We will keep you in our hearts
Celtic fans old enough to have travelled to Turin to see their side play Juventus in the European Cup in the early 1980s will recall well the sheer hostility which they found there. Buses were smashed, fans slashed and banners calling us, ironically enough, ‘English Pigs’ were unfurled. This was our harsh introduction to the world the Italian press call ‘La Guerra.’ (The war) Some supporters of Italian clubs have long battled with others for reasons of politics, regional animosity and plain old footballing rivalry. Celtic fans were, it seems, wrongly seen as part of the English hooligan culture and targeted.
To an outsider Italian football can seem riven with these fierce rivalries and retains a fan culture which at times sees organised violence on a scale the UK left behind in the 1980s. The big northern clubs such as Juventus, AC Milan and Inter have their rivalries but there is also more of a geographical rift in Italian football which causes problems too. The so called north south divide in the country leads to fans of clubs in the wealthier north taunting their southern compatriots in the manner Juventus fans did recently when they sang…
‘"Wash them [Napoli] with fire, Vesuvius wash them with fire.’’ Later they sang… "What a smell, even the dogs run away when the Neopolitans arrive. Oh victims of cholera and earthquakes, you never wash yourselves,"
Of course such stereotyping goes on all over the footballing world. Here in Scotland fans of Hibs and Hearts from the wealthier capital city often sing to fans of the Glasgow clubs…
‘In your Glasgow slums, you look in the dustbin for something to eat, you find a dead cat and you think it’s a treat, in your Glasgow slums.’’
The fact that many of the fans singing such songs come from parts of Edinburgh as poor as those they seek to castigate in Glasgow is unimportant. It’s all about the wind up, the ‘them and us.’
Italian political and footballing authorities have tried hard to stamp out what they call ‘Territorial discrimination’ which has its roots in the long history of city states and the bitter and often bloody regional rivalries which existed long before Italy was eventually fused into a single state in the 19th Century. History, as fans of the two major Glasgow clubs know, can cast a long shadow.
Napoli played Roma this weekend in the wake of the tragic accident which killed Roma fan, Stefano Di Amicis and his son Cristian following Roma’s Champions League game with Bayern Munich. A deeply moved Roma Captain Francesco Totti wrote a letter to the family of the two fans so tragically lost. Part of it read…
‘’What I am about to say are thoughts I'd never have to express after a football match, not the least, in Rome. These thoughts of great sadness turn towards Stefano and his 7 year old son, Cristian. They loved the team so much. As captain of the team they loved so much, but as a man, I extend my sincere condolences to the family that is going through this terrible time. I talk of these Roma fans today, the most beautiful in the world, as Stefano and Cristian were beautiful, and at the game to cheer on Roma. As the captain of Roma, and on behalf of my teammates and the organization, I spread the sentiment of the entire A.S. Roma community. I say goodbye to a father and son, with great sadness, for we will see them no more. A warm hug to the family, and Stefano and Cristian, every day in every game, we will keep you in our hearts’’.
Roma, of course, have been at the centre of other difficult situations in recent times. Security was tight and Roma fans banned from the San Paolo stadium today as Napoli beat Roma 2-0. This follows the tragic shooting dead of a Napoli fan Ciro Esposito in Rome in May. Napoli Manager, Rafa Benitez, appealed for calm and said..
"I believe the best way to pay our respects to Ciro Esposito is for all of us to keep on talking about a beautiful football match. We want to talk about an amazing play, a piece of skill, a goal, that will be the most important message. That's how you honour the memory of Ciro, talking about what so many people love in Italy; good football."
So as Scotland takes stock of the League Cup Semi Final draw, which paired Celtic and Rangers, however you perceive them, the focus will switch in our media to the possibility of trouble occurring. The fixture has brought out the worse in some over the years and I’ve witnessed some pretty scary scenes in its wake. But I do feel that the vast majority of Celtic and Rangers fans simply love their club and want to see the football not fight. I have also seen the good side of Celtic and Rangers supporters as they work, often together for charity. The decent majority must be the ones who win the battle for the souls of these two clubs. Celtic was born in charity and still seeks to keep that flame alight. Other clubs do what they can too and the tragic death of Stefano and his son Cristian after the Roma-Bayern Champions League game meant that few noticed the German Club give Pope Francis a 1 million Euro donation to be used for charitable work of his choice. That is the decent side of football and the side we must promote and encourage.
There’s little doubt that Glasgow has been a calmer City since the clubs last met in April 2012. When we view events in Italy we can put our own game into some perspective. I hope whatever happens when Celtic play Rangers early in 2015 that it is remembered for the football and the atmosphere and not for the actions of the minority who seem to relish confrontation. However, we have seen football come together in remarkable ways in the wake of tragedies such as those at Ibrox in 1971 and Hillsborough in 1989. Rivalries and bragging rights pale into insignificance when human life is at stake. Jock Stein said of the more extreme Celtic and Rangers fans in the wake of the appalling events at Ibrox in 1971… ‘’ When human life is at stake this kind of hatred seems sordid and little.’’ That is equally true in Italy or anywhere in the world where the beautiful game is played. Of course football requires great rivalries to make it the spectacle it is but we should be just that; rivals not enemies.