real police presence; they don’t really want to go into these areas. They fear that going in will be seen as invading their territory and provoke further trouble.

“It has been a problem for so long now that people in the ‘curvas’ do largely what they want and get away with it.”

When these incidents start effecting pan-European rather than domestic games, ie now, I suspect they’ll be forced to do something about it by UEFA, with heavier and heavier sanctions applied to the offending clubs. Which is all very well and good, but it stands in a distinct contrast to UEFAs attitude to the other great crowd problem of our times. And here’s where you roll your eyes and tell me to stop banging on about it. Again.

The most worrying thing as far as I’m concerned is that in the year 2005 we seem to be witnessing a rebirth of almost fashionable racism at Spanish, Dutch and Italian clubs. I can honestly say that in God-knows how many years of watching English football (though mostly in the 90s, and I’m well aware there was a larger problem before that) I’ve only ever heard racist chants on a handful of occasions, and they didn’t catch on. I was convinced we were all past this stage (meaning both football fans and Europeans in general), but the upsurge of race related incidents across the continent has been extremely worrying. I see it as a far bigger problem in terms of moving the game forwards than the behaviour of some nutters at a derby match, however we all know how lightly the subject is treated by UEFA. It’s given plenty of lip-service, lots of talk about anti-racism campaigns, but what punishment do we see clubs get for racist behavior? Fines equivalent to a couple of goal-bonuses, or slaps on the wrist so meek they barely redden the skin.

Which all goes to show that our European governing body is just as useless, misguided and prejudiced as we all knew they were.

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