Ghosts of past shame cast long shadow in the presence of Englishmen abroad

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The Independent Online

Here in the shadow of the Blue Mosque many kinds of profane business are transacted, not least the selling of certain liquids which could disorientate a buffalo in three or four attempts. This is a fact of life which all football lovers need to be aware of in the countdown to tomorrow night's Champions' League final.

Here in the shadow of the Blue Mosque many kinds of profane business are transacted, not least the selling of certain liquids which could disorientate a buffalo in three or four attempts. This is a fact of life which all football lovers need to be aware of in the countdown to tomorrow night's Champions' League final.

With an estimated 30,000 Liverpool fans in town by kick-off, and with the less numerous but equally audible Milanese reluctant to yield bragging rights, the prayer must be that there is no fresh outbreak of Anglo-Italian fan hostility on the streets and the terraces ... or indeed another eruption of that argument between the Turks and the English which proved fatal for two Leeds supporters a few years ago.

There is another concern out on the field and it is that Milan, six times winners, and Liverpool, who are going for their fifth victory and permanent possession of a version of the trophy, do not make a mockery of the best of their traditions. For the moment, though, it is a relatively marginal issue, one that can be resolved satisfactorily by the ultimate instincts of two fine coaches and decent men, Liverpool's Rafael Benitez and Milan's Carlo Ancelotti.

However, even if they are consumed by the pressure to win, which in the case of Benitez would amount to staggering achievement, it will not exactly be a new phenomenon.

That desire has too frequently marred the showpiece of European football and the pre-match noises from Ancelotti and Benitez are not suggesting a bonanza of attack. Two years ago Milan beat Juventus on penalties at Old Trafford in a game which while glittering with technical accomplishment displayed the warrior motif of a cowering pup. Still, no one died, the tragedy was to do with failed nerve on a sports field not lives snuffed out on foreign concrete.

First, unquestionably, there is that need to remember a beast still lurks near the heart of the blossoming fan culture. Contained, maybe, dormant to a large degree, yes, thankfully, but dead to the point of never rising up again in all its horror? Unfortunately not.

That reality, it is good to know, has been acknowledged with some thoroughness at the John Lennon Airport over the last 48 hours. Charter flight customers have needed to display their match tickets and acceptable levels of sobriety to get off the ground. So far, so hopeful, but there are long and necessarily anxious hours still ahead.

The effects of day-long slugging back of cold beer and, God forbid, the sweet but devastating arak, in a hot climate means that we cannot dismiss the possibilities of at least an echo or two of the scarring events surrounding Liverpool's last appearance in a European Cup final.

There may be outrage at such a suggestion, but it is one that needs to be raised. It is not scaremongering. It's living with a chemistry of danger that has not suddenly, benignly, shed its most lethal properties. And, anyway, how to do you guard against the threat of today if you forget what happened yesterday? Security and supervision, responsibility by clubs and police, have increased enormously, but it is still placed on a knife edge.

If you don't believe that, if you weigh in with the saw that the "vast majority" of football fans go just for the game, you should pick up some of the currents of a big match abroad; you should understand that the infection of yobbery in English culture is rarely more virulently displayed than when it is transported abroad. Yes, no doubt there is still a majority of fans who are decent, who go to a game to enjoy the football and not to announce their presence in the most anti-social away. But if they are a majority, they are not a vast one. There is still a minority that makes the blood run cold. On another shore it can find new demons, who are ready enough to oblige in the making of mayhem.

Maybe the wonder of Liverpool's progress, so unexpected but such a product of tremendous application and discipline, will have its own magical effect. Maybe the Scouse spirit exemplified by the new cult hero Jamie Carragher will win hands down here, both in the streets and on the field. It's the most engaging of ideas and, who knows, the efforts of the club to perform the final healing of the wounds of Heysel in the course of the earlier tie with Juventus may draw another bonus in the next days.

Certainly, it is the hope of one Anfield legend who was present at Heysel but decided against travelling to Istanbul. "Of course, I hope that everything goes well," he says. "I hope the good lads win the day, and that nothing interferes with the tremendous achievement of the team. But I do worry. I worry about all those drinking hours. I worry about the influence of some of the bad types. In 30,000 you're going to get a few of those. Maybe I'm wrong to worry. I hope I am."

You cannot cut away the worry so easily. You cannot get the sounds of the wailing police vans and the breaking glass out of your ears, not after all these years. Of course you want to banish it into the past, all of it, the riots, the blood, the kid who walked into your hotel in Marseilles during the French World Cup holding his throat where it had been slashed, the bewildered witnesses of drunken rages in, well, you name some centre of European civilisation and the chances are that they will know there of what we speak.

The contagion first developed significantly in the Feyenoord stadium in Rotterdam 32 years ago. There was some trouble in the streets, then riots at the ground and the Tottenham manager, the late Bill Nicholson, went on the public address and said, "You make me ashamed to be an Englishman."

You think we should leave that in the past? Maybe we should. But perhaps we should first get by the next few days.

Baresi's case for defence sweeps up my award as best of Milan and Liverpool

In the competing traditions of two great football clubs it is hard to know to whom you hand the palm as the finest player of them all.

Of the Liverpool team so dominant in the late Seventies and the early Eighties, and the giants of Milan who came a decade later, there is, heaven knows, no shortage of claimants.

Supremely, Liverpool offer such as Souness, Dalglish and Hansen; Milan counter with the Dutch triumvirate of Gullit, Rijkaard and Marco van Basten, and the Italians Paolo Maldini and Franco Baresi. There is plenty of scope to go beyond this élite of course - a point that needs to be made for anyone concerned about a kicking the next time they see Tommy Smith - but we are talking about the peaks of the game here and, that being the case, it is hard to see beyond Baresi.

The great man works in the Milan system, bringing on young players and, wherever he goes here this week, there is among the cognoscenti a guarantee of more than a touch of awe. Baresi had something beyond a brilliant eye for reading a game and a superb defensive technique. He had mystique. It persuaded the creator of the great Milan, Arigo Sacchi, that here was the foundation of his team.

Sacchi said the young player was the finest sweeper in Italy, but would he kindly think about the way he had played. He had so much more to offer than mere security, said Sacchi. He could apply so much pressure further up the field. He could change the way Italians played football. He did and, among all his achievements, maybe the greatest was his performance in the 1994 World Cup finals in America.

Baresi was injured in the opening game, when Italy lost to Ireland, and then had a cartilage operation. He recovered in time to play in the final. It was arguably the most stupendously rapid recovery in the history of football. Baresi was instrumental in holding Brazil to a goalless draw in the final. He was so masterful that even the pugnacious star Romario shrugged his shoulders and settled for the shoot-out lottery that won Brazil their fourth World Cup. At the end, Romario embraced Baresi as Pele once did Bobby Moore.

Some years later, Baresi filled the San Siro for his testimonial and gave all the proceeds to charity. He said: "Football has given me everything - now I can give a little back."

It is another reason why there is no more warming presence here this week than that of Franco Baresi.

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