THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

New punishments too strict on clubs

icon racism10 October ~ Whenever a small minority of Liverpool or Manchester United fans have taunted their rivals about Munich and Hillsborough, or Torino and Juventus fans have done the same about the Heysel disaster and the Superga air crash that destroyed the great Torino side in 1949, their clubs have never been ordered to play their next match behind closed doors. Nor have Verona, whose fans desecrated the memory of Piermario Morosini after he died on the field of play in April 2012 while playing for Livorno at Pescara.

Only last weekend some fans even ruined the minute's silence for the victims of the Lampedusa shipwreck, but their clubs have not been ordered to play behind closed doors either.

But this is the exemplary punishment that has just been handed out to Milan following anti-Naples chants by a minority of their fans at the away match with Juventus on Sunday. Unless there is a change of heart, they will play their next home match with Udinese behind closed doors on October 19.

I am sure that we are agreed that racism, homophobia and anti-semitism have to be fought and eliminated from football and society. But in their eagerness to be seen to be doing something, the Italian federation (FIGC) has introduced a new concept called "territorial discrimination". It is a very vague term, as any fan can testify. When Fiorentina played Atalanta, some of their fans chanted "we hate Bergamo" and "Bergamasco, piece of shit", yet the club received no punishment. I am sure that some Atalanta fans who go to away matches do the same in some stadiums, while the Fiorentina fans were simply repeating chants that we often hear in Bergamo and that are never punished.

And nor should they be – they are part of the repertory of a certain type of fandom. I and many others hate them but few, if any, think that they warrant having to play a match behind closed doors. If you allow chanting, some of it will inevitably be in poor taste. If you ban it, matches will become bland and passionless.

The chants about Naples tend to be in particularly poor taste. They imply that the Neapolitans never wash, refer to a cholera epidemic of long ago and beg Vesuvius to erupt and cause untold destruction. And of course Naples can never escape the shadow of the mafia. But closing a stadium because of them suggests that the Neapolitans are weak and defenceless creatures who cannot stand up for themselves. The reality in most cases is quite the opposite: they are well able to look after themselves and reply in kind. At Sunday's game against Livorno they proved it, unfurling a banner that read: "Napoli = cholera" followed by "Now close our curva".  

The FIGC do not appreciate that "territorial discrimination" is often simply part of the folklore of a country. Furthermore, applying the reasoning behind Milan's punishment to Rangers v Celtic, every Old Firm match would be played behind closed doors. They do not grasp, either, that they have handed a certain type of fan a heaven-sent opportunity to hold clubs to ransom. I cannot believe that this is what they want to achieve.

There needs to be a radical rethink before we see more and more matches played in empty stadiums. The authorities should also consider the feelings of the vast majority of innocent fans, many of whom have forked out for a season ticket despite the economic crisis. It cannot be sensible to alienate them, but it is going to happen if this is allowed to escalate.

Not everyone will agree, but some see all this as part of an attempt to gag fans. Maybe it is time for them to get together and promote a "silent Sunday" in which no spectator utters a single word throughout the course of any match. This would show that football without noise is nothing. Some of it may not make pleasant listening, but if we exclude overt racism, homophobia and anti-semitism, we must accept it as being part of the stadium experience. It rarely reaches the levels of hatred exhibited in the Munich/Hillsborough/Heysel/Superga taunts.

My view is that if this behaviour must be punished, huge fines would be much more effective than stadium closures, which inevitably penalise the 99 who are innocent while rarely catching the one who is guilty. Hit the clubs hard in their pockets and they might put more effort into finding the culprits, though it will not be easy. Richard Mason

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