by Ben Dudley for Supporters Not Customers
Last night I was one of the 5,500 Feyenoord supporters in Rome for the Europa League clash against Roma. This morning I woke up to see everyone from the Italian Prime Minister to the BBC calling for Feyenoord to be punished due to the events of the previous day. I’m here to tell you what really happened at the Spanish Steps, and the story of the worst hooligans ever seen in Italy.
Please note, I arrived in Rome at 1pm on Thursday, so I cannot comment on anything before that.
I arrived at the Spanish Steps in Rome immediately after arriving in the city, following a quick 30 second stop at my hotel to drop off my bag. I had arrived in the middle of a true European away day party, with thousands of people singing, chanting and drinking. Boy, were they drinking.
The Italian authorities had known this was the area that Feyenoord supporters would gather, and yet they had not arranged for any bins or other places to dispose of rubbish. Of course, this meant the area was soon a complete mess, with two main piles of hundreds of discarded bottles in the middle of the square, and plenty more broken glass everywhere. It is of course a great shame that such a pretty part of the city was littered, but it is no different to how most cities in the world look on New Year’s Eve or indeed, a regular Friday night in Cardiff!
There was also some discarded rubbish in the fountain in the middle of the square, but nowhere near the levels of damage that some media sources are reporting. There were perhaps 30 red and white beach balls, and then another 50 – 75 beer, wine or vodka bottles, not broken and easy to remove. Indeed, I saw a picture of the fountain from 11pm last night and you would never have known Feyenoord had been there.
A flare was set off and thrown on the ground in the middle of the rubbish pile once it began to burn out, with someone drunkenly kicking it. The flare then rolled into the fountain. Oh no! If only water had some way to protect itself from fire…
Soon after this a green smokebomb also ended up in the fountain, again not causing any lasting damage.
I am by no means saying that Feyenoord supporters acted like angels. We didn’t. We were football fans at a European away game, not a group of priests on a trip to see the Pope. However, it certainly was not out of hand, and many locals were clearly enjoying the experience, a rastafarian man dancing around singing the Jens Toornstra song being a particular highlight, as well as the group of Chinese tourists who got their selfie stick out to take a photo with this young man.
The only people we did not see were Roma fans. With the game being a 7pm kickoff and their disappointment at being knocked out of the Champions League, it seemed like they were not too bothered. There was not a hint of trouble all day, until 4:30 when a huge group of hooligans brandishing weapons brought shame on football. Feyenoord’s firm the SCF? The ultras from Roma or Lazio? No – the Italian police force.
There had been a huge number of police in the area all day, but at this point dozens more riot vans arrived, with many of the officers not in uniform and wearing scarves over their faces. They had decided it was time to go to the stadium, and rather than making any kind of request or announcement, they began to hit everyone they could see with their batons. Some of the people they hit could well have been hooligans, but many more were women and children. I witnessed a lady facing the police with her hands up be smashed full in the face by an Italian officer, two men getting arrested when trying to go and help her.
The supporters were beaten out of the square and in to a tight street filled with cars and motorcycles. Due to my height I was relatively safe, but many more people were being dangerously crushed. Had the street been two feet narrower and there had been another 200 people around, some of the younger or female supporters could certainly have been very seriously injured.
While this crush was happening, the police continued to assault people at the back of the crowd, arresting people at random. Bottles were thrown back at the police in anger, and people did fight back, but it is a shameful lie to report that the police were attacked first. It simply did not happen, and all of the trouble which followed was as a result of their poor planning and cowardly love of attacking defenceless people.
It was not over yet.
We then arrived at the buses which we had been ordered to take to the stadium. A plan had been made for the entire away support to walk to the ground together, surely much safer and easy to police than 100 buses arriving at different times? Having ordered us to get these buses, the police then assaulted anyone who tried to do so.
The first ten or so buses had arrived, and people were eager to get on as quickly as possible. The same bussystem had been used for our group game in Rijeka, and it was so slow and delayed that many people missed kick off. So as supporters tried to get through the doors of the buses, they were beaten back by the police batons once more. I was slightly further back and could see the whole thing happen, and the numerous horrible facial injuries suffered by regular people just trying to go to the game. It was horrific and completely unnecessary, a police power trip because they knew they could not do the same thing against Roma or Lazio due to the retribution that would follow from the ultras.
After arriving at the bus point at 5pm, we did not get to the stadium until 6:35, a pointless exercise in making the police feel like big men for the day. To add insult to (literal) injury, the stadium had thousands upon thousands of empty seats, ridiculing the idea that there was high potential for trouble and that these actions had been taken for our safety.
So as you read about the events of yesterday, please keep in mind the real story. There were thousands of hooligans in Rome yesterday, but they were not wearing Stone Island or Lacoste, they were wearing the uniform of the Italian police.