Adam Brown of the Football Supporters Association was in Turin for a Champions League game between Juventus and Man Utd. He recalls seeing some highly old-fashioned police tactics first hand
This is getting to be a bit of a habit. Manchester United head off to Europe, full of optimism that this year we’ll get it right, only for things to go horribly wrong both on the pitch and off it. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised then, when our trip to Juventus ended in tears, not due to the 1-0 defeat but because we’d been tear-gassed, as well as beaten with batons and crushed.
It is now three years since the hellish treatment of United fans at the hands of Turkish police and nothing, it seems, has changed. The intervening period has seen ‘host’ police forces react to Leeds, Chelsea and Arsenal fans on the basis that if you’re English you’re a thug and you’re going to be treated as such. Whether the manhandling we received was malice or incompetence will be difficult to determine, but the carabinieri must have had eyes and ears firmly closed to all available expertise developed over the last few years on how to police a football crowd.
Things didn’t look too good once we reached the Stadio Delle Alpi: running skirmishes were augmented with reports of attacks the previous night and at least one stabbing at the ground. During the match United fans were subjected to coins being thrown by Juve Ultras (we’d had our changed removed on entry - presumably the Italian police’s widows and orphans fund did rather well); projectile flares were fired in our direction (an action for which UEFA must surely punish Juventus); and Andy Cole was subjected to the kind of racist abuse I haven’t heard for ages.
However, it was after the match finished that the worst of a badly-policed day occurred. There was no announcement to the top tier of one corner of the ground that we were to be kept behind, yet we descended the stairs and ramp leading to the forecourt to be met by a barrier and four lines or riot police. Inevitably those at the front ended up being pushed into the leaving committee, and just as inevitably they hit us with batons.
There was not a single announcement over a tannoy or megaphone and the only copper who could speak any English said,”If my superior says you stay here for five minutes, you stay for five minutes, if he says an hour it’s an hour.”
On four occasions the police, obviously concerned about the pressure build-up, decided that the way to solve the problem was to lash out with batons on those getting crushed up against perspex riot gear at the front. Only an idiot could have thought that this would defuse the situation.
By this point some fans were naturally getting a bit pissed off, so the arrival of a superior officer at the front of the police lines seemed a good opportunity to complain. His response was unequivocal - whacking a supporter whose only offence was to call for us to be let out. This was the cue for the rest of the mob to follow in one last baton-fest.
About an hour after the game ended we emerged onto the forecourt. Some missiles rained over from a group of Juventus fans, obviously miffed that they hadn’t been able to join in the previous fun, and the predictable running around ensued. This prompted the police to charge and fire tear gas at United fans, some of whom were doing nothing more than trying to find their coaches.
Tear gas is an indiscriminate control mechanism, designed to disperse crowds. I’m still puzzled as to where the police thought we could go to, given that almost everyone had to sit on coaches and wait to get to their hotels or the airport.
This was not another Galatasaray. As far as we know no-one is locked up in prison. But it was bad (fans suffered broken bones, bruising, eye and throat problems) and it suggested a crassness on the part of the police which we might have hoped had been left behind in a different decade.
That United decided to end their restrictive ticket-selling practice is a godsend (whether due to legal pressure or common sense, they allowed tickets for our section to be sold to anyone with travel documents and a membership card). Who knows what would have happened if we had been dispersed all around the ground.
It has also resulted in the now familiar scene of supporter groups (the FSA and the Independent Manchester United Supporters Association) picking up the pieces and trying to get the authorities to do something for once. There has been talk of compensation claims for injuries and anyone who suffered should get in touch with IMUSA.
But as yet, Manchester United, the FA or the Foreign Office have not done so much as lift a finger in defence of our fans and citizens: it is now a depressing cliché that if any other group of people were treated like this protests and complaints would have been lodged. Both UEFA and the Italian ambassador should be put under heavy pressure to act. Unless action is taken it will all happen again next year, or even in a few weeks’ time. We are, after all, back in Istanbul in October.
From WSC 117 November 1996. What was happening this month