Thursday 17 October 2019

John Aldridge: I saw knives flashed and some lads got serious beatings but times have changed in England - so why not in Europe?

Sean Cox was attacked outside the Albert Pub
Sean Cox was attacked outside the Albert Pub

John Aldridge

BACK in my youth, I used to go to a lot of Liverpool matches home and away and, on occasion, I got caught up in a few fights with rivals fans.

This was in the 1970s, when hooliganism was part of the game and it was hard not to avoid getting into a few scrapes before and after matches.

I saw the odd knife flashed around back then and some lads got serious beatings, but it went with the territory if you got involved in those fights.

That was part of the football culture back then. If you wore your colours, you could be a target and you had to be prepared for whatever came your way.

Times have changed and English football has got its house in order by finding a solution to their hooliganism problem in recent years.

A visit to a Premier League match now is a very different experience from what it was when hooliganism was impossible to ignore.

Yet the tribalism that inspired the kind of attack that left Liverpool fan Sean Cox in hospital last Tuesday is still the norm at games across Europe and I don't believe this latest horrendous incident will change that reality.

What we saw from Roma fans outside Anfield ahead of the Champions League semi-final last week was not football fans fighting in the streets. This was a one-sided attack against a victim who didn't want any part of their violence.

The incident that left Irish fan Sean fighting a desperate battle for his life in a Liverpool hospital was vile, cowardly and evil in so many ways.

Poor Sean has suffered a serious head injury and I just hope and pray a miracle can happen and he overcomes his injuries. But this incident needs to result in actions at all levels of the game to stop this insanity from occurring time and again.

Around 5,000 Liverpool fans are expected to gather in Rome tomorrow for the second leg of the Champions League semi-final and I would have concerns for their safety, given recent history.

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Manchester United, Tottenham, Arsenal, Liverpool and Middlesbrough fans have all been attacked in the last few years by these deranged Roma 'Ultras', who are a set of football fans that appear to take pride in inflicting injuries on innocent people when they least expect it.

How would you feel if your son was going out Italy in the hope of seeing Liverpool qualify for the Champions League final?

I know I'd be worried because even if Liverpool FC are doing everything they can to give advice on where the fans should go and where they should avoid in Rome, there is not a lot you can do if you have deranged idiots who are intent on looking for anyone in a red shirt with the intention of harming them.

The police have to make sure they protect the Liverpool fans from these thugs, but history suggests we should be worried ahead of this game in Rome.

Back in 1984, Liverpool fans were attacked as they walked to the ground ahead of the European Cup final and the local police didn't do too much to help them. All these years later, the same madness is continuing.

Will UEFA or FIFA do anything to step in and punish clubs involved in these incidents? I doubt it.

The city of Rome was awarded a Champions League final not so long ago, despite all the history of violence inflicted on visiting supporters, and that sent out entirely the wrong message.

As for the World Cup finals being staged in Russia this summer…well that's almost endorsing a country that has become the home of the most violent brand of football hooliganism in recent years.

The Russian football thugs are ex-military hard men who relish a fight they know they are likely to win.

Anyone who books a trip to the World Cup finals in June is taking a big chance with their safety, in my view.

As you can probably tell from these words, I have been devastated by what happened to poor Sean last week and my heart goes out to his family as they sit by his bedside and hope he pulls through.

Liverpool FC's response has been fantastic, with manager Jurgen Klopp speaking so well when he addressed Sean's plight. The presence of a St Peter's Dunboyne GAA jersey in the dressing room at Anfield ahead of the Stoke game on Saturday was a classy gesture.

Let's all pray for Sean and also hope that despite my pessimism, Liverpool fans stay safe when they head to Rome to support their team tomorrow.

The great Liverpool manager Bill Shankly once said that football wasn't a matter of life and death – it was more important.

Sean Cox's plight right now puts some perspective on that comment.

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