Police on high alert for foreign invasion at Rome Derby

Justin Davis
AFP

Milan (AFP) - Police in Rome are on high alert amid reports hardline fans from England, Spain and Poland will arrive in the Italian capital on Sunday intent on causing trouble at the derby between Roma and Lazio.

Known as the fiercest city clash in Italy, the 'Derby della Capitale' has never been short of drama, with much of it spilling over -- on several occasions fatally -- as fans of both clubs vie for local supremacy.

This Sunday, authorities are hoping an ongoing strike by hardline fans of the Serie A clubs -- whose shared ground is the Stadio Olimpico -- is the biggest problem they have to face.

But the Questura di Roma issued a statement on Friday that said special security measures will be put in place around the stadium in anticipation of the arrival of supporter groups with ties to Lazio ultras.

"Thanks to international monitoring, we've learned that representatives from foreign clubs in England (West Ham United), Spain (Real Madrid) and Poland (Wisla Krakow) have twinned with supporters from the capital," it said.

Police said their security plan will move into action from Saturday afternoon and "reach its peak in the early hours of Sunday".

Nighttime kick-offs for Roma-Lazio matches are now banned and the match will begin at 1500 local time (1400 GMT). With gates opening at 1300 local time, police said they will carry out a sweep of the area surrounding the stadium, including "the evacuation of parked vehicles and the removal of bins and bottle banks".

"Plain clothes police patrols as well as bomb disposal units will also be operating, while a team of river police will be present along the River Tiber," it added.

- Troubled past -

Although the Roma v Lazio derby has not witnessed serious incident in recent years, the fixture has a troubled past.

In 1979, Lazio fan Vincenzo Paparelli became the first Italian football-related fatality when he died after being hit in the eye with a flare fired by a Roma fan from the opposite end of the stadium.

In 2004 the derby had to be abandoned five minutes into the second half after riots broke out in the stadium amid false rumours police had killed a supporter outside the ground. A prolonged battle between fans and police ensued, leading to 13 arrests and over 170 injuries among the police alone.

Other incidents, unrelated to the derby, have exacerbated already existing tensions.

In November 2007, 26-year-old Lazio fan Gabriele Sandri died after being shot in the neck by a policeman after fellow fans of Lazio attacked a group of Juventus fans with stones at a motorway service station.

The policeman involved, Luigi Spaccarotella, was sentenced to nine years and four months in prison for manslaughter.

In 2014, Napoli fan Ciro Esposito died 50 days after being shot by Roma 'ultra' Daniele De Santis during a violent build-up to the Napoli-Fiorentina Italian Cup final, played at the Olimpico.

Thankfully, the biggest problem facing the capital's top-flight sides recently has been one of disgruntled fans.

Striking Roma 'ultras' have left the South End of the stadium half-full during many league games in protest at the club tightening security measures by splitting the 'Curva Sud' -- their traditional 'home' -- in two.

Lazio's fans, meanwhile, have left the Olimpico virtually empty with regularity as they continue to protest against controversial club president Claudio Lotito, who has fallen foul of both the football and civil authorities over the years.

Giorgio Sandri, the father of Gabriele, said he backed police security measures but fears efforts to bring fans into line with the recently-applied security measures will push many away.

"It seems they want to do everything to empty the stadiums and to tire the fans out to the point they become armchair fans," he said in comments to www.laroma24.it.

"But that only robs people of their passion and eventually they will give up and go and find something else to do.

"I hope it isn't so but since nothing ever happens in the stadiums, I'm suspicious. It is outside (the stadiums) it all happens. My son died hundreds of kilometres from the stadiums."

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