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MAN UNITED - AND THE REALITALIAN JOB

05-04-2007

The frightening scenes of Manchester United fans being bludgeoned by the Rome police last night will come as no surprise to anyone who's watched an English football team in Italy. Many supporters from these islands are poor travellers - but they are frequently outdone for thuggishness by the carabineri and the Ultras.

This isn't a new phenomenon either. After the Heysel Tragedy (when 39 followers of the Turin team Juventus were crushed to death following an altercation with Liverpool fans) one of the unspeakable truths was that there was an already an unsavoury history between the Merseysiders and their Italian counterparts.

There had been serious clashes the previous year, for example, when the Reds played Roma in Rome in the 1984 European Cup final, with the cops allegedly siding with the home fans in a series of brutal clashes.

Fast forward to 1990 and the World Cup in Italy - a peaceful march of England fans to the ground in Cagliari was interrupted by baton-wielding police who indiscriminately waded into the line and then held hundreds of supporters captive for hours at a petrol station forcing many to miss the match.

At the same tournament, I was chased through the medieval streets of Bologna -normally such a civilised place - by rampaging locals.

There was further hassle for English fans when their team qualified for the World Cup Finals at the Olympic Stadium in 1998; and a Champions League game at the same ground had to be abandoned a few years ago when the ref Anders Frisk was felled by a flying coin.

Earlier this season, all Italian league matches were suspended for a week when a police officer was killed in a football riot.

No one on these shores is in a position to lecture on the “Italian Illness” when the “English Disease” has been so deadly; but firm action to deal with the contagion is long overdue.

Ever been to watch England or an English team abroad? What's your experience? Leave a comment on the Sport section of our messageboard.

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