Wednesday, April 13, 2005

San Siro fireworks

Those of us that watched or saw the "highlights" of the Champion's League match yesterday between AC Milan and Inter Milan realize that football fans have not evolved during the past 20 years since the tragedy at Heysel.

For the readers that do not know what I am refering to, in 1985 the Champion's League finals was marred in tragedy when the Liverpool and Juventus fans rioted causing the death of over 30 spectators when many were crushed by crowds fearing for their lives when a number of hooligans began an open brawl in the stadium. The game ended with Juventus hoisting the title (1-0 victory on a Platini penalty), but a title that was to crown the Platini led team as one of Europe's best was instead marred and remembered for the tragedy that preceded the game. While thankfully no fans were gravely injured yesterday the demonstration of the Milan fans was inexcusable and quite frankly frightening.

After Inter scored a late goal, that was not allowed for a foul on the AC keeper Dida, the Inter fans (it was an Inter Milan "home" game) began showing their distaste with the referee decision by showering the field with lite flares turning the pitch into a surreal environment with lite flares littering the pitch billowing smoke and flame into the air. Now mind you, Inter was already eliminated from the competition being down 3-0 on aggragate, so the fans were protesting a meaningless goal. But even if this goal was the difference between going through and being eliminated the behavior is inexecusable. Where was security? Why were the fans allowed to bring in flares? I have been to football matches in France and in each case had to pass through at least 2 security gates where I was searched and patted down...even here in the US when I attend a sporting event I have been patted down and searched to ensure nothing that should not be brought to the arena is allowed in. When you see the number of flares that ended up littering the field it is apparant that it was not one or two that slipped through the gate but anyone that wanted to bring in a flare could do so.

Shame on Inter for this terrible lapse in judgement and security. FIFA should punish them severly for this, maybe playing games with a closed gate (no fans allowed), fine Inter, disqualify them for Champions League or all European competitions next season (after the Heysel incident all British teams were banned from playing on the continent for 5 years). Maybe this loss in revenue will force Inter to revisit their security for matches.

Football is a passionate sport, just look at games in South America, Europe, Asia etc. Fans have passion for their clubs and countries and are not afraid to demonstrate this passion at matches. Most of the time these fans make Red Sox - Yankee fans look like tame sheep. While I love the passion that is associated with football I also fear that at times it gets out of control. Recently we have seen an Asian Nations Cup final marred by Chinese fans rioting when their national team lost to Japan, running amock in the street burning Japanese flags, fighting Japanese fans. We have seen a referee at a AS Roma match hit in the head with a battery (actually that sounds much like Yankee Stadium behavior). We have witnessed fans at a Paris St Germain match delay a game with flares (once again how do these get into the stadium to start?). Something will need to be done with regards to fan control in stadiums. FIFA and UEFA need to instate hard punishments:

  • Home and away teams are responsible in managing their fans. Home teams are responsible for stadium security, visiting teams are responsible for the fans that attend the games if they get out of hand that team pays the price.
  • Teams whose fans are the genisis of problems pay the punishment: fines, exclusion from European competition (depending on severity dictates time frame), loss of points if incident occurs in a domestic game, having to play games with closed gates.
  • National teams should be held to the same rules. They should be fined, have to forfeit matches, and depending on the severity banned from major competitions.
  • The fans who cause the problems will have to be punished as well, fined, thrown in prison, banned from all stadiums etc.
The events at San Siro have no place in sports, the passion is appreciated the manner to demonstrate that passion was misguided.

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