Rumour of police killing triggered Rome match riot

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The Independent Online

Public prosecutors opened an inquiry yesterday into a derby between the rival Roman football clubs Roma and Lazio which was abandoned because of violence stoked by rumours that police had killed a boy outside the stadium.

Public prosecutors opened an inquiry yesterday into a derby between the rival Roman football clubs Roma and Lazio which was abandoned because of violence stoked by rumours that police had killed a boy outside the stadium.

Police and so-called "ultras", the hard-core fans of both teams, had been involved in ugly scuffles on Sunday night outside the magnificent ground on the banks of the Tiber, scene of the 1990 World Cup final. Fans, some of whom tried to get into the ground without tickets, had repeatedly been dispersed with tear gas.

During half-time a rumour raced around the ground to the effect that during the disturbances outside a child had been run over by a police van and killed. The rumour was baseless, and it was repeatedly denied over the ground's tannoy system. But enough people continued to half-believe it to keep the ground in a simmer of angry passion.

After four minutes of play in the second half the game was halted, with the score at 0-0. Burning flares were hurled down on to the pitch from the curva, the banks of seats favoured by the ultras, and other spectators were showing signs of panic as tear gas wafted into the stadium. The players, club officials and the referee and his assistants huddled in the middle of the pitch.

In scenes hard to imagine at a modern British ground, they were joined by a group of aggressive ultras who surrounded Francesco Totti, Roma's celebrated captain, demanding that the game be called off.

After 15 minutes of chaos, the referee and players walked off the pitch and the ground was cleared.

So turbulent was the mood inside the ground that the rumour's truth or falsity no longer seemed to matter much.

One Roma fan said: "It was exactly the same as what happened during the G8 protests at Genova: heavy-handed, ostentatious, arbitrary policing outside the ground which left everybody pissed off."

The man who took the decision to abandon the game was Adriano Galliani, president of the Italian football league. It was not lost on the conspiracy theorists who abound in Italian football that Mr Galliani is also vice-president of Silvio Berlusconi's club, AC Milan, who are 10 points clear of Roma at the top of Serie A and therefore stand to benefit most if the match is never played. Mr Galliani insisted, however, that the last 42 minutes of the game would be played, on a date that has yet to be decided.

The clashes between police and fans left 153 police and 14 fans with minor injuries. It was the worst incident this season, and had commentators reaching for comparisons with the tragic Juventus-Liverpool game of 1985 at Heysel Stadium in which 38 Italian fans were crushed to death after being chased by their Liverpool counterparts.

Yesterday Giuseppe Pisanu, the Interior Minister, said: "[Italian football] has brushed up against tragedy." Such scenes, he said, "must never be repeated in any ground in Italy".

The match took place against a backdrop of financial chaos, with both clubs (and several others) threatened by bankruptcy. The Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, is said to be on the point of enacting a "Save Football" decree, the second this season, to bail out clubs threatened with extinction.

"What strange footballing times!" said one commentator. "The derby of the debt-ridden ... ended up an evening of guerrilla warfare."

Once upon a time, he pointed out, the Italian league "was known as 'the most beautiful championship in the world'."

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