Nocerina fans pressured their team

icon nocerina11 November ~ Sunday's game in Italy's Lega Pro Prima Divisione (level three) between bitter local rivals Salernitana and Nocerina was abandoned after 20 minutes. The reason had nothing to do with the weather or the state of the pitch, both of which were perfect. The referee was forced to call a halt to the proceedings because Nocerina were down to only six fit players. Or so they claimed. It all started when the prefect for the province of Salerno, for reasons of public order, decided to ban Nocerina fans from attending the match.

The ban even extended to holders of the notorious tessera del tifoso supporters ID cards which became compulsory in 2010-11. This shows, among other things, that they lied when saying that card holders would be exempt from any ban as long as they were not found guilty of a football-related offence which could lead to it being revoked. It was agreed that the match, which had a 12.30 kick-off, would be relayed live by state broadcaster RAI in the catchment area of the two clubs to enable those unable to be inside the stadium to watch it.

But that was not good enough for the hardcore of the Nocerina ultras, about 200 of which presented themselves at the hotel where the team were staying. If they could not be in the stadium, the team was not to take the field. If they did, their safe return to Nocera could not be guaranteed. This was taken as a thinly veiled death threat and apparently terrified the players, who asked for the game to be called off.

They were eventually persuaded to get on to the coach and travel to Salerno's Arechi stadium. Once there, they still insisted that they did not want to play despite promises that maximum security would ensure that they were in no physical danger. Eventually they were persuaded to do so, with the match starting 40 minutes late and without any warm up from Nocerina.

Their real intentions, and the extent of their fear, soon became clear. First their coach, Gaetano Fontana, made all three substitutions within the opening 60 seconds. Then one by one and at short intervals five players went down with "injuries" that necessitated their being carried off. At this point the referee was forced to end the game with the score still 0-0. While this farce was going on, a light plane flew over the stadium trailing a banner which read "Respect for Nocera and the ultras". Apparently when news of the game being called off reached Nocera, there was wild cheering in the town square.

On Sunday evening Nocerina's sporting director, Luigi Pavarese, announced that the board of directors had all resigned, as well as coach Fontana. What will happen now is anyone's guess. The police say that they have already identified 20 of the dissident "fans" but with no board of directors, no coach and players who will surely not be too keen to play for Nocerina again, it is difficult to know what the future holds for the club.

There is also the fear that what happened in Salerno has given the violent, almost fundamentalist, fringe among Italy's fans another weapon to use against the authorities. This was another horrible day for Italian football, a day before the sixth anniversary of the shooting dead of Lazio fan Gabriele Sandri by a traffic police officer while on his way to Milan watch his team play Inter. Richard Mason

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