'Ultras' rule Italian football
Mafia-like trouble makers hold clubs hostage.
Last Modified: 05 Feb 2007 22:09 GMT

The streets of Catania were ablaze after football riots during the Sicilian derby with Palermo [GALLO/GETTY]

Ultras, the name given to organised supporters groups of football teams mainly in Europe and South America, have thrown Italian football into disrepute once again after violence broke out in the Sicilian derby between Catania and Palermo on Friday, resulting in the death of a policeman.
All domestic and international Italian football matches have been suspended as a result of the riots and the subsequent death of police officer Filippo Raciti, who was killed by a home-made bomb as hooligans went on the rampage at Catania's Angelo Massimino stadium.

Italian football officials will be looking to toughen their stance on ultras to eradicate incidences such as the one in Sicily.

The interior minister has already said fans won't be allowed into stadiums for matches in Italy unless security measures are met as thousands turned out for the funeral of Raciti on Monday.

Giuliano Amato also said that clubs will not be able to sell blocks of tickets to visiting fans in order to control who enters the stadium.

These decisions and others still need to be approved at a Cabinet meeting Wednesday, Amato said.

Catania president Antonino Pulvirenti admitted his club was fighting a losing battle against the mafia-like troublemakers.

"The majority of fans that come to football are respectable people, but unfortunately there is an unsavoury minority made up of criminals and thugs who nobody cares about and they unleash their anger in this way," he said.

"They live like barbarians and for three years now we have been held hostage by these people. For us it has become a daily battle, but we can only do so much on our own."

Pulvirenti said he expected the Italian football authorities to hand down a severe punishment to his club after Friday's riot.

"I fear the worst, but what can we do if one of these delinquents throws a bomb at a policeman outside the stadium? We're sure to pay a dear price."

Organised groups

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Ultras, as a sub-group of fans, started up in Italy during the late 1960s when football clubs reduced ticket prices on certain areas of the stadiums, and have gone on to use intimidatory tactics to get free tickets to matches, travel allowances to away matches and to have the freedom to run their own merchandising rackets.

The groups, who have a much bigger voice in Italy compared to other European leagues, are in most cases well known to their clubs, and are renowned for their singing at matches, standing for the whole game, and traveling to all away fixtures regardless of distance or price.

Often in Italy, dozens of ultras will turn up at their team's training sessions if they are playing badly to launch tirades of abuse at players, or worse still physically attack them.

Ultras force match to be abandoned

Roma's Francesco Totti, centre, is mobbed after
the match with Lazio is called off [GALLO/GETTY]

One of the best examples of the influence the ultras have over clubs occurred in March 2004 when the Rome derby between Roma and Lazio was abandoned due to fears of player safety.

During the first half of the match, a rumour surfaced among the crowd that a young Roma fan had been knocked over and killed by a police car.

Just before half time three Roma ultras invaded the pitch and approached Roma captain Francesco Totti to speak with him, after which the Italian striker relayed the message to his coach Fabio Capello: "If we play on they're going to kill us."

Referee Roberto Rosetti wanted to play on, but wise to the potential outbreak of violence, Totti and Lazio captain Sinisa Mihailovic disagreed with the official and the game was called off.

The rumour about the dead fan turned out to be false, and although Roma denied they had been blackmailed by extreme supporters, it was a show of strength by the ultras and demonstrated the power they yield in Italian football.

Police are the nemesis

Crowd violence is proving to be a nemesis to
Italian football [GALLO/GETTY]

Officials have tried to stamp out much of the ultras' activity by putting names on tickets, increasing video surveillance, and banning flares, fireworks and racist banners, however many clubs have failed to meet the criteria set by the government, leaving the ultras to do as they please inside the stadiums.

Outside the arenas the clubs have little control over the organised groups, with any issues falling under police jurisdiction, something the ultras seem to thrive on.

"They're our nemesis," an Inter ultra told the Gazzetta dello Sport in reference to the police.

The Italian government are meeting on Monday to discuss ways of tackling the issue of violence in football, however unless a tough stance is taken and hard measures are put in place, ultras will be free to behave as they wish.

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