Liverpool are in Turin for tomorrow night’s quarter-final second leg, one of three matches to be played in Italy in this round. Last week the San Siro hosted the "Home" leg for AC Milan. Tonight it hosted the "Away" leg for AC Milan. AC share the stadium with Inter Milan.
Various stories have been published claiming that some Juventus fans will be looking for trouble tomorrow night. This talk of revenge has come from rumours posted on various internet sites, which may of course turn out all to be fake. However there’s enough of a risk that Liverpool have printed requests from the Italian police that Liverpool fans be very careful in Turin, and that they refrain from wearing any colours outside the ground.
It seems unfortunate that after all this time, all those efforts at reconciliation could be spoiled by what is in all likelihood a small minority.
Unfortunately events tonight at the San Siro show that Italian football still has a large hooligan element.
AC Milan were leading 3-0 on aggregate, 1-0 on the night, when what would have been an equaliser from Inter was disallowed. Furious players went to the referee – Marcus Merk – to complain, and then trouble started from the stands.
Italian police seemed reluctant to intervene as Inter Milan supporters started to throw bottles, umbrellas and flares at players and officials. The AC goalkeeper Dida was hit by flare. This caught him on the back of the neck, and he was actually substituted by AC Milan when attempts were made later to get the game restarted.
The referee stopped the game after 73 minutes, and took the players off the pitch. It actually took quite some time to get the players and the officials off the pitch as more and more missiles continued to rain down onto the pitch, narrowly missing officials and players.
Then came a surprise – it was obviously an unsafe environment in which to play football, yet someone – either the referee himself or UEFA – decided that it would be OK to come back onto the pitch and continue the game. 30 seconds later it was clear this was not the case.
It seems that Italian football is different in its culture to English football. Those who know Italian football say organised gangs decide who goes where in stadiums in Serie A. There’s even talk that a large gang that is now resident at the Juve ground is led by a convicted murderer. English football is known the world over as being followed by hooligans, yet it seems that in Italy anything goes. Some matches in England see fans having flags confiscated, yet these flares were allowed to be taken into the ground by the Inter Fans.
In 2002 Liverpool banned a Liverpool supporter for life from Anfield – because he’d been caught with a flare in the main stand in a game against Roma. The fan was arrested and banned from all other sporting events for three years. Liverpool’s policy is that anyone caught bringing a flare into a game at Anfield will be banned for life. Liverpool Football Club stated at the time that their application for a safety certificate could be jeapordised – and that the banning of flags, banners and mosaics could also be a possibility.
Thankfully this warning has been heeded and flag days continue to be a stirring occasion at Anfield.
We feel it is important that Inter Milan, and Italian football, is punished appropriately for this astonishing display – which could easily have led to the AC Milan goalkeeper being killed or made blind. If it had happened in a game in England, there is no doubt that UEFA would come down heavily on the English team concerned.
* Liverpool will play Chelsea in the semi-finals if they progress after tomorrow night’s game. Chelsea were beaten 3-2 tonight (with yet another deflection credited to Frank Lampard) but go through on aggregate.