Developments so far this season with regard to violence and ultras have been interesting, if uncertain. In the aftermath of the death of Filippo Raciti, a great many column inches were spent on an unedifying combination of sanctimony and mea culpa hand-waving. The political reaction was rapid - far too rapid - and now comes the proof of the pudding. With the new measures in place, is anything changing? Well... yes and no. A greatly increased and focused political will to tackle hooliganism seems to have been met by a deliberate increase of violence targeted at the agents of that repression. The new policy of stewards inside and carabinieri outside the stadium, has been accompanied by a blitz of banning orders up and down the country as well as a more vigorous response to violent incidents from the sporting authorities. But violent incidents are being reported more than ever, and the media at least would have you think that all Italy is a battle-ground.
Interestingly, the three newly promoted teams have been chucking it about the most. Perhaps this is partly because of Serie B's lower attendances and lesser media scrutiny (insofar as there is any *serious* media scrutiny of the nature of Italian football violence). Napoli have built on the reputation - 'awful' or 'impressive' depending on your level of sanity - which they built up in Serie B for being the country's most consistently violent fans. Genoa have already got into trouble for their conduct in the first of this year's long-awaited Derby della Lanterna. And Juve don't like to be left out of anything, so have been getting up to some frankly ridiculous cross-dressing antics of late.
Yes you heard me. A number of Juve teppisti donned Torino scarves last Sunday in order to be able to get closer to their city rivals without police intervention. I remember once offering Chelsea Boy a giallorosso scarf to borrow for a match at the Olimpico he was coming along to; he looked horrified and said 'I just don't think I *could* wear another club's colours, sorry.' He looked as though I'd asked him to wear women's underwear or something. Clearly there were some Juventini who felt able to at least temporarily overcome any such revulsion they might have been feeling. Some 40-odd Juventus fans ("coming from all over Italy", tee hee) were arrested, with only a couple of arrests for the granata. Weapons of all kinds were confiscated, tear gas fired, the works. Lovely.
So Torino-Samp will be played in front of the Granata's season ticket holders only, though some were calling for it to be behind closed doors; the actions of both sets of fans in their respective derbies has not inspired confidence in a peaceful game. Meanwhile no tickets will be sold to Juve fans for their game at Fiorentina on Sunday. This is not just due to the violence at the derby, according to the Osservatorio Nazionale: there were violent incidents at over 1/3 of the bianconeri's away games last year, and the match with the Viola is considered a maximum risk fixture. Tough measures of this kind kicked off with Napoli's home game against Genoa behind closed doors last weekend, and further sanctions on the Napoletani are in place this coming weekend as they are banned from travelling to the San Siro for their match with table-topping Inter. These measures are hard to argue against given the trail of robbery, violence and intimidation which a small sector of the azzurri have left behind at - where else - various Autogrill service stations up and down the country. And of course the armoury of the laziali arrested the other weekend hardly bespeaks an interest in the values of sporting rivalry, mutual respect and fairplay.
Some things don't seem to change... Inter have been fined €25,000 as a result of their fans throwing an explosive into the home crowd last week, causing minor injuries to a steward; Roma have been fined €15,000 for the appearance of a pair of coloured smoke bombs in the Sud later in the game. These fines are dished out every week... does anyone think they will make any difference? But on the whole there seems to be a new toughness in the sanctions being applied.
The intention, I suppose, is that enraged ordinary fans will turn on the hooligans and cease giving them quarter, as the many suffer for the crimes of the few. There have been some signs in the last year or so that people are getting fed up with the excesses of the contemporary ultras movement: the reactions of Lazio fans to the Nord's protests last year; the reaction of "ordinary" Juventini (do they exist?) to the idiot who throw a smoke bomb in the distinti during the Udinese game last month. And according to La Repubblica, residents of the Marassi area helped police to identify the protagonists of the violence at the Genoese derby.
Understandably, the police are getting fucked off with all this. One reason for the presence of stewards inside the grounds instead of police is that the police don't see why they should continually put themselves at risk. (What do you mean, you thought the Italian police loved beating people over the head with big sticks? Surely some mistake). Stewards are not the object of anyone's hatred - mild derision, maybe, but that's rarely a violent emotion - and so are less at risk. Not ratcheting up tensions by reducing the number of armed and armoured men in a potentially violent situation seems fairly sensible to me. But the national policemen's union is saying that their members should not be needless asked to go into situations deliberately engineered for their assault, and that grounds should be closed to the public as an immediate response to violence. Whether this hard-line policy could ever be put into place seems doubtful to me, despite the apparent new political will to take firm if unpopular stances.