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The beautiful game turns ugly

The death of an Italian policeman after the Catania v Palermo match was tragic but not surprising.

Tony Cascarino, 14 Feb 2007

While English clubs have taken the Taylor Report’s advice to heart, and done everything they can to keep hooligans away from football games, a lot of their continental European counterparts have legitimised the ultra gangs by giving them their own sections of the ground – and in some cases putting them on the payroll. It’s a recipe for disaster.

I had first-hand experience of this at Marseilles, where five gangs are officially recognised by the club – South Winners, Yankees, OM West, The Commandos and Dodgers.

I couldn’t believe it when, after a particularly bad 3-0 defeat, the club president, Bernard Tapie actually let a group of ultras onto the coach, to give the team a bollocking. Some of the local players were shitting themselves because they knew these guys were serious hard men. The threats weren’t empty ones either, as Marc Libbra, who was also at Hibernians and Norwich City, found out when his car was wrecked.

Can you imagine David Gill walking into the Old Trafford dressing-room and saying, “Lads, I’d like you to meet Mickey The Cleaver?”

Tapie believed that if you gave the ultra leaders some sort of power within the club, they’d control their foot soldiers, which – in fairness – they mostly do. When the truce breaks down though, as it presumably did at Catania, you’ve got serious problems.

Having indulged the ultras for so long, it’s going to be very, very difficult for Lazio, AC Milan and the rest to start excluding them from the grounds, which is presumably what the Italian government and football authorities are going to insist on now. Personally, I think every Serie A club should send a representative over to see how big English games are policed – because, by and large, you don’t get trouble in or around Premiership grounds any more.

It’s something which I’m sure will be addressed as a matter of urgency by the new UEFA president Michel Platini. I met Michel four or five times when I was at Marseilles and Nancy, where his father was on the board, and found him to be a real footballing romantic, who cares about the game at all levels.

He’s not in anybody’s pocket, which is why he’s proposing a limit of three sides per country in the Champions League. The way it’s been portrayed in the press is that anything Michel Platini wants he’ll get, but he’s got to win over the UEFA committee, each member of which has an equal vote.

Knowing Michel, if he had a completely free hand he’d turn the Champions League back into a straightforward knock-out competition, but he knows there’s no way he’d get the backing! There are interesting times ahead with him as President, that’s for sure.

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