Kick off is at 18.00… and there are no Palermo fans present to appreciate the lavish coreografie staged by the home ultras in the Curva Nord. Why not? Who knows. The online minute-by-minute coverage at La Repubblica says they will be admitted in around 10 minutes' time 'for reasons of public order.' Ok. Half time arrives and the score is still 0-0 and the stadium is still lacking any Palermitani. The second half begins and things began to go wrong with the arrival of the away fans. As the rosanero were arriving, their team scored inside: 1-0 to Palermo on 50'. They had been 'delayed' due to the driver of the official coaches losing his way, apparently. Hmmm. Is it just me or does that sound a bit suspicious? Other rumours have suggested that the Palermitani had been deliberately kept away from Catania's Massimino stadium by the police all this time, in the hope of preventing the meeting of the two sets of fans. The fans were keen to get inside as quickly as possible, and some minor scuffles broke out.
Meanwhile a group of some 200 Catanesi had been waiting outside the stadium for their arrival. Armed with bottles, stones, flares, baseball bats and who knows what else, they endeavoured to approach the visiting fans. Immediately the police formed up to protect the Palermitani, and the Catanesi instead launched their attack on the police. Repelling them, the police launched a tear-gas attack on the Catanesi. Tear gas drifted into the stadium and onto the pitch, where Palermo fans are also throwing flares. Players, officials and pitch side cameramen are doubled up, unable to breath, tears streaming down their faces: the game is suspended by the referee, Stefano Farina – who incidentally is a well regarded ref, one of the few not implicated however remotely in the calciopoli scandal. He brings them back out again after 25 minutes but it's too soon, and the match isn't finally resumed until over 40 minutes have passed. Incidentally, it's unclear why the match wasn't just abandoned at this point.
Inside the Massimino, now filled with teargas and agitated fans, scuffles were going on where the Palermo fans had managed to get close to the home supporters. But the real chaos was going on outside. The air thick with teargas – possibly launched by the hooligans as well as the police, it seems, and the group of Catanesi engaged with the police outside had let loose all hell, with flares and home-made bombs. By the time play resumed inside, at 19.48, the first fans were already arriving with minor injuries at the local hospital, the Garibaldi. The police were still endeavouring to bring the situation under control, pushing back the rioting fans and making arrests, but without success.
One of those was 38 year old Filippo Raciti, who had arrested someone after repeated violent clashes, in the process of which he received a sharp blow to the torso from a missile, perhaps a rock. It seems that this caused major internal haemorrhage, irretrievably damaging his liver. When moments later a home-made bomb flew threw the open window of his patrol car and exploded in his face, he was already critically injured. He was taken immediately to the Garibaldi hospital where repeated efforts were made to resuscitate him, but without success, and was declared dead at 22.10 (though rumours of his death were already circulating from half nine or so).
The match had finally ended at 20.35, taking over two and a half hours to play, but outside the stadium this "urban warfare" in the words of the newspapers continued for several hours, with the visiting fans, club officials, both sets of players and match officials all trapped inside the stadium. This wasn't two sets of fans fighting: it was one set of fans rampaging around their own city fighting the police and leaving a trail of fire and destruction. The match officials finally left around 23h, it's finally considered safe for the Palermo fans to be let out at midnight (SIX HOURS after kick off…). The officer carrying out the official investigations for the Questura (the investigative branch of the police) has emphasised that none of the 490 Palermo fans at the game were involved in the fighting, nor were any injured.
A total of 22 arrests have been made so far, of which individuals 9 are under 18 (all 15-17). None are suspected of direct involvement in Raciti's death. The 70+ people treated in hospital – the majority police officers are mostly recovering well, including the one individual reported earlier as in critical conditions. Seems that plenty of the injured Catanesi have not sought medical treatment though, since they fear arrest… Police investigations continue.
The funeral of Filippo Raciti is to be held tomorrow afternoon in Catania's Cathedral. Over a hundred thousand euros have already been donated to the memorial fund for his family set up by a Sicilian newspaper, and CONI, the umbrella governing body for all sports in Italy, has set up a study bursary for his two children. The celebrations for Sant'Agata were cancelled, all apart from the Mass and religious procession.
As for the reaction and the consequences for football, the wider social, political and sporting issues, I'm going to leave them for another time since they are both complex and not really the point right now. I'll quote from the CC Catania official website, which in common with an enormous number of football sites in Italy has closed down for the weekend:
SCUSATECI, MA CI SEMBRA VERAMENTE ASSURDO
SCRIVERE DI CALCIO IN QUESTI MOMENTI.
IL NOSTRO PENSIERO E' RIVOLTO
ESCLUSIVAMENTE AI FAMILIARI
DELL'ISPETTORE RACITI CHE HA PERSO LA VITA
PER GARANTIRE L'ORDINE PUBBLICO
DURANTE UNA PARTITA
Excuse us, but it seems truly absurd to talk about football right now. All our thoughts are with the loved ones of Inspector Raciti who lost his life upholding public order during a game of football.