It has become the most televised fence in Italian football. Little more than eighteen months after Serbian supporters had scaled it, the security barrier at Genoa’s Luigi Ferraris stadium was the focus of attention once again recently as the home fans decided enough was enough in what has admittedly been a disastrous season for the Ligurian side. Much like the Balkan crowd who caused that Euro 2012 qualifier with Italy to be abandoned, the Rossoblu faithful simply could take no more on an afternoon that had seen their team concede four goals without reply to a team battling relegation.
Flares rained onto the field causing the referee to suspend play – a common occurrence on the peninsula – but from the outset this was very different. A number of the club’s Ultra had made their way from behind the goal to surround the tunnel and denied their own players the chance to leave the field. Captain Marco Rossi spoke with a number of them, again not a rarity in Italy, and it quickly became clear what these hard-core supporters were demanding.
Rossi made his way back to his team-mates and motioned for them to remove their shirts, which they had clearly been declared unfit to wear. A season which began filled with hope for a Europa League place had descended into farce with the club one point outside the relegation zone and owners of the worst defensive record in the league. Rather than competing with the likes of Roma and Napoli they are in serious danger of playing in Serie B next season just twelve months after mocking city rivals Sampdoria for suffering the same fate.
The prospect of the Genoa derby – one of the country’s most passionate fixtures – being a second tier affair is almost unfathomable given the array of talent within their squad this term. Former Fiorentina stars Sébastien Frey and Alberto Gilardino are Champions League calibre players in a group which can also boast Serbian winger Boško Janković and Portugal’s Miguel Veloso. There are also talented youngsters like full back Luca Antonelli while Argentinian striker Rodrigo Palacio has enjoyed a superb campaign, netting eighteen times in thirty appearances.
Yet it is off the field where chaos reigns as owner Enrico Preziosi makes a series of increasingly bizarre decisions. This is highlighted most telling by the managerial changes this season where Monday’s appointment of Gigi De Canio saw the former Udinese and Napoli boss become their third different coach this year. Add in bizarre transfers such as the purchase and immediate sale to Milan of Kevin-Prince Boateng and it is clear the club lacks anything resembling stability or a cohesive vision of the future.
But as Rossi headed off to hand over the collected shirts, one man decided he too could take no more. Striker Giuseppe Sculli climbed the Marrassi fence, forcibly making a point of his own with the Ultra chiefs. Taking hold of one fan he stood, much like Serbia’s so-called ‘Ivan the terrible’ atop that barrier and made clear that he certainly wouldn’t be taking off his shirt and the game needed to resume.
Eventually it did, the fans collectively turning their backs for the remainder of a game Genoa eventually lost 4-1 to a Siena side whose goalkeeper, Zeljko Brkic, represented Serbia against Italy back in 2010. He, like us, has witnessed both his own nations fans, and now Genoa’s, cause two games to be stopped seemingly without intervention from the authorities and that must be a source of much concern for players and supporters alike.
Back in 2010 Police Chief Italian security chief Roberto Massucci blamed Serbian authorities, telling La Gazzetta dello Sport that “Fans that are so dangerous should not have arrived in Genoa”. Clearly that same excuse is not valid this time around and action has already been taking with two fans given five year banning orders and the club ordered to play their two remaining home games behind closed doors.
Speaking at his inaugural press conference, new coach De Canio told TuttoMercatoWeb that Genoa are “rock bottom” before going on to admit “there is no magic way of resolving all problems just like that” and, while he was clearly talking about the team, the same sentiment stands for the City and its stadium. Preziosi went further still, condemning his own supporters on television after the game as he said;
“Sixty people, from the 20,000 that were present, held the stadium hostage. It is sad that they have the impunity to say and do whatever they like and we are without the control to send them home.”
Those same fans have forced their way into the dressing room recently and engaged in a campaign which eventually led to midfielder Omar Milanetto leaving after five years at the club. The Police openly admit that they believe intervening would only heighten tension and escalate violence while numerous articles have proffered the opinion that the fans not only had a point – which they almost certainly did – but that their actions were ‘understandable’ which is simply incomprehensible.
It has also become all too easy to write such incidents off as a ‘cultural issue’ when it is nothing of the sort. It is a football one and the game’s authorities in Italy must take action to eradicate it or risk watching the reputation of Serie A – already blighted by match-fixing and racist chanting – become irrevocably damaged at a time when the football on the pitch is the best it has been in half a decade. The free tickets, unfiltered access and seemingly limitless power must be curtailed if the league and its clubs are not to be viewed in the same way many in Europe see Turkish or Greek sides.
One need only witness the ease at which Juventus, thanks to their new home, have been able to work with Police to identify, arrest and ban those guilty of racism this season to see that the nations decrepit stadia hinder progress. However, this too is becoming an ever more worn excuse as many hold out hope that the nation will be chosen to host an international tournament when, instead of waiting for government hand-outs, the clubs must follow Juve’s example and address it themselves.
That is not to say, as many have done, that the Ultra’s should be driven from the sport for without them Serie A would lose the atmosphere and incredible choreographed displays which have characterised the league for many years. Dialog must begin to embrace those positives while eschewing and marginalising the negative aspects of Ultra culture.
In one of the more infamous incidents involving these hardcore supporters came when Roma’s Ultra caused the derby match with Lazio to be abandoned back in 2004. Francesco Totti famously shouted to then Coach Fabio Capello “If we continue they’ll kill us”, a sentiment which most certainly also applies here. Italian football is risking destroying itself by inaction; the time has come to stop the empty rhetoric and get off the fence!
Adam is a regular contributor to IBWM and can be found on Twitter @Adz77.