Newspaper article International New York Times

Stop Italy's Soccer Hooligans

Newspaper article International New York Times

Stop Italy's Soccer Hooligans

Article excerpt

Zero tolerance ended the mayhem in Britain; it can work in Italy, too.

I love soccer in general, and the Nerazzurri of Inter Milan in particular. Our bright blue and black jersey mirrors the heavens, while our crosstown rivals, Silvio Berlusconi's A.C. Milan, wear a more infernal red and black.

Inter Milan is often overshadowed by Mr. Berlusconi's team, but we don't care. In 2010 we won the "triplete" -- the Italian League, the Italian Cup and the European Champions League -- and this year they trail us in Serie A, Italy's top league.

On April 26, minutes before an Inter Milan-Napoli game kicked off at Milan's San Siro stadium, Inter supporters unfurled a large banner. "Reading opens your mind," it said. Then came another, even bigger banner in the shape of an antique book. "Television ignores us," it said. "But without our passion, there is no soccer."

As I was mentally congratulating them, the local fans started chanting hate slogans at the visitors from Naples. The kindest of these was, "Do your stuff, Vesuvius!" I wrote in a Twitter post from San Siro: How can the same people be so imaginative yet so stupid?

I received plenty of replies, but the most convincing one arrived a week later, at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome. The crowd was waiting for the Coppa Italia final between Napoli and Fiorentina to get underway. The game was delayed, inexplicably. A powerless prime minister, a passive leader of the Senate and an embarrassed president of the International Olympic Committee looked on as a delegation of police officers walked over to a flabby, tattooed hulk perched on a security fence. It was up to him, apparently, whether the match would start.

The hulk's name is Gennaro de Tommaso, alias "Genny a' carogna," or Genny the Swine. He's the boss of the hard-core Napoli supporters and is suspected of ties with the Camorra organized crime ring. Apparently, if the game began without his permission, violence would follow.

In fact, even as the stadium waited for his nod, the scene was turning bloody. Fans were throwing flares onto the field. A firefighter was injured by a smoke bomb. The crowd booed during the national anthem. Outside the stadium, a man was being treated for gunshot wounds to his spinal cord.

Can we call this sport? Obviously not. It's madness, and it's been going on for 30 years. In 1985, just before the beginning of the European Cup final between Italy's Juventus and Britain's Liverpool at the Heysel stadium in Belgium, 39 fans were crushed to death during a stampede. In 1989, 93 fans were killed at Hillsborough stadium in Sheffield, England. The British government decided it was time to step in with seating-only stadiums and zero tolerance for hooligans. It worked, and the Premier League is now a major money-spinning machine watched all over the world. …

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