Friday, 22 February 2008

Not just an Italian problem...

I spend a lot of time listening to vigorous criticism of certain aspects of Italian football. Hell, I spend a lot of time making vigorous criticism of certain aspects of Italian football. But since I also love calcio and am frequently rather fed up about the incessant harping on from certain quarters about how it is all a foetid pit of decay which should be purged with fire and the sword, I confess myself a tiny bit pleased about two stories which have come to my attention today. OK, not pleased. No-one could be pleased. But feeling not wholly displeased to be able to point to other countries where some very Italian-esque problems are unfolding.

Bolton's impressive win over Atl├ętico Madrid has been somewhat marred by the apparent brutality of Spanish police, who used excessive violence in a number of unprovoked baton charges against Bolton fans after the game last night. It's not quite a year since Spurs fans had a similar experience in Spain, when deeply unpleasant scenes took place during their match at Seville - including a police assault on a man in a wheelchair. The Spurs incidents took place more or less at the same time as Man Utd fans were getting a taste of the friendly welcome traditionally offered by the carabinieri to visiting fans, and perhaps were slightly overlooked in the storm of protest about the shittiness of Italian football policing. Last night's episodes prove that it's not just our problem though.

In fact one of the few positive aspects of the Amato-Melandri reforms is that there are no longer police inside the stands. British police have long been aware (at least in theory - the practice is often less temperate) of the need to avoid escalation through provocation, and of the merits of what is usually called the "softly-softly" approach. Well, I suppose if you think that not beating people over the head with big sticks is a sign of softness, that's fair enough. The Italian reform was based less on any criteria of enlightened policing than on a desire to placate the police themselves, increasingly resentful of being put in the firing line and with apparently no conception whatsoever that their own conduct might in any way ever be responsible for promoting violence. Self-awareness is about as popular as Heinz tinned spaghetti amongst the Italian authorities.

As for the Spanish situation I'm not qualified to comment really. I do think it is likely that visiting English fans suffer for their (rather out of date) reputation. I also wonder whether the fact that domestically relatively few fans tend to travel within Spain increases the likelihood that visiting fans will be considered as hard-core and potentially violent. What seems clear though is that in this respect, Spanish football needs to put its house in order before it has a Raciti or a Sandri on its hands.

Spanish football is also relatively well known to have problems with racism. This week though it's France where a racism scandal has broken. Valenciennes captain Ouaddou (a Morocco international) was given a yellow card by the ref after he endeavoured to confront a spectator who had been continually racially abusing him. Ouaddou claims he first spoke to the ref but was told to ignore the abuse, an allegation which the ref has denied. Both player and club have filed legal complaints and have further requested a replay (Metz won 2-1 - perhaps taking advantage of the uproar?) Other spectators identified the individual responsible for the abuse, which is encouraging, but issuing of the card is a scandal. It remains to be seen what action will be taken, though L'Equipe reports that the ref is taking a fortnight's "rest" now, while apparently the supporter responsible is very sorry for his actions (mostly, it seems, because he's afraid of other people's reactions).

As I say, I am not of course pleased to see these incidents going on. But I think it's as well to remember that the many problems in calcio are not limited to within Italy.


ursus arctos said...

Brava ancora.

I think your assumptions about the reasons for the Spanish situation are spot on, and would add to them the fact that Spanish police were arguably behind even the Italians in the queue (or on siesta) when self-awareness and restaint were handed out.

As interested readers can verify from the overlong link below, Ouaddou has very convincingly (at least to me) argued that he did bring the abuse to the ref's attention during the first half as he "was not pointing at the advertising hoardings". Meanwhile, Valenciennes have asked for the match to be replayed, Metz have refused, but have offered to play a friendly with all of the proceeds going to an anti-racism charity. And the “supporter” hurling the abuse now faces a court appearance and criminal charges, with the French justice minister (who happens to be of North African descent) having issued a tough statement condemming the abuse. Marcel Desailly has also been appointed to some sort of anti-racism spokesperson role, and they are going to do one of those "everyone in t-shirts before kickoff" slogan campaigns.

The last bit may well be nothing more than the kind of window dressing we are used to in Italy, but the legal action compares rather favourably to what happened here in the aftermath of the Zoro incident and others.

Which I guess goes to show that we can still be critical of the Italian response, even when we are noting that the issues are not restricted to Italy.

ursus arctos said...

Hmm, let's try the link again:

Adam said...

One interesting questions is why it is the English sides involved in these incidents? Like Man U in Rome and Lille, Bolton in Madrid, Tottenham in Seville. For some reason I don't belive that the English fans are completely innocent.

Or take the behaviour of the Rangers support in Barcelona (see URL).

I think that the English supporters are not interested in respecting the clubs/countries they visit. The attitude of "Rule Britannia" is still very much a part of the British psyche (also booing other countries national anthems and so on).

For me a better example on how to act is from your excellent blog about how the Celtic supporters behaved before their game against AC Milan in last years CL.

Spangly Princess said...

There may be something in that, Adam, certainly. The scenes from Rangers fans in Barcelona were pretty disgusting, and I'm not claiming all English fans are saints, God knows -t here were Utd fans here clearly looking for a fight last year.

But I would raise a couple of caveats:

1) if, say, a bunch of German fans got beaten up by police at an away game in Spain or Italy, would the British media report it? I think not. Nor do the Italian media provide anything but the most superficial coverage in this regard. So we don't know for certain that it is only British fans. Especially since Italian police are forever beating up Italian fans

2) there's an issue of expectations. Precisely because the Italian police are forever beating up Italian fans, those fans aren't going to start lodging official complaints when it happens abroad - because they always expect the worst of the police. (Roma fans complained about policing at Old Trafford last spring but only because of the circumstances - the much vaunted "modello inglese" they are forever beating us over the head with here, and the protests against Italian policing from Utd fans the week before). British fans, on the other hand, no longer expect unprovoked baton charges or tear gas used against families. And are consequently more likely to complain about such treatment.

I've seen enough of policing in Italy to be very cautious about rushing to blame the fans in any incident.

Paul de Man said...

The Dutch police were lovely when Celtic fans lost to Ajax and treat to batter me and my posh friends in the streets of Amsterdam.

patcook said...

its not just confined to football either. Recent cricket matches between India and Australia have seen numerous complaints about racism and Rugby League in Australia has been trying to quell violent fans over the last few years before it gets out of hand (bulldogs matches in particular).

I guess the widespread nature of these problems proves a theory often used by less sensationalist reporters, that this is more a social/political issue than a culture of the sport issue.

chris c paul said...

I have nothing intelligent to add to this discussion. Except to reitterate that which we already know- the Italian police are shocking, english fans are shocking, and racism in Spain can be more blatant and disgusting than anywhere.

However, I feel a right c**t now. I got the giggles when I imagined the poor guy in a wheelchair being savaged by police. Not sadictic laughter you understand. But the futility of it all. The powerlessness and injustice of it all. I mean, what on earth were the polcie thinking?! Take the power of the Norman Mailer image of a hippie stuffing a flower into a GI's rifle then times it by eleven!

The only way I could deal with this brutality was to visualise the poor sod in the wheelchair as Peter Kay's disabled character in Phoneix Nights.

"Stop hittn' me! It wern't me, it were him! Stop! Stop! Ariberderchi!"

Richard said...

I have a not-particularly-well-informed hunch about the trouble British fans often experience with police in Italy (and Spain). It seems to me that in Britain, you can go to a football match and behave badly within certain prescribed limits - i.e., you can get drunk, verbally abuse people, break things in pubs, annoy the locals. You can do all those things knowing that it's highly unlikely that a) you will end up ina fight, or b) you will have to deal with the police. This is because such behaviour is tolerated, and because the police are 'hands off' in their attitude.

However, if you roll up in Campo dei Fiori at noon, get pissed in a bar and start chucking the fruit and veg around while singing 'Rule Britannia', then a) you probably ARE going to end up in a fight, and b) you probably WILL be hearing from the police, in some form or another.

Us Brits think we're allowed to behave badly at football matches while continuing to receive a degree of protection from the authorities. You could see it in the Man U fans at the Olimpico last year (and I was just watching on telly). They were goading the Roma fans and inviting them over the perspex hoardings for a fight. Lo and behold, the Roma fans set about getting over the hoardings for a fight, and the Man U fans complain.

In Britain, football matches now resemble a kind of sanitised panotomime of hooliganism, but in Italy, the hooligans are not playing.