Violence remains and supporters alienated
18 December ~ The story of the solitary Udinese fan in the away end at a recent Serie A fixture with Sampdoria has been shared as a heart-warming story. Not everybody agrees, arguing that it highlights Italian football's continuing problems. Falling attendances are attributed to a range of factors – a lack of quality on the field, saturating pay-per-view TV coverage, dilapidated stadiums, negative feelings engendered by recent match-fixing scandals and the continuing impact of the Tessera del tifoso (fans' ID card) and the complicated process of buying tickets.
In order to buy a ticket for the away end at any match in Italy's professional divisions, you need to be in possession of this ID card, which records all your personal details. Many fans are firmly against this apparent abuse of civil liberties and have refused to sign up to the scheme. A negative side-effect is that some of the more hardcore element are still travelling to away games but not having the Tessera have no choice but to buy tickets for designated "home" sections. It is unlikely that Arrigo Brovedani was the only Udinese supporter in the stadium in Genoa – on watching the highlights there is definitely more than one voice cheering Udinese's goals in their 2-0 victory.
Not surprisingly, this incursion of away supporters into home-only areas has led to several unpleasant incidents inside stadiums. In 2010 I witnessed a near-riot, swiftly stopped by stewards, when Fiorentina supporters realised there were a large number of visiting Lazio fans alongside them. This of course is not always the case – I was at the Coppa Italia match between AC Milan and Reggina, who were cheered on by a group of around 200 fans in one of the home sections standing happily alongside the locals with no issues. This shows that some fans can be trusted to behave themselves.
As well as the recent assault on Tottenham fans drinking in a bar in Rome, there have been a number of other violent episodes outside stadiums this season. Fans of Hellas Verona, whose reputation often precedes them, were involved in skirmishes in Palermo and came under attack on arrival at Brescia's ground (an incident leading to a number of arrests and injuries to police officers). Hooligans who follow Lombardian fourth-tier outfit Pro Patria have had several evidently pre-arranged confrontations well away from stadiums this year. All this serves to prove is that people who want to engage in disorder will find a way of doing so and the introduction of the ID card has done little to stop violence happening outside the segregated control of stadium interiors.
When the debates over what to do about issues of violence and the power of the ultras are raging, the term modello inglese (English model) is frequently used. Preventative policing seems to have been successful in the UK, with violence down and crowds holding up. The current Italian approach appears to be having the opposite effect. The BBC website article on the lone Udinese supporter concludes by telling us that "He has been invited to attend its next home match on Saturday". What it fails to add is that he refused the invitation, not wanting to draw further attention to himself and the situation. He is clearly not the only one in Italian football circles currently feeling embarrassed. Joe Haining