As Peter Moore spent last night at the bedside of Liverpool fan Steven Allen. He, like many others, must be wondering what can be done about the culture that surrounds football in Italy at the moment.
Luckily, on this occasion reports suggest Mr Allen will make a full recovery. However, like the unprovoked attack on Sean Cox showed, there is a serious issue here.
Not for the first time and more likely not the last time, an English fan lay in a hospital bed last night as the victim of an unprovoked attack by Italian Ultras. But why is this happening and who are these Italian ultras?
History of the “Ultra” culture
The culture of Italian Ultras goes back to the late ’60s and early ’70s. It’s completely different to the English football hooligan problem that blighted our game for so long.
Whilst English hooligans were often chaotic and fuelled by alcohol, the Italian Ultras in comparison are organised, hierarchical and calculating.
‘Ultras’ meaning ‘beyond’, ‘intransigent’ or ‘extreme’ form a part of every Italian football club and the bigger clubs have dozens of groups. The early beginnings of the Ultra groups were wannabe paramilitary. Over time, most have become strongly linked to racist and political ideologies.
As an example, and using last nights opponents to illustrate this, the Napoli ultras have links to right-wing politics and local mafia.
The Ultra groups themselves are organised. Regular meetings are held and are run by the president of the group who is known as the ‘capo’. The meeting debate slogans, songs, alliances and ambushes.
It is the latter that visiting fans are getting caught up in. Even as far back as 1984, when Liverpool triumphed over Roma to win the European cup, our fans were getting ambushed and stabbed.
Since then, numerous English teams have had their fans attacked too. Middlesbrough in 2006, Leeds, Spurs and even fans of our national side in 2009 amongst others were attacked. The biggest challenge for authorities though is that attacks are celebrated.
At Anfield, against Roma, a there was a banner which said ‘DDS Con Noi’. Translated it means, ‘Daniele De Santi is with us’. Daniele for the record, murdered a Napoli fan before their 2014 cup final.
The way it is now
Organised and brutal, Italian ultras where possible tend to locate themselves at the curved end of stadiums. One of the more prominent groups from last nights game call themselves the ‘Curva Sud’, and watch the game from the south end of the ground.
Ironically, a lot of ultras don’t watch the game, and face their fans, choreographing and encouraging noise. For them, it is more about defending their territory than the football itself.
Most ultras tend to dress the same, and are fixated on this choreographed appearance, and pageantry that surrounds the big games. They put hours into organising mosaics, flags and flares.
As well as the game, ambushes are organised for outside of the ground. Typically, they attack in groups, and their weapons of choice are the belt or the knife.
A typical attack is when opponent fans are stabbed in the buttock. It’s done in an attempt to humiliate as much as hurt. Last night was similar in so much that groups on scooters would navigate the tricky streets of Naples, execute their attack and speed off into the night.
The Italian authorities are fighting a losing battle.
The clear message is that UEFA cannot and must not allow travelling opposition fans to be put into danger like they currently are.
They should be working with the Italian authorities to put a measure in place to not only deal with the violence from the Ultra groups but also to safeguard travelling fans.
In addition, the clubs should be putting pressure on UEFA to do this. Peter Moore saw with his own eyes last night the dangers that face travelling fans. The footballing world should not tolerate it any more.
Just like the Italian ultras defend their territories, maybe we as a football community need to defend our territory and say ‘Enough is Enough’.
Our final comments and thoughts go out to Steven Allen. We wish him a speedy recovery along with any other fans that were caught up in last nights events.
Peter Moore, we applaud you. We look forward to seeing what you can do to influence UEFA to rid football of this issue once and for all.