Since the death of police inspector Filippo Raciti in February 2007, the world of Italian football has been in a state of institutional flux. A series of legal measures intended to prevent and punish violence more effectively have also been accompanied by changes in stadium organization and management, but the process is not complete so far as the authorities are concerned. The next step, to be implemented before the start of the 2009-10 season, is the so-called ‘tessera del tifoso’. This is a scheme not wholly dissimilar to Margaret Thatcher’s compulsory fan ID card scheme in the UK in the 1980s, which was finally shelved after Hillsborough and the Taylor Report; here in Italy it is seen by some as the answer to all the problems of calcio.
The tessera del tifoso is the brainchild of the Osservatorio Nazionale sulle Manifestazioni Sportive (ONMS), the department of the Ministry of the Interior which is responsible for security & public order at sports events. The final proposal was approved in April 2008, and is yet to be fully implemented, but current Minister of the Interior and Lega Nord charmer Roberto Maroni is extremely enthusiastic. In fact he is endeavouring to turn what was initially supposed to be a voluntary scheme into a compulsory one, in the belief that this will effectively stamp out football violence. It is due to be imposed not only in Serie A & B but also, potentially, in the Lega Pro 1 & 2 (the old Serie C1 & C2) – where average gates rarely get above 2000.
The main idea is simple: in order to buy match tickets you will need to present your tessera del tifoso, an electronic ID card which contains all your personal details (name, date of birth address, identity document number). It is issued directly by the club, so your Milan card will allow you to buy Milan tickets only, and so on; this way there is no chance that fans of one club can buy tickets for another. To be more precise, it guarantees that away fans can’t circumvent a ban by buying “home” tickets.
Obviously fans with a banning order (DASPO, they are called in Italy) in place won’t be issued with the all important card. The equation is simple, apparently: fans subject to DASPO = violent hooligans, so football + tessera del tifoso = a peaceful paradise. The ONMS website suggests that any DASPO or “stadium-related offence” in the last five years will not be allowed into the scheme, while many other sources have suggested that ANY penal precedents will prevent the issuance of the card. In other words, convictions never expire, meaning that a ban is for life, irrespective of the actual original sentence (banning orders range from 1-5 years, most commonly). If as a hot-headed idiot aged 18 you committed a one-off stadium offence and were unlucky enough to get caught (unlucky in the sense that many people get away with all sorts of offences all the time), then you can forget about taking your kids to a match twenty years later. This may or may not be constitutional.
Apparently, the system should simplify the process of buying tickets and of entering the stadium through the creation of dedicated turnstiles, along with (potentially) the concession of privileges and/or benefits to card holders on the part of participating clubs. It’s also possible that there will be no restrictions applied to the sale of tickets for card holders (i.e. on those occasions when away tickets are not on general sale under ONMS safety measures). Indeed the head of the Lega Pro claims that the tessera “will increase overall attendance figures” since no more matches will have to be played behind closed doors, a fine example of spurious reasoning. The overall aim is apparently ‘to reward virtuous behaviour of fans’ through ‘a process of customer loyalty building through the creation of a new profile for fans, as “representatives” of their Clubs, and a reinforced sense of belonging to a “privileged community” of “official supporters”.’
There are a number of potential practical problems with the scheme: what if you are an occasional fan or if you just happen to fancy going to a game one weekend, do you have to go and apply for a card which can’t be issued til the local police approve it? What if you like to regularly go and watch more than one team? How is the scheme to be effectively administered? The idea is even more impractical at lower levels, since the expense for clubs will be not inconsiderable and the necessary infrastructure (in terms of electronic turnstiles) is often absent.
As a plan to defeat violence, the tessera del tifoso ignores the single most important feature of all contemporary hooliganism: it doesn’t take place inside the ground. Not since the 80s – and maybe even before that – has football violence in Italy taken place primarily inside stadiums. When it happens, it takes place in areas around the ground, around train stations and (above all) at motorway service stations. Stopping hooligans going into the game will do nothing to stop hooliganism for the simple fact that the game is separate from the violence – indeed some of them don’t even try to go to the game at all.
So, it’s impractical and won’t meet its purported objective. It’s also profoundly objectionable in terms of civil rights: what other group of people are collected onto a police index in order to pursue a leisure activity? Are they going to draw up a police-approved register of people permitted to enter nightclubs? Because, you know, people go and get drunk and fight in and outside nightclubs every weekend? It’s massively unpopular with ultras across the country and with many ordinary fans as well. Protests have been many and vigorous, and later in the month a major national ultras’ meeting is planned to demonstrate against the plan.
Above all many people are troubled about the language in which the project is couched and the supposed advantages listed above: the scheme ‘follows the logic of customer loyalty schemes’ in the words of the ONMS. It can include a Visa or Maestro feature, it can act as a points-collecting card to earn fans discounts or prizes, it in every way conceives of the fan as primarily a customer to be “fidelizzato” or incentivised to display (financial) loyalty.
This year Milan (curiously supportive as a club of this government initiative) have been running the scheme as a trial: the “Cuore Rossonero” card offers a rechargeable Maestro payment facility, earns you “Star Points” which prove how loyal you are and earn special offers, and also allows you to collect points towards rewards like a tasteful key-ring or, a black and red hand-wash dispenser. If you collect enough points you could earn discounts on tickets, a day at the training ground or even dinner with the team. And points can be collected with specially selected commercial partners, so while you are buying petrol or trainers you are saving up for an exclusive branded cup and saucer set! Be still my beating heart.
It’s pretty easy to see the potentially vast economic incentives for clubs, and equally that the system will be able to effectively penalise those which don’t chose to sign up (if, for instance, only clubs with the tessera are allowed to sell tickets to certain high-risk matches). Meanwhile Hellas fans at a service station were recently assaulted by a group of over 70 hooligans returning from watching…. yes, Milan. Good to see the fruits of the scheme in action. It’s pretty hard not to be cynical: is this really about public order or an exercise in state control dressed up in crude commercialization? Just what football needs.
Read more from Vanda Wilcox at her blog, Spangly Princess
Photo credits: Vanda Wilcox; AS Roma Ultras