VIOLENCE, violence everywhere. All over Italy, alas, not least last week at San Siro. Violence, Blackburn’s at Cardiff where they did their disgraceful best to kick and elbow Arsenal out of the game. And violence shamefully unpunished by UEFA, not merely on the San Siro terraces, whence came the hail of flares, one of which hit poor Dida the Milan keeper, but a shocking assault by Andrei Shevchenko which, though seen by millions on television, has not only escaped punishment but seems largely to have been overlooked by the media at large.
UEFA’s excuse for taking no action against the Ukrainian centre-forward for butting Marco Materazzi of Inter in the face has been that the linesman did not report it! What planet are they living on? The incident took place virtually in front of that pathetic linesman, who should be run out of the game for ignoring it. But over and beyond that, we all know that in this age of television footage, any such offence in this country, whether or not seen by the referee or his side-kicks, will be examined by the relevant disciplinary committee and suitably sanctioned if they see fit. Shevchenko here would almost automatically have been given a three match suspension which would very properly have ruled him out of both European Cup semi finals and the Final beside, were Milan, as is highly likely, to reach it. Though their surprising 2-1 defeat at modest Siena last Sunday after Hernan Crespo had given them the lead suggests that they are hardly invincible.
There was no atom of an excuse for the excesses of the Inter fans though one can understand their frustration: there seemed nothing wrong with the goal headed by Argentinian Esteban Cambiasso, whose disallowing provoked the riot. But, as some have asked, what kind of policing is it in Italy which permits fans to bring in these flares without let or hindrance? Moreover, the Italian police, like those of Madrid when it comes to dealing with the hooligans of Ultras Sur at the Bernabeu, seems reluctant to intervene.
At Cardiff last Saturday, the cringingly inept refereeing of Steve Dunn greatly contributed to Blackburn’s display of spiteful thuggery. Had he brandished several red cards it would not have been excessive, though he was guiltless in the case of Andy Todd’s spiteful, vicious elbow to the face of Roby Van Persie, just as the gifted Dutchman had scored, near to the end. The referee was running back away from the incident and can hardly be blamed for not having eyes in the back of his head. Todd has tried ineptly to explain his assault away, but he has form in spades, not least at Bolton who kicked him out after a vicious assault on the assistant manager Phil Brown, whose cheekbone and jaw he fractured. At Charlton, he gave a black eye to the Irish keeper Dean Kiely. At Blackburn, he was guilty of a ferocious kick at the French international forward, Christophe Dugarry.
When Robbie Savage belatedly came on to a pitch where his excesses have been known in the past, it took him no time at all to chop down Cesc Fabregas, but pathetic Dunn didn’t even deem this worth a yellow card. Nor did he give one to Garry Flitcroft, David Thompson and Aaron Mokoena for their series of assaults on the long suffering but highly effective Patrick Vieira. If anyone should be suspended, it should surely be the pitiful Dunn.
BUT when it comes to the theme of violence, Heysel May 1985 surely stands alone, the charge of the Liverpool thugs at the European Cup Final leading to the deaths of 39 Juventus fans. Last Sunday BBC TV2 showed a documentary about the disaster, by a Belgian director, M Lode, Requiem For A Cup Final. Concentrating on a family which had three men at the match, one of whom, a cousin, was crushed to death, interviewing their grief stricken mother, showing horrific scenes of thuggery and suffering, its emotional impact was substantial. Yet as one who was there, who was among the seven journalists called to 10 Downing Street by Mrs Thatcher the following day, and who has closely examined the appalling even over these past twenty years, I found the documentary, however emotive in its impact, ultimately superficial and inadequate. To this day, I maintain that this appalling accident should never have been allowed to happen, but the documentary failed to engage with at least three major themes.
First, no reference was made to what happened after the previous year’s European Final at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome when Liverpool won against Roma on penalties. As soon as the game was over, as the Roman Press, to their horror and credit faithfully reported, young Roma thugs rushed to their cards, took out iron bars and clubs, and set about the perfectly innocent Liverpool fans. There was even the extraordinary sight of fans of Lazio, Roma’s rivals, pressing weapons into the hands of Liverpool supporters. Now, you and I know that Rome and Turin might just as well be in different countries, which indeed they once were, but for Liverpool fans, Italians were clearly Italians. Revenge was in the air. Secondly, that rickety, broken down stadium was never fit for such a game, but when UEFA sent its officials to inspect it, my information is that it was so cold that day in Brussels that they stood in the warm and didn’t bother. Thirdly, it was abysmally crass of the Belgian football authorities to allow tickets to be bought in Belgium, with the certainty they would largely be snapped up by Italian emigrant workers and sent back to Italy. So it transpired that the Italian fans standing next to Liverpool’s on terrace Z – many of the Liverpudlians having crawled under the wire fence and jam-packed their sector – were peaceful people, often with their families, who had just come along for the game. The ultras, the hard nuts, who would probably have stood and fought rather than be driven off the terraces, were all at the other end.
The documentary did at least address the question of the cowardly ineptitude of the Belgian police, who fled en masse from the terraces when the trouble started. The general in overall charge admitted that for various reasons, those on duty were “the scrapings of the barrel,” sent in because their betters were, for one reason or another, not available.
FINALLY, a big black mark for Peter Reid who, sitting as a panellist after the Arsenal v Blackburn game, resolutely refused to condemn Blackburn’s abominable tactics, sitting on the fence so long that the iron must have entered his soul.
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