By Colin Moneypenny and Dave Houlgate
From Issue 51, Spring 2001
"If it was supposed to be funny then a lot
of Italians here didn't see the joke". So
said an Italian journalist after George Sephton
had blasted out "Arriverderci Roma"
at the end of the Anfield clash with Roma. "In
Italy it will be seen as an insult". Well
I certainly hope it was and a big huge insult
in bright red capital letters at that. In terms
of sheer blind hypocrisy such comments were Champions
League winning class.
Maybe the person who said it should get a job
with UEFA who themselves returned to the legendary
incompetence of old by fining Liverpool for failing
to control their fans in the 1st leg of the Uefa
Cup tie in Rome. Lets recap - Liverpool play twice
at the Olympic Stadium against Roma in 1984 and
2001 and their supporters face countless stabbings
and assaults, mainly in the immediate vicinity
of the Stadium, a number of which can't be construed
as anything other than attempted murder. Not a
single arrest is ever attempted let alone achieved
and those lucky enough not to be knifed or beaten
are treated with outright contempt and in some
cases sheer brutality by the Italian Riot Police.
In 1984 the Police stand aside while Liverpool
fans are attacked en masse with horrific results
as they attempt to get back to their coaches outside.
In 2001 an improved security operation is put
in place outside but dozens of bottles and missiles
are thrown over at the Liverpool fans inside the
Stadium while the police stand completely inactive
yards away from the easily identifiable culprits.
A few bottles inevitably get thrown back and the
Police on the Liverpool side of the fence immediately
steam in causing absolutely unnecessary panic
and injury amongst, hold on now, the people who
are the victims and not the instigators of the
The end result of all this bloodshed and mayhem
is not a ban on Roma or an investigation into
their fans rioting in the San Siro weeks earlier
together with how they have been re-enacting the
Crusades seemingly against all foreign supporters
since Dundee United visited many moons ago. Instead
Liverpool are found more or less equally culpable
for events on the night, presumably for not advising
their fans to wear that Centurion body armour
which an earlier generation of Romans must have
developed to go to the match in.
Meanwhile a week later the visiting Roma fans
are given a genuinely warm and civilised reception
in Liverpool even to the extent of generous words
of welcome from some of our "stabees".
Yet the Italian press, with a good sense of what's
important, want an apology for the hurt caused
by a very old Vic Damone song - which ironically
in 1977 had been adapted by Liverpool fans to
celebrate a happier visit to the Eternal City
- and the playing of which was actually intended
by George as an act of friendship.
Everything about the Roma clash to me suggested
some very big wheels of injustice turning full
circle. The Arriverderci rumpus mirrored the "Santa
Lucia" song sung by the Kop against Inter
Milan in 1965 while the even louder screams of
foul play about the Babbel "penalty"
took the older patrons back to that same fixture.
It was the tie when a Spanish referee who I've
always understood later admitted to being bribed,
prevented Liverpool from quite possibly becoming
the first British European Cup winners, by ensuring
the Italians won the second leg in Milan. A trivial
matter of course in Italian eyes compared to a
later Spanish referee (eventually) not giving
a penalty which wasn't a penalty. But it was a
pay-back of sorts to me and many other Reds for
whom the sixties swung a lot less after that infamous
and corrupt welcome to European football.
Had Liverpool gone on to glory in 1965, the fact
I missed out on Rome 1977 for what seemed like
good reasons at the time, may have been easier
to take. As it was I lived to regret missing that
historic night and consequently nearly didn't
live to regret trying to make up for it in 1984.
UEFA had uniquely decided that the idea of a Final
being played at a neutral venue didn't matter
this time. Presumably the other several dozen
possibilities throughout the Continent were all
being used that night or maybe it was Lazio's
week for the Stadium so of course that meant Roma
gained no home advantage. Then again maybe UEFA
are just a gang of useless bungling bureaucrats
who give a notional glance at spectator safety
before asking the serious questions about Champagne
Dinners and VIP perks. In my view incompetence
and/or corruption are the ONLY explanations for
the venue choices of 1984 and 1985.
As it was, our City Council sent out a party on
freebies before the game to spread the message
of peace and goodwill with the Romans. Maybe it
would have worked out that way, but Liverpool
winning the game itself was unfortunately not
part of the package. With the game over and with
the European Cup, in Roman eyes, looted from its
intended home, Liverpool fans marched out to be
met with what appeared to be co-ordinated ambushes
from left, right and centre. It was impressively
put together - perhaps they'd set up working parties
in the weeks before the game to plan how to do
it or maybe the ultras or whatever they call themselves
had already honed the stabbing skills they now
seem to have passed down to their sons.
The majority of Reds were only trying to get
back to their coaches parked by the statues outside
the stadium - the equivalent journey of Anfield
Road to Arkles Lane - but my memory is of the
police presence, significant in the Stadium, melting
away to nothing outside. Unfortunately the calls
of Liverpool fans to "stick together"
didn't materialise either when the attacks started,
certainly in my neck of the statues.
I had the "Condor" moment of my life
after going to help a lad of our coach, when I
suddenly realised that far from being at the head
of a sizeable rescue party there was actually
no one behind me as the rest had made the probably
sensible decision to head directly for the coaches
without passing "go". Serves me right
for believing all that old bollocks about all
for one and one for all.
Perhaps I should have been cool, stuck on my shades
and asked them to discuss the game over a cappuccino.
Instead it was the briefest thoughts of "Oh
shit" as John Wayne metamorphosed in an instant
into Wayne Sleep and my knees started to wobble
in an instant reprise of Bruce Grobbelaar. This
time it wasn't going to distract the Italians
though and as the stiletto made its mark, my life
flashed before me in all its football obsessed
For a moment staying in the ground to watch the
team run round with the Cup rather than take up
the offer at the final whistle of safe passage
from the Milan and Juventus fans who'd watched
the match with us, seemed the worst decision made
by a Scouser since Tommy Moore left the Beatles
to work in Garston Bottle Works. Mind you, having
a big red and white Liverpool scarf on didn't
help too much. Soaked in blood, which on my last
recollection had turned it all red, I swapped
it for a Roma scarf in the hospital and have never
worn any form of "colours" to this day.
The whole replica shirt thing completely passed
me by and to be honest I'd find it safer at away
grounds wearing a more inconspicuous sandwich
board saying "Please stab me".
Of course the lad from Birkenhead I'd gone to
help got away - someone else who hadn't read the
Three Musketeers - and I got the hiding and stabbing
that had been coming his way. In the end I was
lucky to escape at all, sacrificing my coat, money
and belongings to pull myself off the ground and
away. A traffic cop by the river, the only representative
of law and order I saw after leaving the Stadium,
flagged down a very nice local couple who sped
me to the San Giacomo hospital. They were probably
pleased to get rid of me as my thousand "grazies"
turned ever more manic as I came to terms with
being soaked in my own blood. If the Police and
the Authorities couldn't figure out what would
happen in the event of Roma losing, the paparazzi
certainly could and did, as the entrance was full
of photographers who clearly knew where the action
was likely to be.
Fortunately for me my injuries turned out to be
fairly superficial. On the surgical table next
to me, George Sharp, the father of a couple of
lads I played football with, nearly wasn't so
lucky. His life was saved even though he remained
out in Italy for some time afterward. There were
other victims of course and not all were treated
at the San Giacomo, but it was a grim night in
there particularly as the British Embassy refused
point blank to come out and help anyone.
The media coverage of the trouble was a five minute
wonder and I was to waste a lot of postage stamps
in the following months trying to get anyone from
the Italian Government to Ugo Vetere, the then
Mayor of Rome, to admit some liability and attempt
to put right some of the very obvious organisational
faults. Not surprisingly nothing was acknowledged,
nothing was changed and with the exception of
the late Eric Heffer, no-one in any position of
Authority was remotely interested in what had
Cue Heysel one year later, and even worse organisational
failings which meant a hooligan episode, which
was nasty and unforgivable - but in terms of intent
to kill, actually somewhat less nasty and unforgivable
than its Roman predecessor - results in awful
mass death. Secondary result - righteous fury
and international political indignation about
the English animals from the very same people
who hadn't given a monkeys about mass attempted
murder 12 months earlier. Am I alone in believing
it is better to try to solve a very obvious problem
before anyone gets killed rather than sit on your
corporate arse sipping your G&T and wait for
some innocents to pay the ultimate price for your
ineptitude before you realise you have to act?
Just as Hillsborough 1988 (not to mention 81 and
87) were pretty clear harbingers of Hillsborough
1989, Rome in 1984 gave out pretty big signposts
to what would go wrong in 1985 in Brussels. They
were events that were not only predictable but
which to an extent were actually predicted and
not just with hindsight. Six or seven hours before
the Heysel Disaster, I sat in a bar in the centre
of Brussels and listened to a couple of lads from
Fords, who'd visited the Stadium that morning
more or less spell out the chaos that would ensue
from playing international football's most prestigious
fixture in a crumbling shit-hole. They didn't
quite say a wall would collapse and 39 people
would die but if they could highlight the massive
deficiencies inherent at Heysel before it happened,
how did those responsible for safety miss them?
After 1984, I never again saw supporting Liverpool
in those bright red shades of youth. Since then
the crap off the field has usually deflected me
from the pure enjoyment of the poetry (erm
crap again) on the pitch. Going back to Rome,
seeing Liverpool win, having a laugh and not getting
stabbed, have all in some ways exorcised ghosts
from the past for me even though the trip itself
was typically badly organised and even worse,
despite having to put up with hearing "Liverpool
supporters" in an Irish bar singing "No
Surrender to the IRA". (If you're brave enough
to sing it in a pub boys, try to get it going
in the Kop.)
However beyond that the lesson is that not much
has changed and it was certainly no great shock
to hear about the attacks prior to the match in
Rome. Indeed only the sensible decision to keep
us in afterwards and bring all the coaches into
a secure area prevented much worse violence afterwards.
Maybe a few lessons have been taken on board but
nonetheless the overwhelming legacy of Heysel
on the Continent is that it remains acceptable
to treat English fans in general, and Liverpool
fans in particular, as criminals. Meanwhile sometimes
home fans seem almost literally to get away with
murder. Why do we continue to accept this?
One of the few crumbs of comfort is that at least
there are now the odd few journalists who have
lifted their eyes and seen what is happening.
Des Kelly's piece in the "Mirror" asked
the fairly obvious open question about what the
reaction would have been if 14 Italians had been
stabbed in Liverpool? Slightly different perhaps?
James Lawton made some decent comments as he mostly
does, though more about the cock ups in Cardiff.
But final word goes to the excellent Chris Bascombe.
"As those who've travelled to Europe know
already, the organisation and treatment of visiting
fans abroad remains as shambolic as it was in
1985. The recipe for disaster is still there and
the Pontius Pilate crew in UEFA continue to absolve
themselves from all responsibility". Well
said that man, and there was I thinking that Marcus
Babbel and George Sephton should "shoulder"
all the responsibility for the latest setback
to any hopes of re-establishing the Anglo-Italian
My sojourns to foreign fields have been few and
far between. The European Cup final in 1985 and
Genoa in 1992. You may spot the link - Italian
opposition. Oh, and defeat. Every year we qualify
for Europe, I await the draw and selfishly hope
we're drawn against someone we've never heard
of. Mypa 67. Vladikavkaz. Everton. The thought
of drawing a big Italian team or one of the big
(I mean BIG!) European clubs and then not being
able to go for some obscene reason (work, cash,
wife) is too awful to contemplate. I missed Celtic
'97 because of work.
So it's the day of the fourth round UEFA Cup draw.
Nantes, Vallecano - come on down. Or come out
of the hat, rather. We draw Roma instead. Sorry,
but that is just irresistible. The bank balance
is checked, the wife is placated and the leave
is booked. One problem - my terrible fear of flying.
I'm 33 and I've never flown. The thought terrifies
me. A bit like Dennis Bergkamp, only I'm a better
player. Previous trips were via ferry, but I'd
gone off Ferri's after a game at Stamford Bridge
two years ago. Besides, the lads - Birty, the
Corporal and the Iceman - all insisted on flying.
It's December, and February seems a long way off.
It doesn't seem such an ordeal now so I say yes
to the aeroplane.
As the day of the flight approaches I start to
withdraw into myself, palms involuntarily start
to sweat, butterflies start to flutter and I endure
many a sleepless night tossing and turning (but
that's another story). The situation isn't helped
by my eldest daughter's conviction that the plane's
gonna crash! That really puts me at my ease, and
the wife's not too chuffed because I will be in
Rome on Valentine's Day. I promise to bring her
something back and convince her that she'll probably
have a more slushy evening with me away. I even
offered to pay for the batteries.
And now my friends are taking the piss. I actually
followed through with a fart, but this turned
out to be a turning point (actually, a turning
and rushing upstairs point) as by now I've concluded
that as long as they're taking the piss things
must be okay. The time to start worrying will
be when they shut their gobs and go pale. Birty
has been given the job of booking the trip and
in so doing he's got us four flights in total:
Manchester-Gatwick, Gatwick-Rome and two return
flights. Four fucking flights! I immediately cross
him off my Christmas card list - that's if I ever
see another one.
We arrive at Manchester with plenty of time to
spare. I just want to get on a plane and get it
over with, but oh no. It's been delayed. When
we finally board my legs have turned to jelly.
Bravado takes over, and it's a little disconcerting
seeing a clown in charge of the flight! Anyway,
I decide "in for a penny, in for a pound"
- and get a window seat over the left wing engine.
On the opposite wing is Andrei Kanchelskis. I
kid you not. He cuts a forlorn figure. Surrounded
by Liverpool fans, the magnitude of his past crimes
playing for United and the slime weigh heavily
upon him. I sit there thinking "there but
for the grace of Fowler"
this cheers me up no end.
I relax for the first time in ages. This is helped
by the entertainment provided by the cabin crew.
Being new to flying, I learn that in the case
of an emergency landing we are all expected to
do one of those dance routines like teenypop no-marks
Steps. Then it's up, up and away. Fantastic! Unfortunately,
the flight is spoilt when the cabin crew start
distributing vomit to everybody. I suppose that
this is because no-one has provided any vomit
of their own. We are joined at Gatwick by many
other Reds, including Johnny Mac from RAOTL, who
very kindly lends me a pen to jot down some notes.
I check them later, only to find the words "heeeelp!"
"get me outta here!" and "Momeeee!".
In actual fact, the flight to Rome is uneventful,
the Alps look great, there is more vomit and I
get a taste for Gin. Two hours later, we land.
That's it? I'm tempted to do a Pope but we don't
actually get on the tarmac!
Rome. Aaaah, the Eternal City, scene of Liverpool's
two greatest triumphs. Trevor Fountain, Colin
Seam, Sissy Chapel - they were all there. This
is the place to be, this is where the Reds Renaissance
will gather pace. I've already decided to make
the most of my two and a bit days here and see
as many of the sights as possible. I like a pint
and intend to drink my share (maybe I'll get Johnny
Mac to drink my share for me!) but anyone spending
the entire time on the razz will be missing a
It takes us ages to find the hotel, though I'm
not certain it's lost. It's five minutes from
the Trevi fountain, so having booked in and exchanged
pleasantries with the (over) confident Roma fan
on reception, we pay it a visit. Lit up at night
it's very impressive and completely different
to what I'd expected. We each throw in a coin
to ensure we return to Rome in the future, then
it's time to eat
Match day. Loads to do before the game. First,
the Pantheon - THE glory of Rome, which dates
back to classical times (a couple of millennia,
not 1977). I once more bump into Johnny Mac, who
tells me to watch where I'm going. I'm blameless,
the place is awesome, especially the interior.
Outside's not bad, either. On the cornice of the
portico is the inscription M Agrippa L F Cos Tertium
fecit. It looks Greek to me, but it's probably
Latin. Either way, the 'L' 'F' and 'C' stand out
like a beacon.
Next stop - the Vatican, St Peters and the Sistine
Chapel. PJP isn't in, but we admire his patio
and crazy paving. It must have taken him ages.
If a job's worth doing
St Peters is pretty amazing too. A Swiss guard
refuses to let us have a photo taken with him
- perhaps it's someone bunking off work, on his
way to a fancy dress party and frightened where
the photo will end up. I'm hoping to get one of
those "Man U? My arse!" t-shirts with
the Pope on it, none of the street traders have
any. I half expect the great man to turn up himself,
take us to one side and say "look, who the
fuck are Man United?". A day in the Sistine
chapel wouldn't be enough, so a couple of hours
certainly won't be. Let's just hope some future
Pontiff doesn't have a fixation with woodchip
Time for something to eat. While masticating,
we all notice something about the Corporal. Either
he is telling the waiter that his backside is
turning green, or he's thanking him in Spanish!
A quiet word puts him straight, then it's back
to the hotel to freshen up before the match. A
call in at the Roma club shop, only a stone's
throw away from the hotel (!) to get some mementoes
- a flag, a scarf and some Roma lunch-boxes for
We are due to rendezvous with some coaches to
take us to the stadium at a park in the city.
It doesn't seem so far (only an inch on the map)
but it takes us ages to get there. It's getting
dark now. It's noisy and some Reds fans are performing
for the TV cameras. Here's a word of advice: never
go to a piss-up in an Italian brewery. This is
a shambles. We've been charged £22 by LFC
for the ticket into the ground and the coach to
and from the stadium. The actual ground ticket
is £17, and we each have a separate coach
ticket with a coach number. Good idea in principle
if the coaches arrive in numerical
at the same place
don't leave half empty. We eventually board our
coach and set off, but after five minutes we stop
and are left sitting there without any explanation
for over an hour. The perfect way to frustrate
and annoy football supporters.
We remain surprisingly patient and good humoured.
At last the stadium, the usual lack of turnstiles
and we're in. The facilities may be basic, but
the huge bowl of a ground is impressive. Despite
that, it's still not as intimidating as Genoa
in '92, and the fans certainly aren't as colourful.
Never mind, we have two hours to teach them a
lesson in getting behind their team. The ground
has changed considerably since 1984; a roof, an
extra tier and now all-seater, though the 'seats'
are very basic with no backs. Not surprisingly,
everyone finds a spec and then stands. The travelling
Kop is back. There is a video scoreboard at each
end of the stadium (do bowls have 'ends'?) and
whenever the scores are shown they appear to be
superimposed on a large pair of tits. Gets my
vote! Either this, or I am having some sort of
Valentines Day hallucination and need help. Alongside
the running track, on the side where the players
come out, there are a number of cultivated privets.
A peculiar feature of any football ground, but
that too gets my vote. There's nothing I like
better than a neatly trimmed bush
I definitely need help!
The scene is set, enter the modern gladiators.
The Reds begin well but Ziege is lucky to escape
a booking for a dreadful tackle on Cafu. If nothing
else, our Christian has a point to prove against
the Romans and he goes on to have his best game
for the Reds. I'm not lion (you're fucking fired
- ed). It appears that the referee is giving them
almost everything and his refusal to let Macca
return to the pitch after treatment for an injury
is an absolute joke. He's
kept off the pitch for ages, but the Reds are
defending well and we are giving them constant
vocal support. A couple of half chances for Robbie
and Ziege, then Delvecchio misses a great opportunity.
Half time, and we've been very solid (the 3 H's
are all superb) and we've restricted them to one
By this time, the Roma fans have finally noticed
that we're all standing (that much easier to hit?)
and kindly offer us their seats. These are followed
by bottles of 'water'. Of course, this is very
dangerous and someone could get seriously hurt.
The Italian police are not prepared to stand by
whilst this is going on and wade into the Liverpool
supporters nearest to them. Not surprisingly,
a few bottles are hurled back from whence they
came, sparking the weirdest water fight I've ever
The second half begins, and after forty seconds
Owen scores. Bedlam! We can't believe it. Neither
can Roma. Sander makes a save, Batistuta's brought
on, so Owen decides to score again. Pandemonium!
Batistuta shoots wide. The clock has stopped.
I'm more nervous now than I was on the plane.
We look solid, we look comfortable. Roma are ragged
and Barmby misses a chance to make it three. The
referee blows his whistle - we've won. Fan-fucking-tastic!
The players come down to our end as YNWA booms
out. We all sit down. It's going to be a long
wait in the stadium (over 2 hours) and they put
the Old Trafford win on the video screens to try
and placate us and while away the hours. Super
Dan does it again. We win 1-0!
Then we are let out to find the coaches. Without
clues. It's more disorganised than before. No-one
knows where they are going. The Iceman wins a
game of chicken with a coach. We jump on another,
which drops us at the park. It's dark and we've
won. My heart says beer, my head says hotel. Hotel
it is. My voice has gone, so it can't argue.
Morning, and that feeling of total satisfaction.
I feel a little hoarse, which is illegal in England
of course. The Italians don't make a big deal
out of it, though. The little hoarse trots off
with a big smile on its face and it's time to
bolt for the breakfast bar. The pre-match chirpiness
of the hotel receptionist has disappeared. He
either expects us to take the piss or he is genuinely
bitter at defeat. Either way, it's a shame. We
still have the morning to ourselves before the
return flight, so it's off to the Coliseum. Wow!
It'll be even better when it's finished. The playing
surface has deteriorated badly, presumably because
the Italian rugby team played their games there
last Millennium. Time's up, we've a plane to catch,
and in the words of the great Peter Johnson "TAXI!".
This is far more frightening than the plane trip.
The Grim Reaper is so short of money that he now
works part-time as an Italian cabbie. He is a
(shall we say) 'disappointed' Roma fan. 160 KPH
in a crate, no seat belts - and he keeps on turning
round and punctuating whatever he's saying with
the words "Batistuta" and "Totti".
Now my ears prick up when he mentions the latter,
but he's rabbiting on about the player. The Corporal
is making things worse by listing the Liverpool
players that weren't playing either. Discretion
overcoming valour completely, I'm nodding in agreement
with everything The Reaper is saying, whatever
he's saying. Deep down I'm thinking "I saw
Liverpool win in Rome, he can say and think what
the hell he likes". We somehow avoid a van
we had no right to avoid, and I run onto the plane
and safety. Seven words I never thought I'd ever
We're on our way home. A fantastic three days.
Addictive. Roll on next Thursday.
Oh, and I did take something back for the wife.
The penicillin still hasn't shifted it.