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Stadio Olimpico Incident Again Highlights the Ugly Side of Ultras

Sam LoprestiFeatured ColumnistApril 6, 2015

Roma fans committed despicable acts during this weekend's game against Napoli.
Roma fans committed despicable acts during this weekend's game against Napoli.Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

The Stadio Olimpico has had the misfortune of seeing distressing incidents over the last 11 months.

It started at last May's Coppa Italia final, when violent fan clashes outside the stadium before the final between Napoli and Fiorentina ended in tragedy. A group of Roma fans joined the fracas, and eventually, the sound of gunfire was heard. Three Napoli fans had been shot by a Roma fan named Daniele De Santis. One of them, Ciro Esposito, died after nearly two months in intensive care in a Rome hospital.

The game became a mere footnote. It nearly didn't happen at all after Napoli ultras threatened to riot if they were not reassured about the condition of their compatriots. It was an ugly incident that demonstrated once again the somewhat obscene degree of power that ultras still hold in the Italian game.

This year's first game between Roma and Napoli at the San Paolo passed without major incident, but the return leg this past Saturday was marred by a disgusting incident that ripped the scab off the wound of Esposito's death.

Antonella Leardi, Esposito's mother, has become an outspoken advocate for preventing the sort of violence that claimed her son's life. Such voices are badly needed in the game today, but unfortunately some of Roma's fans have no intention of listening.

Instead the Curva Sud—the home of the Giallorossi's most strident ultra groups—was festooned with banners insulting a woman who had lost her son.

Unrest followed inside the Stadio Olimpico after Esposito was shot.
Unrest followed inside the Stadio Olimpico after Esposito was shot.Getty Images/Getty Images

One accused Leardi of profiteering from her son's passing. Another, according to the previously linked Football Italia article, simply told her to "shut up." Another set of banners showed support for De Santis, in a display reminiscent of the campaign to free Antonino Speziale, the man convicted of killing Catania police officer Filippo Raciti in a 2007 riot during the Derby della Sicilia.

The entire display was utterly despicable. To show support to a man who shot a man to death is mind-boggling in and of itself. To so blatantly attack a woman who lost her son as a direct result of the actions of one of their brethren was inhuman.

The actions have provoked an immediate reaction. FIGC has begun an investigation and Roma is likely to face a large fine and a stadium closure, either partial or full. Federation president Carlo Tavecchio condemned the banners on Sunday, and Roma president James Pallotta put his own voice forward in opposition to the behavior of his club's fans.

Pallotta, however, needs to do more than just talk. His fanbase has been involved in a number of incidents like this in the last few years. Two years ago, Roma fans attacked a pub where Tottenham Hotspur fans were drinking the day before Spurs' Europa League game with Lazio. Thirteen people were injured, one seriously after being stabbed in the leg.

That incident, along with the Esposito incident, has given the team's fans a reputation. They have become so notorious that city officials in Rotterdam took emergency measures to ensure that the second leg of Roma's Europa League round-of-32 tie against Feyenoord passed peacefully. There were legitimate fears that the club's ultras would seek revenge after Dutch fans vandalized the historic Piazza di Spagna the week before.

After the tragic death of a Spanish fan outside the Estadio Vicente Calderon in December, I used this space to stress the need to control the most extreme ultras groups in Italy. After this despicable instance, I feel the need to reiterate that call.

Not all ultras are hooligans, but the ones that are make a mockery of the game they claim to love and make going to the game less fun for the rest of the fans who go there simply to watch good football. Italian clubs need to stop reacting to the problem and start getting out in front of it.

It should start with clubs controlling which members of ultra groups would be allowed into the stadium. Those fans who do get allowed in should be granted a license, revokable at any time by the club if the fan fails a background check or is involved in misconduct such as what was seen in Rome on Saturday.

It's incidents like this that continue to give Italy's soccer a bad name. It needs to stop and it needs to stop now. England and Germany have proven that zero-tolerance policies against hooligans can work, and the latter league has shown that such measures can be implemented without damaging the ultra culture that can make the game special.

For far too long hooligans have done whatever they wanted to simply because they said so. It needs to end, and it needs to end now. Let this weekend's despicable acts be the death knell to this kind of behavior throughout Italy and throughout Europe.

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