‘Frente’ members facing Calderon ban

The death of a Deportivo La Coruna ‘ultra’ in fighting before last Sunday’s La Liga match at Atletico Madrid has led to attempts at expelling all such radical ‘supporters’ from the Spanish game.

‘Frente’ members facing Calderon ban

Around 200 people were involved in the pre-arranged brawl by the river Manzanares across from Atletico’s Estadio Vicente Calderon stadium.

While a police investigation into the exact circumstances continues, an autopsy found that Depor ‘ultra’ Javier Romero Taboada (widely known as Jimmy) died after being beaten most probably with an iron bar.

Atletico’s senior figures’ immediate reaction was to distance themselves from the events.

Club president Enrique Cerezo claimed such violence had nothing to do with football, while coach Diego Simeone said it was a societal issue for politicians to resolve.

That has been a common response to similar incidents through the years. 11 people have now been killed in violence around La Liga matches in the last 32 years. Both the 4,000 member Frente Atletico and 500-strong Riazor Blues had also previously been involved in lethal incidents, and nevertheless continued to receive official and unofficial support from ‘their’ clubs.

This time though the media and public outcry was louder, and the Spanish government also quickly got involved.

By Tuesday Atletico had announced ‘Frente’ members would be banned from the Calderon, although even then its chief executive Miguel Angel Gil Marin admitted this was easier said than done.

“We cannot expel the entire sector because there are some good people in that (area of ground),” he said. “It is impossible to have control over those who say they are Atletico fans and then behave outside the values of sport.”

Gil Marin denied Atletico financially aided the radical right-wing ‘Frente’, but most clubs have long unofficially backed organised fans groups who bring ‘colour’ and ‘atmosphere’ to games through their chants and banners.

In exchange ultras leaders often make significant money from individually selling on blocks of tickets, organising travel trips, hawking their own ‘official’ merchandising and running bars beside grounds.

Neither club officials nor police have looked too closely at these lucrative activities.

These blind-eyes are now, maybe, being forced to see. On Thursday, Spain’s sports minister Miguel Cardenal said he was introducing strict legal punishments for clubs who in any way dealt with hooligans.

“Legislation will come into place immediately to cover the partial closing of grounds, points deductions and relegations for clubs,” Cardenal said.

“We have told the clubs to do everything necessary so these groups have nothing to do with you.”

It is not so easy however to tell large numbers of previously tolerated ‘fans’ they are no longer wanted. Former Barcelona president Joan Laporta needed bodyguards after expelling the ‘Boixos Nois’ from the Camp Nou in 2003. More recently Madrid chief Florentino Perez’s wife’s grave was defaced after the ‘Ultras Sur’ were banned from the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu last December.

Deportivo last week took a ‘middle-line’ — aiming to show opposition to violence in football, while not upsetting fans in mourning for someone well known around the city.

No current club representative attended Jimmy’s funeral, but a minutes’ silence was held both at training on Monday and before Wednesday’s 1-1 Copa del Rey home draw with Malaga.

Saturday’s 0-1 La Liga loss to Malaga was billed by Deportivo as a demonstration against violence in football. The Riazor Blues’ area of the ground was closed, however these fans were reseated elsewhere in the ground.

Depor president Tino Fernandez says guilty individuals identified by the police will be banned, but fans not involved in violence will not punished.

Asked after Atletico’s 2-0 win at Elche earlier on Saturday, Simeone agreed that “It was nice for everyone to be talking about football again.”

That seemed a bit premature. Given how deep-rooted Spanish football’s ultras problem is, it’s much too early to be moving on just yet.

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