BBC News Magazine

Page last updated at 12:46 GMT, Wednesday, 27 May 2009 13:46 UK

Why is there buttock stabbing in Rome?

The Magazine answers...

Manchester United fans are in Rome for the Champions League final. When English teams have visited the Italian capital in recent years there have been a string of fans stabbed in the buttocks by hooligans. But why do they target the backside?

Manchester United fan injured in clashes with police
The police in Rome have been heavily criticised in the past

It's called the Eternal City by many, but Rome also has the sobriquet "Stab City" among football fans because of the level of knife attacks in the Italian capital.

There are fears tonight's Champions League final, being held in the city's Olympic Stadium, will be marred by such violence after several knife-related attacks on supporters from a number of English clubs over the last decade.

What is marked about the attacks is that victims are often stabbed in the buttocks. The practice even has its own slang name in the local Roman dialect - "puncicate". But why is the backside targeted?

It is a painful, humiliating injury but not likely to be life threatening
In medieval duels stabbing someone in the buttocks was considered the most skilful move

According to those who have researched the subject, a stab wound in the buttocks may be chosen as it is seen as not likely to be life-threatening, but is humiliating and painful for the victim.

Experts believe the cultural tradition may even be linked to medieval duelling where slashing an opponent's buttocks was supposedly considered very skilful.

"Puncicate" is mainly about hurting rival fans but not killing them, says John Foot, a professor of modern Italian history at University College London and an author on Italian football.

"They target the buttocks because the victim is not likely to die. These people don't want to kill and be known as murderers, they want to show they can hurt their rivals and get away with it."

But being stabbed in the backside is still a serious injury, say medical professionals.

Medieval practice

"It can damage the main nerves to the leg and cripple someone for life," says Dr Don MacKechnie from the College of Emergency Medicine.

There have been a string of incidents over the years in which English fans have been stabbed while in Rome to watch their team.

1984: Liverpool fans stabbed by Roma fans in aftermath of victorious European Cup final
2001: In both February and December Liverpool fans stabbed in buttocks after matches against Roma
2006: Three Middlesbrough fans stabbed, including one in buttocks
2007: In April and December matches, several Manchester United fans stabbed in buttocks
2009: Manchester United fans stabbed in buttocks near ground

In March this year an Arsenal fan was stabbed on his way to the Olympic stadium. Two years ago 13 Manchester United fans were taken to hospital after a Champions League tie with Roma. Several had been stabbed in the backside.

The practice has also been linked by some academics to medieval first-blood duels, says football writer Gabriele Marcotti.

"In the duels the first person to draw blood from their opponent was the winner. Because they fought facing each other, drawing blood by stabbing your opponent's buttocks was considered a great skill.

"But while it's difficult to stab someone in the backside with a sword in that context it's not difficult to do it with a knife from behind, which is what happens these days. 'Puncicate' is not about skill, whatever those who do it like to think."

People are quick to point out the stabbings are done by a very small group of extreme supporters, known in Italy as "ultras". Most clubs have such fans, but "puncicate" is almost exclusively done in Rome and by followers of local team Roma, say experts.

"It is their speciality," says Prof Foot.

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He says it started to become their trademark back in the 1990s when "ultras" from Italy's other main football clubs agreed to stop using knives in fights after a Genoa supporter was killed. Roma fans continued.

"The stabbings are now so frequently they are hardly reported in the Italian press," says Prof Foot. "A rival fan is stabbed at nearly every Roma game but it only hits the headlines when foreign fans are attacked at a game like the Champions League final."

The city's reputation as "Stab City" among football supporters causes great offence among local people and police have been criticised for failing to deal with the problem, he adds.

Below is a selection of your comments.

I was in Rome for the previous Man Utd game and saw one of the stab victims lying in the road, a very distressing affair. This is the year the police decided to baton any Utd supporter so looking for help in that direction was not an option. The general public of Rome were convivial hosts during the day but the organisation at the stadium was poor and the threat from the gangs was intimidating.
Roy McPherson, London

Actually this was common practice in the East End during the post war years - "a snick across the tush" in Jewish parlance or "striping" both referred to slashing someone across the buttocks with a razor. Non-fatal, painful and bloody.
Dan, London

When I worked in North Africa in the 1980s, it was a common wounding to be stabbed in the buttocks. I was told by local Arabs, that in Koranic belief, a stab below the waistline, was not considered a life threatening attack and was considered to be a way of satisfying "honour" to anyone slighted.
Tony Owensa, Stalybridge, England

In the past, England have faced all sorts of threats relating to the behaviour of their fans. So why, if Rome has a reputation for knife crime, is the Champions League final being held there? Get your finger out UEFA.
Phil Evans, Leicester, UK

In Turkey this is called "Turkish Revenge". A stab above the waist is classed as attempted murder so you can go to jail for a lot longer.
Simon Read, Derby, UK

Why do Roma fans stab opposing fans? To attempt dominance over their adversary in the street or at the arena (since the fans are not actually on the field of play). How does buttock stabbing accomplish that? By having the event published in the media, so that "everyone knows about it". Why do local Roma stabbings not get reported? To keep prevent the attacker from getting publicity. Why do stabbings only at international matches get reported? Because non- Italian media like the BBC want to sensationalise the event to sell stories. Who's to blame? The attacker and those in the media who cooperate with him/her by giving their actions plenty of press.
Lance Mason, Auckland, NZ

Certainly in Glasgow, buttock stabbings are a very common phenomenon in A&E. There have been instances where the main vein or artery in the lower abdomen has been injured and the patient dies as a result.
Ursula Altmeyer, Glasgow

I think that all football matches in Rome, should be held behind closed doors, and should only be televised, which a heavy police presence around the stadium until such time as the stabbings stop, or the criminals brought to justice. Violence is unacceptable at any time, but for violence to be partially excused because it is related to football (as is the case with local matches) or because the injury is not seen as life threatening is disgusting.
Richard, Brighton, UK

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