There may not be appropriate words to sum up the absolute revulsion that wells up when considering the events of the early hours of Thursday morning in Rome. Two supporters of Tottenham Hotspur were stabbed in a bar in the city in what looks distinctly like a pre-meditated attack which, as if such behaviour isn’t low enough already, was also accompanied with an unhealthy dollop of antisemitism. Over the last twenty-four hours or so, there have been conflicting reports regarding whose “fault” – if collective fault can be assigned to the decision of someone to push a blade into somebody else for any reason whatsoever – it all was, but the arrest this evening of two Roma ultras would seem to indicate that this may have been more orchestrated than merely some Lazio supporters offering a dispiritingly familiar Roman welcome to the supporters of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club.
Considering what happened last night, though, one might have hoped for a little more sensitivity from the supporters of that particular club once the teams took to the pitch at the Olympic Stadium for the Europa League match between Lazio and Tottenham Hotspur last night, but sections of the Olympic curva didn’t even seem capable of that. Antisemitic chanting was clearly audible during the early stages of the match. It hardly seems unreasonable to enquire as per why perhaps, just perhaps, the Lazio supporters involved in this could for once have left their antisemitism at the turnstile for the evening and actually got on with the job of supporting their team instead. It frequently feels, however, as if the squalid politics of Italy is incapable of being separated from the worst excesses of the worst elements of Italian society.
The difficulty in separating fact from fiction at this early stage means that trying to explain what actually happened that night has to be somewhat vague, but it would be a dereliction of duty were we not to stop and consider what, exactly, can be done to prevent yet another example of scenes that have been seen with wearying regularity over the last few years. It is clear that the authorities in Italy have questions to answer. Ultimately, the ultimate responsibility of all concerned should be the safety of travelling supporters, and the fact that this is plainly not the first time that English supporters have been attacked and stabbed in the city should be enough for the knowledge that this sort of incident is now apparently more likely to happen than not at these matches to be commonplace amongst those charged with the task of actually doing something about it.
The reflex reaction – and it is, at a time of high emotion, an understandable one – is to blame the clubs concerned. There is certainly evidence, after all, which suggests that clubs in Italy have been far too cosy with the barmier ends of their support-base. In this case, however, such action may be little more use than chasing up a blind alley. Whilst Lazio are clearly responsible for what happens inside their stadium, it is extremely difficult to hold a football club responsible for something that happened a distance away from their stadium, the night before a match there. Also, the fact that it is possible that individuals from Roma may also have been involved would seem to indicate that this was more about the antisemitism than anything to do with football. As such, UEFA can offer temporary sanctions against clubs, but these will barely scratch the surface of addressing this problem in anything like the long-term. It hardly seems realistic or fair to expect Italian clubs in Europe to play all of their matches behind closed doors, but what has become clear in recent years is that something clearly needs to be done in order to protect those that travel there to watch their teams play in European competition.
After the Heysel Stadium disaster in 1985, officials from the Football Association were summoned to a meeting at Downing Street to discuss the deteriorating behaviour of an element of football supporters, secretary Ted Croker was forced speak up when questioned by the Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who asked: ‘What are you going to do about your hooliganism?’ Croker replied: ‘Not our hooligans, Prime Minister, but yours. The products of your society.’ It is difficult not to be reminder of this exchange as we look at a fresh batch of dismal newspaper headlines a quarter of a century on. It should be obvious where the dividing lines are in terms of holding a duty of care towards travelling football supporters, but in the case of what happened late on Wednesday night the east answer of blaming football an an institution, those that run it or even individual clubs or groups of supporters would appear to be wide of the mark. Many indications are that this attack was something darker in which supporters of a specific football club were targeted and those involved are, at the very least, Italys problem as well as Italian footballs problem.
That said, however, this is the seventh time in the last twelve years that supporters of an English club have been stabbed in Rome, and it is clear the the citys reputation is becoming badly tarnished by such incidents. And ultimately, if the safety of travelling supporters cannot be guaranteed whilst visiting there, the only options left will be to ban clubs from playing there, ban supporters from travelling there or for supporters themselves to vote with their feet and not go there in the first place. Until the authorities in the city provide some sort of concrete proof that they are actually going to do something productive about this, the latter of these options seems like the most obvious for supporters of clubs who are unfortunate enough to be drawn to play there. The question of how to prevent a recurrence of it the next time an English club has to travel there is not one that easily answered, though. In the meantime, all supporters back in this country should be wishing the victims of this attack a speedy recovery.
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