Mark Lawrenson - I fear for Liverpool fans in Rome and they need to be protected
Liverpool legend Mark Lawrenson has called on the Italian police and UEFA to ensure Reds fans are protected when they travel to Rome for the second leg of the Champions League semi-final on Wednesday.
Thousands of Liverpool fans are expected to descend on the Italian capital as Jurgen Klopp's side attempt to build on a 5-2 first leg lead as they target a place in next month’s final in Kiev, yet there are fears that they could be the target of an attack from Roma's notorious fans known as Ultras.
Roma’s supporters have targeted travelling English supporters time and again in Rome over recent years and they exported their violence to the streets of Liverpool last week, leaving Irish fan Sean Cox fighting for his life after he was attacked outside of Anfield shortly before the game.
Now Paddy Power ambassador Lawrenson, who won the European Cup with Liverpool by beating Roma in Rome back in 1984, has urged all involved in the organisation of the second leg to put measures in place to ensure Wednesday’s game passes off without incident.
"Do the Rome police want to read reports in newspapers around the world on Thursday morning saying football fans were stabbed in their city once again?" questioned former Ireland defender Lawrenson.
"I can’t imagine they do and I hope the local police and UEFA make sure this goes off without major incidents.
"It is all well and good having nice UEFA branding in the stadium, saying they are against violence, against racism and whatever else, but people have to be able to get in and out of the game safely and all the organisers have to come together to make that happen.
"I would have some worries for Liverpool fans in Rome, but there is a way to mimimise the risk. Don’t go to areas where loads of Roma fans are gathered and you should take yourself out of harm’s way. Just be sensible and you should be fine.
"You have to be sensible. Don’t go areas in the centre of town where there are lots of Roma fans in bars while they have a few of these Ultras who are obviously mad, you need to have your wits about you and do everything possible not to get involved."
Liverpool FC have issued guidelines to their supporters urging them to respect the historic monuments in Rome and to avoid walking to the Stadio Olympico 'at all costs', with Lawrenson suggesting that advice should be followed as he reflected on a brutal attack on Liverpool fans ahead of the 1984 Final in Rome.
"I will never forget what happened to Liverpool fans in 1984 it was shocking, scandalous," he reflects. "They were just attacked outside the ground by Roma fans the local police didn’t seem to do anything about it.
"They said something would be done to address this issue back then, but more than 30 years later and we are still talking about the same problems with Roma fans and nothing has changed.
"As players, you are horrified when you hear reports like that. It makes you angry because it should be so easy to stop these problems. There will be 5,000 Liverpool fans going down there next week so the police should walk them in and out of the stadium and there should be no problems."
Lawrenson is backing Liverpool to progress to the Champions League final and suggests it will take 'a hell of a performance' to stop Jurgen Klopp’s men lifting the trophy in Kiev, as he suggests the Reds boss has answered his critics in a grand manner this season.
"After the 4-1 defeat against Tottenham last October, Liverpool fans were ringing in to phone-in shows saying things have not improved and Klopp has to go, but I have always been fully behind this manager and the majority of fans feel the same," he adds.
"He has a method that players embrace and they want to work for him. It was similar when he was in charge at Borussia Dortmund.
"His best players were sold every summer, but he still beat Bayern Munich to the Bundesliga title a couple of times and came close to winning the Champions League with them.
"Liverpool are very lucky to have Klopp in charge and even if he doesn’t win a trophy this season, I don’t think there will be any complaints from Liverpool fans because they love this guy.
"He has put a smile on everyone’s face, he embraces the history of the club and doesn’t try to run away from it. He understands how Liverpool supporters work and that is very important this club.
"I remember them playing West Brom soon after Klopp arrived and Liverpool scored a late goal to get a 2-2 draw, which inspired ridicule from the media and rival fans, but there was a bigger plan at play in his mind.
"Fans had been leaving Anfield early from some and he wanted to make the statement that this Liverpool team would fight until the last minute and they needed the supporters behind them. People don’t leave Anfield early now."
Mark Lawrenson is a Paddy Power ambassador. To read more, go to news.paddypower.com