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Uefa confident of safe Euro final

Manchester United fans clash with Rome police

By Phil Dawkes

Uefa has played down fears of fan violence at this month's Champions League final between Manchester United and Barcelona in Rome, a location dubbed "Stab City" by some critics because of the level of knife-related crime in the Italian capital.

"The security risk in Rome for a game involving non-Italian teams is considered low, even for the Italian authorities," William Gaillard, special advisor to Uefa president Michel Platini told BBC Sport.

There have been calls in Britain to move the 27 May final away from the Stadio Olimpico - and Uefa intimated previously it could be moved - but Gaillard insisted this was now out of the question.

"What people need to understand is that it takes a long time to organise such an event and it is impossible to move a final just a couple of months before it takes place," he said. "That closes the case; the final will take place in Rome."

Over the last decade there have been serious knife-related incidents involving supporters from Liverpool, Middlesbrough, Manchester United and Arsenal in Rome.

The stabbing of an Arsenal fan while on route to the stadium for a Champions League match against AS Roma on 12 March this year, led to heightened calls to move the final from the city.

Shortly after this incident, The Times newspaper launched a campaign calling for the final to be switched and invited supporters to email their objections to the choice of venue, promising to forward them to Uefa.

ASSAULTS ON FANS IN ROME
FEBRUARY 2001: 14 Liverpool fans are stabbed before and after a Uefa Cup tie with AS Roma.
DECEMBER 2001: Five Liverpool fans are stabbed before a Champions League tie in the city.
MARCH 2006: Three Middlesbrough fans are stabbed and 10 others injured before a Uefa Cup match.
DECEMBER 2007: Seven Manchester United fans are hospitalised - three with stab wounds - before the Champions League match against Roma.
MARCH 2009: An Arsenal fan is stabbed during an attack by Roma fans on a coach driving him and other fans to a Champions League tie.

Liberal Democrat sports spokesman Don Foster also wrote to sports minister Gerry Sutcliffe, raising his concerns that fans of English clubs may not be safe if they travel to the Italian capital.

Ian Sterling of the Independent Manchester United Supporters' Association is nonplussed by Uefa's decision to stage the final in Rome.

"Every visiting team has experienced trouble there, it's not just unique to Manchester United," he said. "I've been to Rome a couple of times before and found it an intimidating experience.

"I've always questioned the decision for Uefa to hold the final there. They did say if there was any more trouble they would take the final off Rome but it carries on."

Uefa, though, is unmoved, arguing a switch would prove logistically impossible and would increase security risks.

"It would create more problems to move the final than to keep it where it is," said Gaillard. "We would have to start from scratch wherever we would go.

"We are very aware that there have been some incidents involving this kind of aggression.

"The local and national police are very much aware of that and we've been liaising with them and pointing out to them that a repeat of such incidents would be unacceptable for the final.

"We don't have any specific worries but we are of course liaising very closely with the English police authorities.

"Police co-ordination is the key. We've been doing that for quite a while now and invested an enormous amount in this. And then there are just simple devices that help control the situation."

Uefa has invested a lot of time and effort in trying to improve security around major events, providing stadiums and the host city with the facilities to cope with a mass influx of foreign supporters.

United and Barca will each receive a ticket allocation of approximately 19,500 for the game, but greater numbers are likely to travel without tickets.

The city itself is a fantastic city, a beautiful European capital but I think what actually goes on there in terms of police is a real concern

Ian Sterling, Independent Manchester United Supporters' Association

The Stadio Olimpico is surrounded by a park with multiple points of access that will be managed by security forces as fans are bussed from areas around the city before and after the final.

Within the stadium a new stewarding system will be in operation, to replace the need for a heavy and intimidating police presence within the ground, in line with rulings introduced in 2007.

Since 2008 the stadium has been equipped with electronic turnstiles - similar to those used in many English grounds - which have proved successful in minimising ticket forgery problems.

However, there remains a deep scepticism among fans that their best interests are being served by Europe's governing body.

"I don't have any faith in Uefa," says Sterling. "I don't think they are there for the fan at all.

"It's the nature of the game that fans travel without tickets. Uefa encourages it with a lot of competitions, setting up parks where people can watch games.

"There are problems at every major final but I don't think Uefa think about fans when there are stabbings in Rome and they can't see why there wouldn't be any kind of trouble this time.

"If you can't go to a major capital city of the world and feel safe then there is something wrong."

Previous violent incidents involving English fans have been sparked by clashes with "ultras" and what has been seen as the heavy-handed reaction of the Italian police.

Optimistically, Dr. Geoff Pearson, Lecturer in Law at the University of Liverpool and the co-author of 'Football Hooliganism', Policing and the War on the 'English Disease', believes there is unlikely to be provocation from Roma's "ultras".

"I can't see the hardcore Roma faction getting together, particularly if there's not two English teams playing," Pearson told BBC Sport.

"Firstly, the Roma fans aren't going to be gathering because their team aren't playing, and secondly, I think even for the 'ultras' it would be intimidating for them with so many English fans in the city. So I don't think that's going to be a problem."

Roma fans
Roma's ultras have regularly clashed with English fans visiting Rome

But other experts are more guarded as to the possibility of trouble.

"It's not impossible that Italian fans could target English fans in the city," says Dr. John Foot, Italian historian and the author of Calcio: A History of Italian Football. "It's not impossible that that could happen even if there is not an Italian team involved."

And Italian journalist Matteo Patrono, who writes for Il Manifesto, provides an even gloomier prognosis.

"With a lot of English fans all around the city, drinking and partying more than one stabbing could happen. Not necessarily close to the stadium but all over the city.

In Italy, the perception of the English fan as a "hooligan" remains, as a result of the Heysel disaster in 1985, and any large gathering involving drinking, chanting and singing - normal staples of the English supporter experience - are viewed as alien and threatening to Italians.

"English fans have been transformed in many ways so that kind of fan and that kind of football violence doesn't exist on anything like the same scale," says Foot.

"But the Italian image is really fixed at Heysel and still when Italians see English fans who have had too much to drink what they think of is Heysel.

"I think that informs the policing because the police still have that image, that stereotype in their mind."

Previous advice from English authorities about the threat involved from travelling to European games in Italy has also not helped the situation.

606: DEBATE
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In 2007, Manchester United posted a warning on their website suggesting that their fans could be attacked were they to travel for the Champions League match with AS Roma, provoking outrage in Italy.

Rome's then Mayor Walter Veltroni criticised United, arguing the advice could create a "negative climate". That partially contributed to the extremely heavy-handed police response within the stadium that resulted in the hospitalisation of 11 United fans after violent clashes.

Uefa insists it has worked tirelessly to ensure the Italian police are co-ordinated, efficient and conduct themselves in a responsible fashion - a process enabled through extensive liaison with their English counterparts.

But English fans, particularly United fans in 2007, have uncomfortable memories of the Italian police's attitude.

"The Italian policing is terrible," says Sterling. "At every Italian away game United fans have gone unprotected and people have been stabbed, beaten up and there's no protection from Italian police from Italian fans.

"The city itself is fantastic, a beautiful European capital but I think what actually goes on there in terms of police is a real concern."

Pearson agrees that the conduct of the Italian police is one of the major issues surrounding the final but if, as Uefa suggests, they are given guidelines on how to act and stick to them it could improve the situation markedly.

"When problems have occurred abroad, quite often that has been because foreign police forces have seen incidents of rowdy football fandom coming from football supporters as being hooligan activity," says Pearson.

"The final will need to be policed in a method whereby police interact with fans and they act in a friendly manner and if incidents do occur they actually target those people who are involved rather than targeting the entire crowd.

Gianni Alemanno and Michel Platini
Rome mayor Alemanno and Platini have promised a safe final

"All the evidence suggests that if a minor incident occurs and police action is taken against the crowd as a whole then this typically leads to the incident exacerbating."

The 2009 final is important for Italy as way of showing it is capable of organising prestigious sporting showpieces.

The country recently missed out on hosting the 2012 European Championship partly due to its hooligan problem, with Poland and Ukraine chosen as joint hosts, a decision that came as a major shock to the Italians, prompting much soul-searching over its football infrastructure's failings.

So a successful and trouble-free Champions League final would go a long way towards convincing Uefa and Fifa that the Italian authorities are making strides towards improving the image of their organisational and policing standards.

Domestic Italian political issues also come into play with the current mayor of Rome, Gianni Alemanno, facing criticism over the level of violence in the city and he is under pressure to show he is making progress in his campaign to clean up Italy's capital.

It can only be hoped, as Alemanno promised at the ceremony in April to mark the handover of the Champions League trophy from defending champions Manchester United to the final's host city, that Rome will "show the best it has to offer".



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see also
Uefa rules out Euro final switch
12 Mar 09 |  Europe
Arsenal fan injured in bus ambush
12 Mar 09 |  London
Arsenal warn fans of safety fear
10 Mar 09 |  Europe
Supporters warned over Rome game
01 Apr 08 |  Manchester
Man United fans stabbed in Rome
12 Dec 07 |  Manchester
United fans at Roma match praised
02 Apr 08 |  Manchester
Rome police chief defends action
06 Apr 07 |  Europe
Ugly scenes on a night to forget
05 Apr 07 |  Europe
Rome mayor attacks Man Utd fears
04 Apr 07 |  Manchester
English fans are stabbed in Rome
15 Mar 06 |  Tees
Liverpool fans stabbed in Rome
06 Dec 01 |  England
Liverpool fan stabbed in Rome
15 Feb 01 |  Europe
Chelsea 1-1 Barcelona (agg 1-1)
06 May 09 |  Europe
Arsenal 1-3 Man Utd (agg 1-4)
05 May 09 |  Europe
Man Utd 1-0 Arsenal
29 Apr 09 |  Europe
Barcelona 0-0 Chelsea
28 Apr 09 |  Europe
Rome votes for right-wing mayor
28 Apr 08 |  Europe


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