Nemici in campo, amici per strada
So runs the message left, along with a bouquet of flowers, by Roma fans outside the house of Laziali Gabriele Sandri, who was shot dead by a highway cop with an itchy trigger-finger near Arezzo while on his way from Rome to Milan to watch the Inter-Lazio match.
I won't get into the hows and wherefores of the shooting, nor of the riots that have followed in at least a half-dozen cities, both inside and outside stadia: for that, let me strongly recommend you look at either La Repubblica, or the Corriere Della Sera, and most of all, Spangly Princess, who, as usual, provides the best coverage of calcio and its discontents (and to whom a hat-tip for the title of this entry).
What's truly fascinating here is the speed and breadth of the reaction to Sandri's death. Back in Rome, a police station was attacked by a mob - and it's by no means clear that it was just Laziali in the mob. In Bergamo, ultras attacked police and fights also broke out in Milan in the north and Taranto in the south.
I can't think of another country where the death of a fan at the hands of police would unite ultras from different squads in such a vast wave of hatred for the authorities. While there is a certain logic in the ultras slogan: "Per Raciti (n.b the policeman killed in Catania last year) fermate il campionato. Il morto di un tifoso non ha significato" (For Raciti you halted the championship, the death of a fan doesn't matter), that's not any kind of excuse for the kind of national exposion of mob violence that has followed - nor would it even make logical sense anywhere other than Italy. Ultras - no matter how much they hate each other hate the police and the state much, much more.
Some might say this all has something to do with the heavy-handedness of Giuliano Amato's anti-hooligan legislation, passed earlier this year in the wake of the Raciti murder. But while some of legislation was boneheaded and some of it was badly implemented, the ultra culture desperately needed challenging, and the clubs themselves were never going to do it (too many of them, indeed, winked at it). The Italian practice of having helicopters circle over stadiums and riot police inside them, while all the while acknowledging that under no circumstances would these police enter the curve because they were "no-go" areas, gave Italian football the worst of all possible worlds. It created an atmosphere of paranoia within the stadium without actually increasing security one whit. Indeed, by acknowledging that certain areas were no-go, the security forces implicitly strengthened the hooligan element and undermined the very authority they meant to project.
Today's events, fundamentally, are not about football. They are about a society in deep, deep trouble. No one trusts authority. No one believes that any guilty party will be punished. And, without the reassurance that justice will be done, they take matters into their own hands. Break-downs in law and order aren't exactly new in the West. Watts in 1965, New York for most of the 1970s, Brixton in 1981, Los Angeles in 1992. Rome in 2007 is just a minor variation on these. Though this outbreak lacks a racial edge, it's still fundamentally about respect between the governors and the governed.
It is above all evidence of a massive failure of the Italian state. The repercussions from it will be felt for years, and not just inside the stadiums.