Italian police have fuelled tensions ahead of Liverpool’s visit to Rome this week with a bizarre claim that 1,000 ‘Ultras’ from Merseyside will be in the capital for the Champions League semi-final second leg against AS Roma on Wednesday.
Andrea Cecchini, president of a state police operation whose match-day strategies are some of the most outdated in Europe, also criticised Liverpool’s decision to train at the Formello training base of AS Roma’s arch rivals, Lazio.
He said: ‘There’s the genius idea of getting the Reds to train at Formello, only fuelling for days the reports of a possible union of Liverpool and Lazio ultras.’
He then launched an attack on British police, accusing them of failing to maintain order before the first leg, where attacks have left Liverpool fan Sean Cox fighting for his life and in an induced coma.
Cecchini’s claims about travelling Liverpool ‘Ultras’ are ridiculous – not least because British banning order legislation means that known troublemakers have to surrender their passports before a game like this.
His comments may reflect local irritation with British police attempts to involve themselves in preparations for this week’s second leg.
‘The English police come to Rome to check out the situation and dictate the rules,’ he said.
However, reports out of Rome have questioned the wisdom of Liverpool’s decision to train at Formello.
‘Some will see it as embracing Roma’s enemy,’ one said on Saturday.
Lazio spokesman Arturo Diaconale has this week reiterated that there is no such alliance between any of the two clubs’ fans.
The Italian police chief’s comments will only compound Liverpool’s frustration at a lack of co-operation from Italian authorities, as they seek to keep their fans safe following last Tuesday’s attacks.
It is understood that one of the biggest football policing operations that the Italian capital has known – involving 2,000 officers – will be in place on Wednesday, with 3,500 Liverpool fans expected in the capital. The timing of the tie is less than ideal. There are concerns that a huge union-organised May Day festival on Tuesday in Piazza San Giovanni could create potential for clashes between fans of the two teams. An alcohol ban will be in place around the Stadio Olimpico.
Italian police pride themselves on toughness with hooligans but have failed to adopt modern, intelligence-led football policing models, in which ‘spotters’ operate among crowds looking to identify violent individuals, whose movements are then tracked. Consequently, they were incapable of stopping those who wreaked havoc in Liverpool from travelling – even though those thugs belonged to a small and well-known Ultra brigade.
However, it was surprising that the group – wearing the same black hooded tops, talking to each and clearly conducting an orchestrated operation – were allowed to get near Liverpool supporters so close to Anfield, wielding belts strapped to their wrists. A large police presence is usually expected in the streets around a ground before kick-off.
Cecchini, who condemned the Italian violence, said:
‘In Liverpool… weren’t there even an hour and a half before kick-off, there were not even barriers to separate the opposing groups of fans. Public order collapsed.’
Views on where to lay the blame for Tuesday night’s events are mixed on the streets of Rome. There have been wild accusations about British fans, with one radio presenter claiming this week that Liverpool were ‘not lambs’.
But AS Roma make no such claims. Roma president Jim Pallotta has launched an attack on the “morons” whom he believes are tarnishing the name of the club and Italian football in general.
In an explosive, expletive-laden interview posted on Roma’s website, Pallotta criticised those supporters who cause trouble at and around matches. He also labelled Tuesday’s assault on Liverpool fan Sean Cox, which left the 53-year-old in a critical condition, the “most disgusting stupidity.”
“We have a long history at Roma and what’s going on when you have a few stupid people is that they destroy our history and they attack our legacy and I’m tired of it,” he is quoted as saying in the interview.
“It’s not just an issue for Rome. It’s an issue for Italy and it’s an issue for the authorities and it’s an issue for all of [us] to band together and to finally wake up so that we don’t have a reputation — that’s not deserved around the rest of the world — that our fans are not good fans because our fans are the best fans in the world.
“t’s just a couple of f—— morons that take the rest of us down.
“What I want to talk about is how these games are great but they’re not life and death.
“What’s going on right now with Sean Cox in Liverpool, that’s life and death and that affects his family.
“I don’t really give a s— about the score of the game.
“It’s disappointing to me that Rome and AS Roma get blamed for a few individuals who do stupid things.
“Now, I don’t know the whole story. All I’ve seen is what I saw on the video, like most others, and at least that part of the video with Sean is just the most disgusting stupidity and my prayers are for him and his family.
“It’s depressing though that all of the other fans at Roma get blamed for something that, going back to that saying that I had about a year and a half ago… a few people wrecking things for everyone else.”
Palotta praised the majority of fans for the support they give and said the efforts of the Stadio Olimpico’s “ultras” were part of their success this season.
“The only reason we come back and win games like we did against Barcelona [overturning a 4-1 first-leg deficit to win on away goals] is because of the 99.9 percent of the fans in the Curva Sud [where the ultras congregate] who are great.
“Then, occasionally, you get a few, normally outside of the game, more than anything else… it’s just absolutely ridiculous.
“But it’s time now for things to change in Italy and in Rome, because it is just happening too much.”