Calcio cannot wash its hands of attacks on Tottenham fans
On the field, this week was one of Italian football’s best in European competition for some time. Juventus, AC Milan and Napoli all grabbed great wins, while Lazio joined an already qualified Inter in the next stage of the Europa League. Off the field, the assault on Tottenham fans made it one of the worst. Or did it?
As the police now report that it was an anti-semitic attack by a group of right-wing nutters (at least some of whom were a mix of Roma and Lazio fans), some fans of Italian football have been quick to say the attacks therefore are not related to football, and the coverage of it as Italian football-related violence in the UK in particular is wrong and misleading. But is that really true?
As an ardent fan of calcio, I understand the desire to separate the ugly attack on Wednesday night from the beautiful game in Italy, but at the same time I can’t help but feel that trying to wash it all away as being unrelated to football is at best misguided, and at worst harmful to the game we love so much. It lends credence to the idea that Italian football is archaic and stuck in the past; that it is a game beholden to extremist fans who can act as they like.
Now, understand me here, I am not saying that Italian football is anything like as rotten as the media in the UK would like to portray. Far from it. But there is no doubt that there is still much work to do to remove the nastier elements from the game. It may not have been Lazio ultras targeting Tottenham fans because of the football match, as was first reported, but it was Lazio fans who sang anti-semitic chants during the game.
It was also because of football that the Tottenham fans were targeted, because of their club’s Jewish history. I accept that’s not as direct a link as them being attacked because the Lazio fans wanted to fight because of results on the pitch, or because they’re a rival group of fans, but I hardly think it can be said that it therefore has nothing to do with football. Football is what allowed this attack to happen; the Tottenham supporters wouldn’t have been attacked if they weren’t Tottenham fans.
Of course, it’s not just Italian football that has a problem with violence, racism, anti-semitism. Many other countries do, and worse. But trying to wash our hands entirely of this terrible incident doesn’t help in the portrayal of calcio as a modern game fit for the 21st century. It’s long been known that clubs should be doing more to wipe out the more extremist elements of their support, but progress is slow, as it often is in Italy.
Football may only have played an incidental part in the attack, but that part should not be discounted if we truly want to reform the game in the country we love so much.
Follow Marco on Twitter @marcoarrinaldi