Tommy Con­lon

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - FRONT PAGE -

The av­er­age foot­ball hooli­gan doesn’t need an ex­cuse from his­tory; al­co­hol and anger are usu­ally enough. Most of Roma’s and Liver­pool’s cur­rent crop weren’t even born by 1984.

THE ghosts of for­mer tragedies were cir­cling Liver­pool Foot­ball Club last week, not as his­tory les­sons but as ac­tive agents in the volatile cli­mate that spawned a fresh tragedy last Tues­day evening. Sean Cox from Dun­boyne, Co Meath re­mains in a crit­i­cal con­di­tion this week­end. Doc­tors at the Wal­ton Cen­tre, the city’s spe­cial­ist neu­rol­ogy hos­pi­tal, are hop­ing to re­vive him from an induced coma over the com­ing days. Aged 53, a fa­ther-of-three, a stal­wart of his com­mu­nity and the St Pe­ter’s GAA club, he is by all ac­counts a much-loved and re­spected man.

Mr Cox’s life has been changed by a ran­dom act of vi­o­lence. Sud­denly, out of nowhere, it in­ter­sected with a few strangers from a far­away city who knew noth­ing about him, nor he of they. The in­di­vid­u­als hap­pened for a mo­ment to be shar­ing the same space out­side of a public house in the shadow of An­field sta­dium. And in that mo­ment their paths fate­fully crossed.

In that mo­ment these un­known young men in­flicted an ar­bi­trary act of malev­o­lence upon him. He fell to the ground and his world col­lapsed. The world of his wife Martina has col­lapsed with him, and that of their chil­dren, and that of his brother who was with him, his ex­tended fam­ily, his wider cir­cle of col­leagues and friends. The waves of an­guish gen­er­ated by this sin­gle, split­sec­ond vi­o­la­tion have been deep and tur­bu­lent. It can only be fer­vently hoped that they will not rip­ple on for­ever; that Mr Cox will even­tu­ally be fully healed; that he and his fam­ily can be­come whole and happy again.

Two Italians, Filippo Lom­bardi and Daniele Sciusco, have been charged with vi­o­lent dis­or­der. Lom­bardi has also been charged with wound­ing or in­flict­ing griev­ous bod­ily harm on Mr Cox. They had trav­elled to sup­port their team, AS Roma, in the Cham­pi­ons League semi-fi­nal, first leg. The sec­ond leg will take place next Wed­nes­day in Rome.

The as­sault on Mr Cox was the worst in­ci­dent on a night of in­ter­mit­tent clashes. Fears have es­ca­lated that Tues­day’s events will trig­ger fur­ther vi­o­lence as an es­ti­mated 5,000 trav­el­ling fans con­verge on Rome in the com­ing days. Liver­pool FC re­quested a meet­ing on Fri­day with se­nior po­lice of­fi­cers in Rome, along with of­fi­cials from AS Roma and UEFA, to dis­cuss a range of se­cu­rity mea­sures. The club wanted clar­ity on is­sues rang­ing from the shut­tle bus ser­vice tak­ing their sup­port­ers to and from the Sta­dio Olimpico, the open­ing time at the turn­stiles, se­cu­rity checks on bags, and the sale of al­co­hol.

A Liver­pool FC state­ment said they’d been seek­ing clarification on these and other mat­ters “since the draw was made”. In other words they were al­ready ner­vous from the mo­ment they were paired with AS Roma in the draw on April 13. Roma has a long his­tory of fan vi­o­lence. But in ad­di­tion, of course, there was the bad blood between the two clubs that dated back to May 30, 1984. The Liver­pool foot­ball team fa­mously won the Euro­pean Cup that night in the Sta­dio Olimpico af­ter ex­tra-time and penal­ties. Dozens of Liver­pool fans in­fa­mously took a beat­ing af­ter­wards from Roma’s fa­nat­ics, the ‘Ul­tras’ or ‘Ti­fosi’.

An eye­wit­ness ac­count from that night is con­tained in a 2015 essay for the UK jour­nal Sport in So­ci­ety. En­ti­tled ‘In­ter­wo­ven Tragedies: Hills­bor­ough, Hey­sel and de­nial’, it is writ­ten by the jour­nal­ist and aca­demic Rob Steen. He quotes a Liver­pool fan, David Pye, who in 1984 was a ma­ture stu­dent at the Univer­sity of Brighton.

“The Liver­pool fans ap­peared to be set up by the po­lice and Cara­binieri [mil­i­tary po­lice] in the im­me­di­ate af­ter­math,” re­called Pye, “be­ing pre­vented from leav­ing the sta­dium un­til, it ap­peared, the Ti­fosi were ready for them. By now armed with base­ball bats, clubs, chair legs, pool cues, chains and knives, a pitched bat­tle en­sued in the nar­row streets of the an­cient cap­i­tal. Many English sup­port­ers and in­no­cent tourists alike were trapped, beaten, bru­talised and stabbed, for the most part in the but­tocks — the ul­ti­mate slight, a trade­mark of Mus­solini’s Fas­cist vig­i­lante mobs and Mafiosi en­forcers.”

The ar­gu­ment has been made since by a range of in­ter­ested par­ties, from journalists to Liver­pool fans and his­to­ri­ans of the game, that the at­tacks in ’84 were a con­tribut­ing fac­tor in the tragedy at Hey­sel a year later. Not by any means the only fac­tor, but one of them. In May ’85 Liver­pool faced an­other Ital­ian team, Ju­ven­tus, in an­other Euro­pean Cup fi­nal. It wasn’t about “re­venge”, Tony Evans tells Steen, “but the mood when we went to Brus­sels was ‘That’s not go­ing to hap­pen to us again’.”

Evans is a Liver­pool sup­porter and the au­thor of three books about the club. Thirty-nine peo­ple, mostly Ital­ian, lost their lives at Hey­sel. Evans wrote a con­fes­sional piece on the 20th an­niver­sary of the dis­as­ter. “A large pro­por­tion of Liver­pool fans seemed to have lost con­trol. We met a group of mates who had come by coach. A fel­low pas­sen­ger we all knew had leapt off as soon as they ar­rived and at­tacked two peo­ple, one an Ital­ian, with an iron bar . . . The dis­as­ter has a long causal chain — stab­bings and beat­ings in Rome, hair­trig­ger tem­pers, ag­gres­sion on both sides, ex­ces­sive drink­ing, poor polic­ing and a sta­dium ripe for dis­as­ter.” But Liver­pool loy­al­ists “who think it was noth­ing to do with us” are in de­nial. “It was. At least some of us.”

The av­er­age foot­ball hooli­gan doesn’t need an ex­cuse from his­tory; al­co­hol and anger are usu­ally enough. Most of Roma’s and Liver­pool’s cur­rent crop weren’t even born by 1984. But they’ve heard the sto­ries; this fix­ture has sum­moned the ghosts; the vi­o­lence then begets vi­o­lence now. The cops and the clubs have a job of work to en­sure no more fam­i­lies are shat­tered on Wed­nes­day night.

Many English sup­port­ers were trapped

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