La Barcaccia: trashed by football fans

Football is in the headlines for the wrong reasons after the racist behaviour of Chelsea fans in Paris. But you may have missed a rampage in Rome by Dutch fans which damaged a historic landmark. And guess what? The football authorities don't want to know

La Barcaccia damaged by football fans
Tim Hedges
On 23 February 2015 08:37

The 22nd of February marks the first anniversary of Matteo Renzi’s premiership. Such a lot has happened, and it has been so different from previous administrations, that I hope to offer a detailed analysis in the days to come.

But today I want to write about football.

Rome, it has to be said, is not the best place for a football match. Greco-Roman wrestling, yes; chariot racing, nowhere better. But the Eternal City’s narrow alleyways and priceless monuments make it ill-suited to receiving thousands of drunk and drugged-up louts.

Football, of course, takes place here. It is the national obsession. Rome has two teams, Roma and Lazio (this being the name for the region around Rome). They are constant topics of conversation and I have learned, when asked which team I support, to say Portsmouth, leaving people to think me mad, but not dangerous.

There is, let’s face it, some nuisance from the fans. The two teams share a stadium, the Stadio Olimpico, which is a few miles from the city centre, and by the time the local derby is finished some supporters have drifted into the old city and are singing their tribal songs. There is the odd fight.

But what Romans do not do is wreck their own town. Even the dimmest Roma supporter is aware that it is something special.

The problem lies with visiting supporters. I remember once when Manchester United were playing, they tried to close down access to alcohol. A wine merchant told me that he was closed .. er .. to foreigners, but since I spoke the language and don’t look like a football fan (always the same, however hard I try) it would be OK.

Well, they may have closed down the supply of decent Frascati, but the Mancunians had somehow found plenty of beer and the police were busy that night.

This week saw the visit of the fans from Feyenoord (a suburb of Rotterdam) and I think it was clear from the start that they saw this as a battle, not between Feyenoord Football Club and AS Roma, but between Rotterdam and Rome, or perhaps The Netherlands and Italy.

The fighting started the night before the match but they didn’t seem to want to fight the Roma fans, just the police.

The mob took control of the Piazza di Spagna, one of the most beautiful and famous squares of Rome, and inflicted what has been described as ‘permanent damage’ to Bernini’s La Barcaccia fountain. Ironically, the fountain had just gone through a period of restoration.

La Barcaccia is very dear to Romans. It celebrates the flooding of the Tiber, when a boat drifted into the Piazza from the river a kilometre away and was stranded. The fountain itself takes the form of a boat with its bows sinking below the water.

It was built by Gian Lorenzo Bernini and his father Pietro Bernini in 1627. It is not wrecked, but a priceless monument has been damaged by thugs.

The question all Rome is asking is ‘what is to be done?’ There are other works by Bernini in Rome, notably in the Piazza Navona, as well as works by almost every famous sculptor. And there are football fans.

Feyenoord refuse to take responsibility for these people, whom they describe as ‘travelling with the fans’. And FIFA have announced they will take no action against Feyenoord. There seems to be no one to blame.

The Mayor of Rome, Ignazio Marino, blames the Chief of Police, who had said that ‘at least there weren’t any deaths’. Most Romans wouldn’t have minded a few deaths.

And it is clear that a dangerous mob was somehow allowed to take over a beautiful square. It should have been kept away but where?

Could they have been kept at the football stadium, which is about three miles from the centre? Could they have been herded into the Circus Maximus, which held more than 70,000 people for a Rolling Stones Concert last year?

Mr Marino is rightly angry at the police for letting this happen, but he needs urgently to make a list of public spaces from which football fans must be kept away, and to allocate resources to protecting his city.

London, Paris, Berlin; football violence could occur anywhere, but surely not Rome. This really can’t be allowed to happen again.

Tim Hedges, The Commentator's Italy Correspondent, had a career in corporate finance before moving to Rome where he works as a freelance writer, novelist, and farmer. You can read more of his articles about Italy here

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