So, I have written quite a bit over the past few years on the subject of ultras, especially on issues around violence, legality and policing. Should you be so moved, you will find my thoughts elsewhere on this blog, over at the (recently, I am happy to say, revived) Pitch Invasion, or in WSC or on various message boards.
I have (I hope) explained things to people who know not much from the perspective of someone who knows - well, something. I read the sports papers, and a couple of ultras' websites / message boards. I know - more or less - the internal dynamics of the Curva Sud, have friends in a couple of different ultras' groups, I read the periodic communicati, I hear what's going on in various ways. I am - as is usually pretty obvious - generally sympathetic to the movement, or culture, or phenomenon, or whatever you want to call it. But, on the other hand, I am not myself and have never claimed to be directly personally involved; that is, I don't pretend to be an ultra myself and my expertise is only relative. Some people have accused me of "ultra apologism" in that perhaps I am more sympathetic than many and you might argue unduly so. I hope that I can be objective nonetheless. Certainly I have always tried to be so.
Recently I have been going with Chelsea Boy to watch an amateur local side which rejoices in its own ultras group; you can read about it on his site if you like. Last Sunday we were out in the sticks for the penultimate away game of the season, in a little hill town in southern Lazio which there's no reason for you to ever have heard of. I was as usual the only girl in a group of just over a dozen. Over the season CB has gone more regularly than I have but we have got to know at least some of the group a bit, we have gone for beer and (almost an afterthought) pizza with them, and two weeks ago they gave us each an official group scarf: I will confess that I was super-excited about this, like a small child. Yay for external validation of self, etc.
So Sunday for the first time in my experience - and, they assure me, in the 13 year history of the group - there was trouble with the police. One of those situations which seems like nothing and then turns into something. No violence, aggression, hooliganism or indeed anything even remotely close: just a refusal to pay €5 to watch a match at the 7th level of Italian football, and the casual deployment of a few insults ("burino") towards the outraged and offended locals (nobody likes to be called a bumpkin, least of all this bunch of massive bumpkins). So someone called the carabinieri. Once they arrived a combination of pig-headedness and bravado on one side with gleeful overreaction and pompous self-importance on the other somehow turned into us being packed into a police cars and being driven round the corner to the local cop shop. Where we spent the next 3 hours.
They searched my bag: what are these? cup-cakes. Cup-cakes? Yeah, home-made chocolate orange cup-cakes. What for? *stare* to eat. I made them for us to eat. *pause* Why, d'you want to officially sequester them?
Despite this incontrovertible evidence of my dangerous hooliganism, CB & I got off by virtue of Englishness (they didn't know what to do with us, simply). The majority of the group have been issued with random & trumped-up charges of a highly specious but potentially moderately serious kind, which I shan't go into since it's not my story to tell.
As experiences go it was: bizarre, confusing, infuriating, profoundly depressing. The police actions can only be explained by a) they have been told to nick as many people as possible or b) fuck all has happened in their town for the last 45 years so they were excited to have some outsiders to pick on or c) everyone knows ultras are dangerous scum. Or all 3 in happy confluence. On the bright side, they didn't hit us over the head with big sticks or attack us with tear gas, so it could be worse. If you want to know whether, as a writer, I now have a better insight into ultra/police relationships and am therefore pleased with the experience, I would have to say: no. But has it confirmed my general impression of the manifold inadequacies of the Italian carabinieri? certainly.