By Mario Cacciottolo
The warning issued by Manchester United to its fans that they could be attacked in Rome, ahead of the Champions League game with AS Roma, has irritated some in Italy.
Rome's mayor Walter Veltroni said the warning, published on the Manchester United website and sent by the club to its contingent of about 5,000 travelling fans, was "dangerous because it risks creating a negative climate".
Liverpool fans found trouble on their two visits to the Italian capital
He also told Italian sports daily Gazzetta dello Sport: "Rome is a city that welcomes everyone in a hospitable manner."
The club's advice highlights areas that should be avoided in the city, where hardcore Italian fans, or Ultras, usually congregate.
This comes after a history of violence against English football fans in Italy - supporters of Middlesbrough and, on two occasions, Liverpool, have been stabbed and attacked during visits to Rome in recent years.
And the death of a policeman in a riot in the Sicilian capital of Catania in February led to the suspension of all amateur and professional games in Italy, along with the temporary closure of 25 of the country's stadiums until they met newly-introduced safety standards.
'Out of proportion'
Giancarlo Galavotti is London correspondent for Gazzetta dello Sport, and said the warning painted an unjust picture of the Italian capital and even Italian society.
"It was a peculiar accusation coming from a country which has such a history of football violence," he said.
"EU figures show that England is a more violent place than Italy, and it would be interesting to see what a Roman guide says about a trip to Manchester.
"Manchester United should have also recommended that its fans do not drink as much as they normally do."
He conceded: "There are problems in the Italian stadia, and the violence in the stadium is a major issue in Italy at the moment.
"In terms of the dangers of what can happen inside a football match, the record is there for everybody to see.
"But the likelihood of being involved in an incident outside an Italian stadium is the same as anywhere else."
Mr Galavotti said that what went on inside Italian stadiums was a "hot issue", and the fact that the authorities and police had been placed under the spotlight following violent incidents around football matches "should be an extra guarantee".
He also said the Italian senate had just passed new laws regarding security and safety measures, designed to bring its stadiums "up to the Premier League standard".
But this, he said, "has been unnoticed by the English press".
However, Dr Clifford Stott, who is an expert on football hooliganism and has previously advised the Home Office, said the advice given by Manchester United was "appropriate".
Speaking from Rome, where he will attend the game to observe the crowd, he also said: "If the Italians are not willing to acknowledge there's a problem, then that's part of the problem.
"When one travels as an English football fan in Italy there are always dangers.
"There are dangers from local football fans, and dangers brought on by very poor policing."
Dr Stott said he had first-hand experience of this, from his trip with Liverpool fans for their club's game against AS Roma in December 2001.
He said the English fans were attacked in a park, and then again in buses taking them to the stadium.
"Inside the ground missiles were thrown at the Liverpool fans but the police did nothing.
"When the Liverpool fans finally threw missiles back, the police then baton-charged them."
Dr Stott says Manchester United's warning to its fans is "very sensible" because of the "very, very high levels of violence" in football culture in Italy.
"The culture of violence is endemic in Italian football. This has to be addressed but it's not being addressed.
"I was speaking to an Italian police officer who said the areas in stadiums where the Ultras gather are no-go zones, the authorities just can't deal with them.
"One way of looking at it is that the Italian fans use violence against English fans to provoke the police to have a go at them."
Some of your comments:
When was the last time a football fan got stabbed in England at a football match, please someone tell me? Also can't remember the last time fans killed a police officer in England. It's alright saying we had a problem in the 80's. But the Italians have a problem now and are doing nothing major about it.
Chris, Leeds, England
This is just the equivalent of Roma fans being advised to not visit the hardcore Man U fans local bars and pubs. Therefore sensible advice, especially considering the events of a couple of times English teams have been to Rome recently (Middlesbrough and Liverpool)
I have been on the end of the heavy handed policing in France, Portugal and Italy whilst watching football. I am lumped in with the very small minority of English supporters who think it's great to have a punch up whilst those of us who go to watch the football are treated like animals. Our reputation precedes us where ever we go. I've watched Italian football fans firsthand and I can tell you the thug element is just as bad as the UK. You're not going to stop imbeciles fighting with imbeciles - because they are all brainless regardless of what nationality they are.
Angie, Essex, UK
Man Utd were more than justified to send out these warning letters. In fact every English club involved in European competition should follow suit. Not only will this help with the safety of the fans but also enhance the reputation of English clubs' fans in Europe.
Paul Moffitt, Newcastle
Sorry, are we talking about the same Rome? On two visits to watch my team I've never seen any trouble either in or away from the ground, have found the locals friendly and hospitable and enjoyed a great atmosphere among the home fans before during and after the game. Perhaps the reason for this was that I was at the Italy v England Six Nations matches.
Chris, London UK
I do not believe this is English ignorance but simply a message to their clubs' fans 'cautioning them on the dangers' which this is only a duty that a club should carry out before a potentially troubling game. Also there would be more controversy if something was to happen such as violence and the fans where not warned about it prior to the match. And i don't think the Italian people can argue with this comment as if there wasn't any problems with violence in there football culture this wouldn't have come up.
Aran Farrar, lancs, uk
I was in Naples the night Italy lost to France in the 1998 World Cup. On our way to dinner that evening my family was repeatedly stopped by gangs of Italians who demanded to know our country of origin. It was the first time travelling abroad that I ever felt being an American actually made me safer.
Benjamin Merritt, Los Angeles, United States
Well ask the the Scottish how "dangerous" were the Italian ultras in Bari last week, before, during and after the Italy vs Scotland match... The point is that the most of the English fans behave like animals in every cities of the continent, that's why they are hated. Of course i don't justify the violence against them, but think how can you improve your image instead of giving lessons to others.
Fabio, Milan, Italy
Having travelled with Liverpool supporting friends to Roma's Stadio Olympico in 2001 I fully concur with the advice being given to United fans.
The scenes inside the stadium were quite frankly astonishing: at first hand I witnessed the Ultras of the Curva Sud fighting amongst each other; throwing coins, shot-glasses and lighters indiscriminately; and bizarrely even buying bottled water, in full view of the riot police, specifically to hurl into the Liverpool section. The supposedly 'calmer' side to the right of the away section were content simply with urinating into plastic bags and throwing the contents over those penned in the charming away section.
The Italian papers the next day had pictures of a full scale riot that had also taken place, apparently because the police had closed the Ultras entrance adjacent to the Liverpool section; I imagine the police were probably able to contain the riot, although only after they had finished baton charging the Liverpool fans and confiscating their personal affects.
As a United fan I also the suffered the ignominy of being kept behind for a full 90 minutes with nothing to do but watch a Liverpool v United game in which Danny Murphy had scored the only goal ... after 70 minutes!
Awful experience from start to finish. Rome was lovely though.
Si Greener, New Malden, UK
The evening before the Middlesbrough match, some English supporters were dining in a pizzeria near Campo Dei Fiori when some local "supporters" threw in a smoke bomb and then beat the escaping Middlesbrough fans with iron bars which they happened to have with them.
Now how can the Italian police say they are treating this problem seriously if an armed gang is allowed to roam freely about the centre of Rome on the night before a football match?
Zen Zero, Rome, Italy
Mr Galavotti says: "It was a peculiar accusation coming from a country which has such a history of football violence," the important word in this statement is HISTORY. Yes we had a problem with dangerous fans but we dealt with it and it is now no longer part of our game, Italy on the other hand views it as playful boisterousness and even a demonstration of the masculinity of their country, hence why they have never tried to tackle their problems.
Matt Higgs, London
As an Italian I'm really sorry for Italian habits. What Dr Stott said it's true. Avoiding violence in Italian stadium is a thing that doesn't stick in the mind of our politicians. What Veltroni said it's just rubbish prejudices. Before talking about English supporters Italians must think about their ones. It's still fresh in my mind the last policeman that died in Catania few months ago...
Alessio Calcagno, Cambridge, UK
As an Italian i wish to say... yes there are problems in Italy but you just have to look at Manchester which is far worse in terms of stabbing and gun culture... correct me if I'm wrong but was it not on the news the other week about Manchester jokingly being called 'gunchester' due to its high crime rates in the slums of the city?? football violence may be down but after this , i wont be surprised if the Italians get angry.. i would
John dizzon, London
Of course the comments are fair! Manchester United have a duty to protect their travelling supporters. Italy has a terrible problem with football hooligans, probably more so than the problems in this country. It was only a couple of months ago that a police officer was killed at a domestic Italian football match, and remember the scenes at the San Siro during the Champions league semi final between AC Milan and PSV Eindhoven? Not to mention the World Cup qualifying match between Italy and Scotland, and the countless riots during the Milan derbys!! Well done to Manchester United for issuing the warning. What would the media say if, God forbid, there is trouble tonight and English fans get injured or even killed!! Manchester United would be torn apart
Lee Woods, Cheshire
As someone that has been to many Scottish matches and many Italian matches it appears the Italians have their heads in the sand. The Ultras problem is possibly even worse than the UK Casual scene was at its height. The Ultras have areas of the stadium that are no-go to police and they even influence the clubs internally. Can you imaging Casuals getting into Man United training to lecture the players on their performances? This has happened in Italy with the Ultras.
Italians either do no mind the violence or are too scared to tackle it. If you look the wrong way anywhere near a ground in the UK you can get 3+ months in Jail. In Italy they are still stabbing, rioting and ambushing people on a regular basis. At least in the UK most tried to only to fight with other hooligans - in Italy anyone is fair game.
Don't wear your colours and keep your head down in Italy when it comes to football - they are decades behind and unwilling to accept it.
Martin Mackay, Inverness, Scotland
Man U are right to warn their fans. Having lived in Italy for a number of years and visited many cities and many matches I feel I have enough experience first hand to comment. In fact I had a season ticket for AC Milan. I was always surprised how the Italians (jokingly most of the time) called the English hooligans. Whilst I could understand that from what happened in the 80's the violence that went on in Italian grounds was never as serious as Heysel for example, but it happened every week. Examples were fireworks set off at opposing fans, burning seats thrown onto fans below, and a lot of knives. But I always found things done in a more subtle manner than in England. Throw a firework and then run, never any face up to the "enemy" and have a good old fist fight. And please note this was all done with NO alcohol, as most Italians don't drink a lot compared to the Brits. We had a sort of excuse, not sure what theirs was.
Paul Whitty, Zurich Switzerland
The advice was fair and justified. Although Italy would like to believe they have made progress in solving the problem of violence at matches they have a long way to go. Is it worth defending national pride at the expense of human lives? What harm can come of English fans knowing what parts of Rome to avoid? Giancarlo Galavotti needs to realize that Rome is like every other city on earth, there are places one should avoid, and would avoid if they were aware of the possible risks. I have been there and I admit it is not welcoming when you support a club other than Roma or Lazio.
William Dawes, Washington DC
Having been to San Siro and Olympic Stadium following Arsenal it is completely justified. Before the Lazio game we were warned by Lazio fans to be careful of "ultras" who will try and stab you in the eye. Once inside the ground we were pelted with everything you can think of (batteries, bottles etc ) whilst the police stood by with 2 ft batons and guns just waiting for a response from us. A late equaliser from Mr Pires was met with about 100 fans fighting inside the ground and trouble afterwards. San Siro before the game a group of Gooners were attacked with metal bars and wooden posts. There were Arsenal fans inside the San Siro holding large amounts of tissues to their head wounds.
If these things happened to visiting supporters in England we would have been banned from Champions League by now.
Damo, Cambs, UK
This article is the proof of the ignorance of English culture!
I am sorry, but the English can only "preach" better than what they are.
Every time some football fans are in town, they are drunk from midday, and they harass women, dirty the city and represent a concern for normal citizens going around the city.
I am not denying that stadiums and safety in Italy have been going along in the past years, but there have never been personal attacks to English football fans.
What is true, instead, is that England has already faced the hooligans problem, and succeeding very well. But still, Italian football ultras have never been as violent as the UK ones.
Before talking, one should look at his own....
Federica , Italy
Dr Stott hits two nails on their respective heads - the bit about part of the problem being an unwillingness to acknowledge the problem and the bit about fans using violence as incitement to get the police to intervene. English football hooliganism was drastically reduced when the authorities finally acknowledged what caused the problem and set about curing the causes instead of alleviating the symptoms. Having our history thrown back in our faces is as useful as throwing Rome's ancient history of throwing Christians to the lions.
Jim Sharman, Sweden (ex UK)