Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Rotten to the core

Brawling fans, angry 'supporters' invading the field, fans verbally abusing referees... and each other. This is part of the morass which provoked a disgusted team near Empoli, in Italy, to go on strike.

The players were eight years old.

Italian professional club soccer is a disaster at present. Supporters rioting and bringing a halt to matches. Supporters attacking police. Supporters stabbing each other. I call these people supporters but they are mostly hooligans who use soccer stadiums as a venue to congregate with like minded imbeciles. Actually supporting their supposed club is largely irrelevant to these folks.

Yes, these folks are a small minority of the folks in the stadiums. But as is often the case, a small minority can ruin it for everyone else.

Unfortunately, Italian authorities for years have used the 'small minority' fact as an excuse to do nothing. The situation has, to the surprise of no one, spiralled out of control. The scum are holding the game hostage.

Italian clubs need to be kicked out of European competition until the Italian federation cleans up club soccer. I hate to say this. I am a big supporter of the club A.S. Roma (who've unfortunately had their own fair share of fan trouble). Roma have a good chance to mount a serious challenge for the European Cup next year. I don't want to see Italian clubs kicked out of Europe but the sad reality is that NOTHING will get done until this happens.

The situation is not dissimiliar to what happened in England in the 70s and 80s. Fan violence and hooliganism was endemic. It culminated with the Heysel disaster of 1985 in which 39 mostly Italian fans (ironically) were killed after being charged by English fans.

English clubs were kicked out of European competitions for five years. This provoked English authorities to clean up the mess that they had so long ignored. Hooligans were banned. Stadiums were refurbished or new ones built to be made more safe. There is much cooperation between the police and the clubs to help avoid potential flashpoints. I hear that at some English stadiums, you can no longer bring a beer with you back to your seat. Rising ticket prices at the higher levels have had the inadvertent effect of pricing the hooligans out of the stadiums.

The situations are not exactly identical, though. English hooliganism was largely fueled by alcohol. Italian hooliganism is largely fueled by an anger and negativity that seems endemic to a terminally cynical Italian society. This fury seems unrelated to actual soccer. After all, Italy's national team won the most recent World Cup. An Italian club is both the European and world champion. The Italian league is generally seen as one of the two best in the world.

Italian stadiums are old and decrepit, so ticket prices remain low. Some Ultras (fanatical 'supporters' groups, some of which have political ties) are given blocks of tickets to distribute themselves to whomever they want. Some areas of stadiums in places like Milan and Rome are so menacing that they are no-go areas for the police.

In many places, the worst problems occur outside the stadium, where 'supporters' groups rumble. A fan of the Rome club Lazio was recently stabbed to death by a rival team's dirtbag... while at a highway rest stop.

Naturally, this atmosphere of low-scale warfare both in and outside the stadiums discourages huge numbers of civilized people from going to matches.

This insanity is not unique to Italy. I've read that this sort of thing happens on an even bigger scale in Eastern Europe, where soccer clubs and organized crime are intimately linked. I know there are plenty of problems in places like Chile and Argentina.

But Italy's problems are more high profile because it's home to some of the best clubs and players in the world.

There needs to be a systematic effort involving coordination between the Italian soccer federation and the local and national authorities to return the beautiful back to the Beautiful Game. Italian society beat urban terrorism in the 70s and 80s and it battled the Mafia in the 90s, so surely a truly concerted effort could return some sanity back to its Calcio.

Hopefully, the Italian federation will get its head out of its rear end and truly tackles these problems before a large scale disaster happens. Given the Italian soccer establishment's mentality, I'm not optimistic. And given the cowardice of the European confederation, I doubt they will do anything either.

And the worst part is how the insanity filters down to the youth levels and destroys the game for the kids. Children love to play soccer. The fact that eight year olds would refuse to play shows how incomprehensibly childish the "adults" are being.

Italian soccer is rotten to the core and the rot needs to be cut out like a cancer.

Before the six year olds go on strike.


A Social Skidmark said...

That's cool.It's about time someone stood up to all of this crap and it's kids playing the part of the adults (smart kids). Adults are idiots. LOL...........

Mark said...

Perhaps this is a genetic problem, and the Italian soccer players are directly related the gladiators of old, and merely playing out aggressions programmed into them by their blood...