6 September ~ This the debut season of Italian football's Tessera del Tifoso, or fans’ ID card scheme. There have been protests about the card ever since it was first mooted and plenty more have been made in the last few weeks. During the season opener at the Stadio Olimpico, a large group of Roma’s ultras remained outside the stadium, leaving an entire block of the usually chock-full Curva Sud glaringly empty. At the Serie B game between Empoli and Pescara I saw a number of the home side’s ultras choosing not to enter the ground, but instead setting up a Subbuteo table outside.
A rather less genial protest was mounted by the Atalanta ultras, who invaded a political rally to first debate with and then attack the interior minister Roberto Maroni (the champion of the Tessera scheme) with smoke and fire flares, before torching a police car and engaging officers in a running street battle.
Clearly the actions of the Bergamese are not in any way helpful – the more incidents of this nature there are, the more the pro-Tessera factions will say that the scheme is necessary. The counter-argument to this, of course, is that persecuting every person who wishes to watch football in Italy will not curb the violence of the minority intent on carrying it out.
Complete lockouts of away fans are becoming more and more common. At the above-mentioned Empoli v Pescara game the away end was closed. When I asked a steward why, she replied that they didn’t get on too well and there might have been trouble if Pescara tifosi had been allowed to come.
Tessera-related lockouts were also prevalent over the same weekend, often for reasons of poor organisation as much as anything else. I had also wanted to go to the Lega Pro Prima Divisione (third tier) game between Viareggio and Siracusa, but didn’t travel after hearing that nobody without a Tessera would be allowed in (including all away fans and any non-residents of Tuscany) due to the new access security systems not being ready yet. The attendance of 841 included only 313 non-season ticket holders.
Further inland the same day, there were no away fans present at what should have been an exciting early-season showpiece between Fiorentina and Napoli. The reason was that the Neopolitans’ Tessere had not been produced in time. To many this would seem an absolute outrage worthy of extensive media coverage. However the only protests after the game involved calls for the introduction of video technology after Napoli’s lucky break with a gol fantasma when the referee and his assistant pointed to the centre-spot despite Edison Cavani’s header clearly not crossing the line. Either nobody is surprised by such administrative incompetence, or the media are scared to take on the Tessera.
Instead of going to Florence I saw the Lega Pro Seconda Divisione (fourth tier) game between AC Prato and L’Aquila. Even at such a level, I had to buy my ticket more than two hours in advance, showing my passport to get all my particulars noted. The police presence for a match watched by 434 would not have been out of place at a feisty higher-division game in England; at least three sets of security gates had to be passed in the street before even arriving at the stadium.
This was compounded by there being only one entrance for everyone. Inside the only segregation between L’Aquila’s small but passionate travelling support and the home fans was a straggled line of a few bored-looking stewards. Even that level of security was clearly unnecessary as both sets of fans were quite happily mingling at the shared catering and toilet facilities.
The sad and disturbing postscript to this game is that L’Aquila (along with Cremonese, Pergocrema and Pavia the same weekend) were subsequently fined €5,000 (£4,200) because their supporters sung a few songs that were “offensive to the interior minister”.
This kind of reaction to a few football songs may go some way to explaining why the media would be reluctant to go after the Tessera as powerfully as it should. But then maybe it also says a little about the changing attitudes of the audience for football in Italy. With Sky as omnipresent here as they are in England, debates over whether a ball crossed a line in Florence may seem to be more important than going along to support your team in person. Joe Haining