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 Atlético 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 I do think it is likely that visiting English fans suffer for their (rather out of date) reputation.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.