Toon Fans "Restraint"

Last updated : 03 November 2006 By Footy Mad - Editor

We covered the story of the attacks on West Ham fans, and it seems the Geordies had to show remarkable restraint in the face of some considerable provocation.

This report is from the Evening Cronicle:

"As Newcastle's supporters drank quietly in a Palermo bar, a knife was produced on a table outside. That the night could have ended in tragic fashion was plain. Thankfully, with the Toon Army here for football and not fighting, the threat passed without serious incident.

"But it could easily have been so different, as the Middlesbrough fans who were stabbed in Rome last season will understand better than most.

"It was an episode that demonstrated how quickly trouble can brew and one that proved that the English are not always as they are painted. First things first, the Gallowgate faithful have not travelled in their masses. Less than 200 have made the passage to Palermo and those who are here have not been obvious in their allegiances.

"On the eve of last night's match, there was not a black-and-white shirt to be seen and not a Geordie anthem to be heard. Newcastle's supporters could not have been more restrained, yet it mattered little to those who lay in wait.

"While a quiet drink was enjoyed inside the bar, outside the air hung heavy with threat. Groups of young men assembled on street corners with menacing intent and the Carabinieri gathered, their riot shields at the ready, their batons in their hands.

"A small group of journalists was approached by two youths who, having boasted that they were hooligans - 'We are the Palermo Ultras,' they explained with sneers on their faces - demanded to know if they had found Newcastle supporters of a similar persuasion. One of the reporters was manhandled and another had his drink taken, while all were subjected to cut-throat gestures.

"That it was time to leave was obvious, yet it was not that simple. A larger group soon appeared, this time older, this time armed. Ludicrously, they demanded to see identification, Press cards to prove the journalists were who they said they were. Even when supplied with the evidence, they were not satisfied.

"A furious debate ensued about perceptions of Palermo and about how, when West Ham had played at Stadio Renzo Barbera earlier in the season, their supporters had been obsessed with the Mafia. On that occasion, the game was preceded by violent scenes and numerous arrests. It could have so easily been the case again here, this time with Newcastle's name being dragged through the mud.

"Palermo's fans were spoiling for a fight and it is to their great credit that Newcastle's didn't give them one. The intent was obvious, long before the most animated - a 30-something skinhead with violence on his mind - pulled a large knife from a jacket pocket and began to rap it furiously on the table. In that moment certain things became clear. That hooliganism remains endemic, that it is a disease that continues to afflict football, that it is something that should not be considered an exclusively English problem."