Saturday 15 December 2018

A history of violence: Roma thugs at it yet again as Uefa pleads powerlessness while fans bleed

Roma thugs attack innocent Liverpool fans
@DanRoan/Twitter
Roma thugs attack innocent Liverpool fans @DanRoan/Twitter

Sam Wallace

Francesco Ianari and Mauro Pinnelli would still be in jail now but the sentences of the two Roma fans convicted in October 2013 of being part of a group that had attacked Tottenham Hotspur supporters in the city one year earlier were significantly reduced on appeal around eight months later.

They had been convicted of grievous bodily harm for their part in the assault of Spurs fans in The Drunken Ship, a pub in the Campo de' Fiori piazza in Rome but on appeal had their charges downgraded.

The prosecution could not prove that the injuries inflicted on the Spurs fans who had been most seriously hurt met the threshold for the original charge and so those two veterans of a notorious attack on English football fans are now free men.

It is worth bearing in mind that when the Spurs fans were attacked, leaving one of them, Ashley Mills, with a gash to his head and a femoral artery requiring reconstruction, their club were not even playing Roma that night.

The game in question in November 2012 was against Lazio, with their own zeal for anti-Semitic songs and anti-Semitic banners, but for the Roma supporters in question, a group of English football fans in their own city was just too tempting to pass up.

Even before Liverpool were drawn against Roma in the Champions League semi-finals, their fans were telling the stories of their own experiences in Rome's Stadio Olimpico where the club have twice won the European Cup. In February 2001, in the first leg win over Roma in the Uefa Cup round of 16, Liverpool fans' coaches were attacked on the way to the stadium and many recall the police car set ablaze that greeted them on arrival.

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Inside they were pelted with anything that came to hand for the Roma fans, including memorably, according to one account, a wash-basin tap with some of the sink still attached. The official stabbing count was six Liverpool fans, two of them Norwegian, although the unofficial counts were in double-figures. Those fans of an older vintage say that coming out the Stadio Olimpico in 1984 after the victorious penalty shoot-out was hell itself, in a hostile city that had fully expected the European Cup to be staying in town.

This picture shows a view of the Drunken Ship pub at Campo di Fiori Credit: AFP
This picture shows a view of the Drunken Ship pub at Campo di Fiori Credit: AFP

All that before the attack on Tuesday night on the Liverpool fan Sean Cox, a father of three from Dunboyne in County Meath in the Republic of Ireland, who was assaulted outside the Albert pub near the Kop end at Anfield, and is currently being treated for serious head injuries. While his family wait at his bedside at the Walton Neurological Centre, thoughts naturally turn to what might happen in the second leg in Rome next week.

There was no prospect of sanctions from Uefa last night other than to say that the governing body was "deeply shocked" by the "vile attack", and is awaiting its report. Uefa will tell you that unless it happens in the stadium or in close proximity it really is none of its business. Perhaps the attack on Cox, for which two men have been charged, will be judged close enough to meet the criteria for action against Roma, or perhaps it will be added to a long charge sheet Uefa have decided is not its problem.

It had got so bad for travelling fans in Rome that by 2009 there were campaigns to have the Champions League final staged in the Stadio Olimpico that season moved elsewhere for fear of trouble between the native Roma fans and Manchester United and Barcelona supporters. The city-wide ban on alcohol sales had United fans bribing bars to lock their doors, or even trying to get a drink in Vatican City in the hope that it fell under a different jurisdiction.

In April 2007, ten United fans had been stabbed at a Roma tie and those who managed to escape the Ultras took their chances with the Italian police and their flailing batons. Less than three months before the final in 2009, an Arsenal fan aboard a bus to the club's Champions League tie with Roma was stabbed when it was ambushed and boarded by Roma fans. In 2006, Middlesbrough fans were attacked in The Drunken Ship where, six years later, Spurs fans would meet a similar fate.

Even when Chelsea played Roma in the group stages last October, Roma fans attacked travelling supporters while they drank in The Shamrock pub just east of the Coliseum. For the return fixture in London, Metropolitan police had to deal with disorder from the Roma fans on High Street Kensington, a road that has about as much of an association with football hooliganism as Green Street has with antiques shops and gentlemen's outfitters.

Despite Uefa's aversion to intervention it is evident that whatever deterrent has been used so far is not working. Merseyside police made nine arrests on Tuesday and it seems that in many places they go, Roma ultras lose a few to the local criminal justice system. That has not discouraged the rest and the same old official line from Roma the club about the actions of a "small minority" is the tired excuse of an institution that is not looking at the problem.

It matters not that this is a minority, rather that it is a persistent and determined one, with a pervading culture undeterred by arrests. They find new ways of attacking, this week with belts, more commonly hit-and-run stabbings from pairs on mopeds which then disappear into the Rome traffic.

Uefa have not even tried to see whether sporting sanctions might make a difference, rather each time it becomes the problem of local police, and each time there is another supporter in hospital. At some point the Uefa president Aleksander Ceferin may decide that enough is enough, but that will not be soon enough for Sean Cox, or his family, and another terrible casualty we all could have predicted.

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Telegraph.co.uk

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