Thursday 13 December 2018

'They were throwing rocks, wielding iron bars' - The sordid history of Roma's Ultras as Liverpool fans head to Rome

Kevin Palmer

Kevin Palmer

As Tottenham fans gathered at The Drunken Ship pub in Rome’s Piazza Campo de’ Fiori in the early hours of a November morning in 2012, the scene could not have been more cordial.

Spurs were due to take on Lazio at the Stadio Olympio later that evening, with supporters of the north London side unprepared for the violent attack that was about to plunge them into a scene of terror.

“The English fans were very calm, they weren’t even drunk, then these men with heads covered came barging in throwing cobblestones,” recalls Marco Manzi, landlord of the Drunken Ship pub.

“Then Italian supporters arrived wearing scooter helmets and some with their faces covered with scarves.

“They were throwing rocks, wielding iron bars. The English people hid, and everything was destroyed. It lasted about 20 minutes.

“This was a planned thing. They had studied it. The English people had been here since the afternoon. They were circled, cornered, and weren’t allowed to go out.”

Smoke bombs, tear gas and knives were used in the attack that left 13 Spurs fans badly hurt, with Roma fans Francesco Ianari and Mauro Pinnelli later sentences to around five years in jail for their roles in the military style assault.

They were members of AS Roma’s notorious Ultras, a group that appears to take pride in striking out violently at unsuspecting victims, yet maybe the those on the end of this brutality should have been aware of the dangers around them in the Eternal City.

After all, Rome has been the scene of some shocking attacks on travelling football supporters over the last couple of decades, as a group that call themselves the Fedayn in homage to a group of brutal Iranian guerrilla fighters rarely pass up a chance to strike out at visiting English fans.

Six Liverpool supporters were stabbed by Roma Ultras in 2001 before three Middlesbrough fans suffering knife wounds after they were attacked by fans wielding blades and an axe five years later.

Five Manchester United fans were stabbed ahead of a game against Roma in December 2007, while an Arsenal supporters’ bus was ambushed as Roma mob launched an attack that resulted in another English fan suffering a stab wound in 2009.

Some 20 masked Roma trouble makers then attacked Chelsea supporters at The Shamrock pub in Rome last October and now the football world is reeling from the latest horror inflicted by Roma thugs, as Irish Liverpool fan Sean Cox was attacked outside Anfield ahead of last Tuesday Champions League semi-final.

Amid this toxic climate, fears are growing for Liverpool supporters planning to attend the second leg of the semi-final in Rome on Wednesday night, with a huge security operation swinging into effect to try and ensure the game passes off without incident.

Liverpool FC officials have staged a hastily arranged meeting with European football chiefs, AS Roma and the Italian authorities in a bid to allay fears of fresh attacks on Reds fans, yet the truth is the authorities have little or no control over groups that view violence as a hobby and revel in dishing out gangland style punishment to their victims.

The ‘Ultra culture’ is a deep rooted and historical laced with historical undertones that create heroes out of some of its most notorious exponents and glories the violence they perpetrate.

One incident four years ago saw a Napoli supporter shot to death by a Roma Ultra before the Coppa Italia final at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome.

Daniele De Santis, a 48-year-old Roma Ultra involved in fascist far-right political groups, shot three people, including Ciro Esposito, a 30-year-old car washer from Naples, who died of his injuries some weeks later.

De Santis was sentenced to 26 years in prison, cut to 16 on appeal, yet he became a cult hero for a section of the Ultras who worshiped his violence.

Roma supporters regularly chant De Santis’ name and even unveiled a banner mocking the victim’s mother at their next fixture against Napoli, with a message of support for him also on display in the first leg of the semi-final against Liverpool at Anfield last Tuesday.

This is unprovoked gangland violence being celebrated with an insatiable, ghoulish relish and this is not ‘hobby’ monopolised by Roma fans.

Every major club in Italy has an Ultra group, with Roma’s knife wielding brigade known for slashing their victims on their buttocks, leaving an imprint that leaves a lasting humiliation, with their influence in their cities stretching far beyond acts of hooliganism on matchdays.

Ultras have been at the centre of most Italian football violence in the last 50 years and have also been notorious for ticket-touting and counterfeit merchandise, with some even linked to drug dealing and organised crime.

Given this alarming backdrop, Liverpool fans would appear to be taking their life into their hands if they go to Rome this week, even after the club offered up specific advice before travelling to Italy’s Eternal City, which has more recently been rechristen ‘Stab City’ by those who have fallen victim to local cowards who use visiting football fans as target practice.

Whatever precautions are taken by Liverpool to protect their fans this week, Roma’s Ultras tend to operate to their own rules and the fear must be that they will rise challenge of defying those trying to stop them in their violent tracks.

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