How did the city synonymous with the good life come to be associated with English football fans being stabbed?
Ask most people who have visited Rome if they enjoyed their stay and the answer will probably be yes. Ask an English football fan the same question and the answer could be different.
Decades ago, football-related violence was an English phenomenon. Now it is an Italian problem, and it is at its worst in the capital.
In the latest incident, a group of Tottenham fans drinking in a bar were set upon by a group of 30 men; faces covered; wielding knives, baseball bats and iron bars.
Ten people were injured, including Ashley Mills, who is in hospital with stab wounds to the head and legs.
Two Roma supporters have been charged with attempted murder after the attack at the Drunken Ship pub in Campo de Fiori in the early hours of Thursday morning.
“Pro-Arab, anti-semitic politics does have a currency in Italy. The last thing the Palestinians need is Lazio fans on their side.” Professor John Foot, UCL
Spurs have historic Jewish connections and witnesses said the violence had an anti-semitic dimension, with the attackers shouting the word “Jews” during the assaults.
Israel’s ambassador to Italy, Naor Gilon, said it was part of “a new trend of anti-semitism in Europe”.
The Spurs supporters were in Rome for a Europa League clash between their team and Lazio, whose hardcore element is notorious for its far-right sympathies.
There was no physical violence in the stadium, but anti-semitic slogans were aimed at the Tottenham supporters, a “Free Palestine” banner was unveiled, and three black players were subjected to monkey chants.
What happened in Rome on Thursday night was not unusual. For years now, violent Roman ultras, inspired by English hooligans of the 1970s and 1980s, have wreaked havoc – often at the expense of visiting English fans.
Stabbings are common, with one favourite being the “puncicate” – a knife in the buttocks; designed to cause pain, but not to kill.
(Lazio player Paola Di Canio, 2005)
John Foot, professor of modern Italian history at University College London and author of Calcio: A History of Italiian Football, told Channel 4 News:
“Almost the same thing has happened quite a few times in a very similar way: an unprovoked attack on English or British fans before a game. It does happen also in Italian football on a weekly basis. People are stabbed in Rome fairly often, but it is so common that it does not make the press.
“It is worse in Rome, which has a particular problem with violence and stabbing.”
Professor Foot said that while it would be wrong to brand all Italian ultras as far-right racists and anti-semites, Lazio had a serious problem.
“Lazio have a record of anti-semitic propaganda. Rome has a very problematic history, with its Jewish population deported to Auschwitz.”
Referring to the “Free Palestine” banner, Professor Foot said: “There’s also the manipulation of the Palestinian cause for far-right political purposes. It’s a way of being anti-semitic, but using left political cover for it.”
“Pro-Arab, anti-semitic politics does have a currency in Italy. The last thing the Palestinians need is Lazio fans on their side.”
Ultras control sections of stadiums in Italy, and Professor Foot said they were concerned they could suffer the same fate as hardcore English fans. “The hardcore fans are very worried about the British model because they would lose power over their stadiums.”
(Roma fan, 2006)
Goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini, who was on the Tottenham bench on Thursday night and used to play for Lazio, wants his country to follow England’s lead in tacking violent hooliganism.
He said: “I remember when I was playing in Italy we were looking at England like it was a very dangerous place to go, and so I found it quite strange that now it’s the opposite.
“I can imagine people travelling to Rome to have a look at the city and watch the game, but then suddenly find out there are other people out there trying to almost kill you.”
Writing in the Times today, football editor Tony Evans does not mince his words.
“Rome is the most dangerous city in Europe. If you are a visiting football supporter, that is. Nowhere else on the continent are you more likely to be stabbed and brutalised.”
Violent attacks on English fans in Rome
1984 Roma fans attacked Liverpool fans with knives after the European Cup final
2000: Leeds fan slashed at Uefa Cup match against Roma
2000: Arsenal supporters slashed before Champions League match against Lazio
2001: Liverpool fans stabbed in buttocks after Roma matches
2006: Middlesbrough fans stabbed, one in buttocks
2007: Man Utd fans stabbed in buttocks at Champions League match
2009: Man Utd supporter stabbed in buttocks before Champions League final against Barcelona