“Everybody talks about violence, but violence is another thing,” said Fabrizio Fileni, one of the ultras that brought a halt to Genoa’s home match with Siena over the weekend. It is remarkable, not only does he defend himself, but, that he actually remains convinced that his actions and those of his fellow Ultras were not violent.
Let us recap then the supposedly ‘non-violent’ events at Stadio Luigi Ferraris on Sunday. Genoa – a team fighting for Serie A survival – did little to ease their relegation fears after ending the first half 3-0 down to visiting side Siena. The second half resumed and shortly after Luigi Gorgi added a fourth for the Robur.
Conceding a fourth goal proved too much to take for Genoa’s Ultras as they started throwing flares and firecrackers on to the pitch while descending down towards the canopy that surrounded the tunnel heading into the dressing rooms.
From Fileni’s perspective, the launching of objects, and not just any objects but fireworks and firecrackers, on to the field does not constitute an act of violence.
Perhaps this one ultra should try and argue this point to Milan’s former goalkeeper Dida.
The Brazilian suffered burns and bruising to his shoulder during the Champions League quarter-final between Milan and Inter in 2005 after flares rained down on to the field of play. He could even try arguing his point to Anders Frisk, the Swedish referee who was hit by an object from a Roma fan during another Champions League fixture the year before. The incident drew blood from the Swede and the game eventually had to be called off.
In line with Fileni’s awry train of thought was that of a spokesman of Genoa’s Ultra supporters. He claimed that “at the stadium yesterday nothing happened, there is nothing to repent for.”
Blood may have not been drawn in this incident, not one player was even injured. But, this does not automatically imply that the behaviour of this minority group was not of a violent nature. On another day, as has happened before, one of the flares or firecrackers that were thrown onto the field could have struck a player down.
The same spokesman went on to explain the motivations behind the Ultra’s behaviour; that it was due to “a mixture of anger and worry because we risk relegation.”
This is understandable. Genoa lie just one point and one place above the relegation zone. They are also on a 12-match winless streak. There is good reason to worry if you are a Grifoni fan.
But, to potentially put their own players in danger before demanding from them that they take off their jerseys during the match because they were ‘unworthy’ is not the way to react. And, there are simply no excuses. The Players’ Association president, Damiano Tommasi, agreed, “the jersey ransom is unacceptable”.
Gianni Petrucci, CONI president, said, “the shirt is the untouchable symbol of a team, it can neither be offensive nor vilified or even less, subject to negotiation”. Yet, in bending to the demands of the ultras Marco Rossi, the Genoa captain, showed that it is indeed negotiable. The sight of him walking around the field collecting his team-mates shirts was at the same time bizarre and mad. Credit is due to Giuseppe Sculli who, unlike his captain, confronted the fans and refused to take his off.
In light of the ugly scenes at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris, the reactions from fans have been contrasting. Some have sided with the ultras, others have criticised them.
One of the arguments in favour of these minority supporter groups – called Ultras – is that they play an important role in football clubs in Italy. And, historically, they have. They also claim to represent the ‘fans’, and through them the opinion of the fans can be made known to the club’s president, coach and players. All well and good, but, there are more diplomatic and sensible paths to take if a point needs to be made. Certainly, bringing a halt to a football match that is being televised around the world is not one of them.
That the total number of Ultras perpetrating the madness was 60 in a stadium with 20,000 fans leads one to ponder whether the remaining 19, 940 actually agreed with their actions. Further, if they were happy to have to sit and wait for 40 minutes for play to resume while players cried, sparks flew and tensions rose. Probably not.
The point is that Ultra groups in Italy, no matter how important they feel they are, constitute a small minority of a club’s fan base. They are not representative of the sum.
Genoa’s president, Enrico Preziosi, declared that he would be happy if the club was to be banned from its stadium so that the players would be spared such torment. He did not exactly get his wish. Genoa’s last two home games will be played behind closed doors at the Luigi Ferraris and not at an alternative venue.
Too bad for the rest of Genoa’s fans who will be now denied the chance to support their team in the remaining – and crucial – fixtures of the season. It is a sad state of affairs for the players too. They now have to fight against relegation in the eerie silence of an empty stadium.
In a welcome development, Fabrizio Fileni and one of his partners in crime, Marco Cobretti, have been handed five-year bans from any attending any sporting event. More bans are set to be handed out too. The swift action by the governing authority reflects, at least what seems to be, a genuine intention to eradicate such behaviour from Italian football. Yet, one suspects, this will not be the last time such folly prevails.