While Our Fans Dress and Act like This, Who Can Blame the Italian Officers? AN UNCOMPROMISING ANALYSIS OF THE CULTURE OF THE YOB AS THE

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IT IS so easy to blame the unfortunate Italian police for lashing out at the English supporters.

And no doubt some of those charged down and beaten were relatively harmless. But having attended the game, my first for more than two decades, I can say only that I have considerable sympathy for the carabinieri.

For is it any wonder the Italian police treat any English fan as violent scum when the fans all adopt such an aggressive, confrontational pose? For the fact is the English fans - all of whom must have had quite a lot of cash to spare to go on a round trip of 2,000 miles to watch a mere football match - adopt a uniformly mean, vulgar and aggressive culture when watching their team.

Even those whom I met who were not looking for trouble, who were clearly decent people with decent jobs, had assumed the posturing and uniform of the violent lout, and spent much of the match yelling obscenities and gesticulating wildly.

The last time I went to a football match was 20 years ago - in the days when English crowds were comparatively well-behaved. I remember the time when we laughed at those funny foreigners - yes, principally the Italians who needed fences, riot police and tear gas to prevent them from misbehaving and invading the pitch.

Nowadays football hooligans are among our best-known exports.

Once, in a remote part of China, I told someone I was English, to which the reply was: 'Ah, football hooligan

SO I UNDERSTOOD why, from the moment of arrival, the police in Rome took no chances. After all, their city has been sacked by barbarians before.

The bus from the aircraft to the terminal at Rome airport was escorted by police cars in front and behind, as if we were arriving heads of state.

I hadn't seen such security at an airport since I arrived in Lima at a time when the Shining Path, the vicious Maoist movement, looked as if it might take over at any moment.

Police helicopters hovered overhead and every corner of the eternal city was manned by police standing by their cars. Clearly, this was not a football match I was attending: this was war.

I arrived at the Stadio Olimpico to the sound of smashing bottles.

You wouldn't have to be Hercule Poirot to guess who was responsible for that.

I tried to reach my entrance to the stadium, but was caught in a crowd of Italians by police in riot helmets. After a few minutes, we saw the reason: groups of English fans, shaven-headed, scar-faced, tattooed, malignant of aspect, were being escorted as if they had a highly contagious disease into the stadium by police. Contact between them and any other group of humanity might prove fatal.

I was one of the last to arrive in a section reserved for the English. My seat was already dirty and wet but, in the event, it didn't really matter, because everyone around me chose to stand. Sitting is for wimps.

The chanting started even before the kick-off. For those unaccustomed to the sound of thousands of people chanting in unison at the tops of their voices for hours on end, the effect was both terrifying and exhausting.

Somewhere above me drums were banged and the crowd, which only moments before had been proclaiming its liberty with Rule Britannia, started to chant 'Ooooh-Ooooh', which was not merely primitive in sound but positively ape-like. Then they moved on, seamlessly, to: 'No Surrender, No Surrender, No Surrender to the IRA scum.' Looking around me, I saw faces contorted with hatred. There was such a large number of very small men among them I couldn't help but wonder if their hatred was to repair a deep wound to their self-esteem.

When the game began, the real vulgarity also began. For example, when an Italian player made a mistake, thousands of English shouted 'w*****', and lifted up their arms (again in unison) to make an unmistakably vulgar gesture. …