Editor’s note: Most of you will have noticed that we often linked to Rome-based blogger Spangly Princess during the recent crisis in Italy. Well, she’ll now be writing regularly for Pitch Invasion, and today brings us an update on the Catania-Palermo rivalry, ten months on from the death of a policeman that marked the previous crisis in Italy.
Last Sunday, Catania beat Palermo 3-1 in what is one of Italian football’s most high-risk encounters. Given the ban on away fans, it was strictly a red and blue affair inside the stadium. The game passed off peaceably enough apart from a brief incident outside, where eggs and oranges were thrown at the Palermo team coach as it arrived – clearly even in times of strife Italians like to promote local produce, and Sicilians are very proud of their oranges.
A banner was displayed inside the ground reading “Catania boys are fans of peace and legality”, so perhaps the chaps outside were just trying rather ineptly to make a cake for the visiting team.
The relative calm is worthy of mention since the last time this match was played at Catania’s Massimino stadium was exactly ten months ago, on Friday 2 February: the riots which followed left a man dead and brought the whole of Italian football to a standstill.
Not since 1963 had the Derby di Sicilia been played in Serie A. Since then both Catania and Palermo had languished for long periods in Serie B or even C1, and suffered years of endless yo-yoing, so for both groups of fans, the chance to play their fiercest rivals in the top flight was a huge occasion. After the trouble which occurred at the first meeting of the two sides that season, it was no surprise to the police that violence erupted that evening. But the scale and gravity of the riots took everyone by surprise, and the tragic death of 38 year old police inspector Filippo Raciti continues to have repercussions for the national game as a whole.
So far as the events of that night go, there has been relatively little progress in identifying the culpable and bringing them to justice. Despite initial reports that Raciti had been killed by a bomb exploding in his face, it soon emerged that the fatal injuries he had incurred were to the stomach, inflicted by a metal bar and/or a section of sink wrenched from the wall of the stadium toilets.
Only many weeks later – and curiously, much less widely publicised in the media – did it emerge that Raciti’s injuries may actually have been caused by “friendly fire”. Video footage shows the inspector being hit by a reversing police 4×4. Meanwhile Antonino Speziale, a 17 year old rugby player, was charged with murder. Though he has admitted taking part in the riots, he denies attacking Raciti; charges against him are outstanding, but the wheels of Italian justice grind so slowly as to be almost in reverse, and he was released from custody in July.
The ten month anniversary comes hard on the heels of the death of Gabriele Sandri three weeks ago, and the debate about football violence is as vigorous as ever. Nothing has been solved, very little seems even to have changed. Raciti’s widow is now a regular talking head who is called up for an opinion every time anything happens. I can’t help feeling she may not be the most helpful person to ask. Knee-jerk legislation is still the order of the day, the ultras movement is still in crisis. But at least this time round the derby di Sicilia was not about smoke bombs, riot police and bricks but about applause, goals and, er, oranges. Progress of sorts.
Read more from Vanda over at Spangly Princess