Von The Guardian
The brutal battle that preceded Deportivo de La Coruña’s match against Atlético Madrid leaves many questions unanswered
The brutal battle that ended with blood splattered across the street, a dozen injured and Jimmy Romero pulled from the Manzanares river beaten and dying began as planned early on Sunday morning. Members of the far-right Frente Atlético had gathered at 8am, four hours before their team faced Deportivo de La Coruña at the Vicente Calderón. Half an hour later buses arrived from Galicia and the occupants, members of Depor’s ultras Riazor Blues, got off and headed along the river towards the stadium, where the Frente waited. Shortly before 8.50am flares were set off and, amid the smoke, the charges began. Two hundred men ran towards each other carrying metal bars and knives.
The fighting was vicious and it continued up and down the Paseo Virgen del Puerto, alongside the river. It spilled onto roads alongside: Calle de San Rufo, Paseo de la Ermita del Santo and Avenida del Manzanares. Eventually the police began to arrive, and so did the ambulances. There were 21 arrests. Francisco Javier ‘Jimmy’ Romero Taboada became the 11th person to have died in football-related trouble in Spain since 1982. When he was dragged out of the water, where he’d been for almost half an hour, he had serious head injuries, his heart had stopped and he had hypothermia; he was “clinically dead”, one hospital source was quoted as saying.
Forty-three years old and a father of two, the youngest a little boy aged just four, Romero was officially pronounced dead at two o’clock, about the time that Deportivo de La Coruña’s fans were leaving the Calderón, escorted silently back to their buses by the police. Deportivo had lost 2-0, but few really cared. For many, this was the game that should never have been played.
Just before the start of the second half, the LFP had released a statement saying their “firm” intention was to suspend the game but that it had “not been possible”. They briefed that the decision was down to the Spanish Football Federation, the RFEF, who had to communicate that decision to the referee. The problem was, the LFP insisted, that they had not been able to get hold of anyone at the RFEF. It was a Sunday morning and they were not answering the phone.
Jorge Pérez, the RFEF’s spokesman, later claimed that he had been contacted just 11 minutes before the game was due to kick off and by then it was “too late” and “counter-productive”. Perhaps it had been decided that the match had to be played for reasons of safety, but no one from the police or the local authorities said anything.
A different reason was offered up by the league later – one that, while uncomfortable and deliberately insensitive, carried a kind of crude coherence. Javier Tebas, the league’s president, insisted that had it been a “normal fan” the game, and all games, would indeed have been cancelled. “This was two groups of delinquents that arranged to beat each other up; they’re not fans,” he said. Romero was not an innocent victim, Tebas was suggesting, not a man over whom football should shed a tear. In fact, one that it should not recognise.
Either way, the game went ahead, amid uncertainty and anxiety. The teams did not know what to do and did not have the authority to make a decision. Slowly, the news had filtered through to the players. Víctor Fernández, the Deportivo manager, talked of “confusion” and “contradictory reports”, from a “simple fight” to something “more serious” and then “someone dying”. The starters knew less than the substitutes, by now more focussed on their pre-match routine, even if a representative from the Deportivo board had travelled to the hospital and they knew someone was likely to die. One Depor player admitted it was hard to concentrate. The Atlético manager, Diego Simeone, later said that he didn’t know anything concrete until afterwards.
As for the fans, even those who did not know what had happened knew that something had happened. Heading out of the Metro onto the street before the game, you could tell that something wasn’t right. It was oddly quiet on the streets by the Calderón and quiet inside too. There was a stillness, the atmosphere was hushed. Those that didn’t know why soon found out: barely 300m away a fan had been seriously hurt. Some reports already talked of a death. During the game, the focus was on phones as much as the field. People awaited news. Another report came in: an Atlético supporters’ club in A Coruña had suffered a reprisal attack.
Deportivo de la Coruña fans at Atlético Deportivo de la Coruña fans during the Primera Liga match against Atlético Madrid at the Vicente Calderón. Photograph: Guillermo Martinez/Demotix/Corbis
When the Frente in the south stand began one chant early on, they were whistled by the fans around the stadium, sick of being associated with them. On this of all days. Usually so loud, this time the Frente mostly stood in silence and there were no banners or flags. The goals were cheered half-heartedly. An announcement was made late in the second half, telling Deportivo supporters to wait after the game, prompting chants of “Assassins! Assassins!” That drew whistles from home fans. Then one supporter approached the Depor fans and threw them his Atlético scarf, across the divide. A Depor fan threw a scarf back and there was applause.
All the while, details were still emerging and will continue to do so. Some may never emerge entirely, of course. The results of the autopsy are yet to come. It was hard to be sure what had gone on. How had this happened? And why had it not been prevented?
Videos made for horrifying viewing. Two fans are shown in the water. Initial reports had Romero thrown into the river but one video seems to suggest that he had found himself the other side of the barrier, tottering precariously above the water (it is not clear how he got there, or why), while above him, perhaps a dozen men lean over. None are trying to help him; it looks more like they are trying to force him in or at least prevent him from climbing out. Eventually, he falls into the water. As he does so, they run off. In one video, a man in the water, presumably Romero, shouts repeatedly for help.
Police sources suggested that this was an organised fight, agreed beforehand. “They had arranged this by WhatsApp,” said Cristina Cifuentes, in charge of the Madrid government. Two groups of hooligans who had prepared for it, groups of different political persuasions. A battle between the neonazis in the Frente Atlético and the radical left-wingers of the Riazor Blues, even though it is a group that had announced its dissolution following the stabbing of one of its members in 2003. Yet Galician TV carried a series of messages from a Deportivo fan insisting that it had not been an arranged battle but an ambush; that the Frente may have planned this, but Depor’s supporters had not.
More details have emerged that support the hypothesis that this was an organised fight. Police sources suggested that other radical fans had been involved, from Rayo Vallecano and Alcorcón (on the side of the Riazor Blues) and Sporting Gijón (on the side of the Frente). Rayo’s Bukaneros issued a statement denying it and rejecting violence, but this morning police said that of those who were arrested, 12 were from the Riazor Blues, six from the Frente Atlético, two were Bukaneros and one was from Alcorcón. Deportivo’s president said that they were investigating how 288 tickets found their way to the group via supporters’ clubs and that police had been warned of their suspicions prior to the weekend. El Mundo reports that the police also knew that the Frente Atlético had arranged to meet at 8am for “breakfast” but did not act upon it.
The secretary of state for sport, Miguel Cardenal, said it appeared that the Riazor Blues had hired a bus outside of the province of A Coruña as a way of avoiding detection, and had picked up members on route. There are also suggestions that a small group went ahead to check the coast was clear. This game was not declared “high risk”, meaning that there were around 200 police on duty, rather than a potential 1,500. It also meant that the police were not due to set up round the stadium until two hours before the game, 10am. That the fight started at 9am does not look coincidental.
Just over five hours later, 11 minutes after Romero was pronounced dead, the presidents of Deportivo and Atlético appeared in the press room at the Calderón, alongside the vice-president of the league.
“This happened a long way from football and a long way from the stadium,” said Enrique Cerezo, the Atlético president. “This is nothing to do with us.” There was no promise to investigate, no promise to act against the Frente Atlético, and no contrition. There was no sign of sadness. Instead there was a tone that was belligerent and challenging, bordering on arrogant, and inappropriate in the circumstances, an indecent haste to pass on responsibility. When the other two men had spoken and they prepared to leave, Cerezo leant into the microphone and warned journalists: “Let’s see if you treat this the right way, for what it is … nothing to do with us.”
But it is, on some levels at least. Nothing to do with you? Where do their tickets come from? Who pays for their travel? Who eulogises their support? The Deportivo president, Tino Fernández, admitted later: “We can’t say this is nothing to do with football because it is football, a bit.” Sometimes, more than a bit. Few clubs have done enough to help control violent fans, and nor has the Federation. Joan Laporta banned the Boixos Nois from the Camp Nou, even though it led to death threats. This summer, Real Madrid finally moved against the Ultra Sur. Some have done nothing at all; some have protected them.
Atlético’s chief executive, Miguel-Ángel Gil Marín, who claimed to have taken season tickets off violent fans, insisted that you can always find one “delinquent” in a big group. There are “healthy people” among the 2,500-strong Frente Atlético, he insisted. That is true and those who are innocent should not be held to be guilty, just as it is true that in the rush to act with an iron fist, the presumption of innocence too easily gets lost.
But a club can take responsibility for finding those who are responsible and for challenging the identity of the group and the club. It need not associate itself with them. “It is not my job to break up the Frente Atlético,” Gil Marín said; it could be his job to disassociate his club from elements of them, though, to deny them a platform. If football is being used as a vehicle, then it is worth asking if the vehicle can be taken from them.
If football’s authorities rushed to condemn what happened and to demand that it never happens again, most were less quick to help ensure that result, by asking how and why it happened this time. It is one thing to release a statement, another to act.
It is coming up to 17 years now since a member of the Frente Atlético stabbed the Real Sociedad supporter Aitor Zabaleta to death. It was not an arranged fight: Zabaleta was in the wrong place, an entirely innocent victim. The early evidence suggests that this was a very different case. Ricardo Guerra was sentenced for the killing of Zabaleta. His name is chanted from the south stand, still occupied by the Frente. Just as there are chants celebrating Zabaleta’s stabbing, and macabre warnings to Basque fans: “We came here to knife you.”
Diego Simeone insisted that this is about “society, not football”. He is half right: even if football is the vehicle, even if it is hard to control people if they really are determined to fight, even if their motives are often rooted in politics or wider society, football is part of that society and society is part of football. Even if football is not guilty, those that run, and those that associate themselves with, violent groups, do have some responsibility. Not culpability, but responsibility. On Sunday, many sought to wash their hands of it.
On Monday morning there was an emergency meeting of the anti-violence committee. Cerezo didn’t go. Nor did Ángel María Villar, the president of the Federation.
Quelle: The Guardian, 01. Dezember 2014