Champions League nights are a special occurrence in football. Occasions where some of the best teams in Europe are drawn against each other. Stars of the Premiership meet the heroes of La Liga and legends of Serie A.
For any football fan it’s a night to remember. The atmosphere outside and inside the stadium is electric. The Champions League music simply iconic. It can’t get any better than this for football fans.
Previous to the Inter Milan v Manchester United tie at the San Siro, I had been to one Champions League game. Albeit a third-round qualifying tie, I had sat with the home fans, the atmosphere was good and I had a thoroughly enjoyable time.
I had been eagerly anticipating this clash between the champions of Italy and England for weeks. A glamorous tie. A rematch between two great managers: Jose Mourinho and Sir Alex Ferguson.
When I entered the stadium, it transpired that I would be sitting in the away end with the Manchester United supporters. My friend had got me the ticket. We looked for our seats in the away stand but struggled to find them.
However a steward came over and told us we could sit where-ever we liked. Immediately this struck me as a bit strange. Surely this would create confusion as the late stragglers came to find their seats.
It also became pretty obvious that most of the fans in the away section were intoxicated. Some to the point were the could barely stand up. As kick off approached the stand filled up.
Worryingly many fans weren’t bothering to sit in their seats and were standing pitch side behind giant netting or standing on the steps. Blocking all of the exits from the stand. One unfortunate young boy, was flung in the air by United fans, catching him with a giant flag.
Just as the match began, one fan decided to drop his pants and urinate on the seat next to an elderly couple. Encouraged by his thuggish mates, he was seemingly proud of his achievement. Needless to say the the elderly couple were horrified. Half an hour later he repeated this loutish action but was caught on camera by the couple this time so may receive some punishment.
I have respect for fans that travel abroad to support their clubs in away fixtures in Europe. Especially in the current economic climate. However I have to question their motives. Is it through the want of seeing some great football or just an expensive trip to get drunk with mates?
The seating arrangements in the stadium were such that the hardcore Inter fans were seated above Manchester United supporters! I can only gather that the Inter Milan hierarchy decided it was the better of the two evils. English fans enjoying a notorious name as hooligans. Rightly or wrongly.
Security on entering the stadium was tight. Pockets emptied, bags searched and a thorough going over by the stewards. So how can Inter fans still manage to smuggle in flairs and bangers?
As I waited with the other Manchester United fans to leave the stadium after the game, the tier with the Inter fans above us emptied out. The United fans were taunting the Italians with rude gestures and chants. They reacted by throwing a banger unbeknown to me.
It went off on my foot. The end of my trousers were smoldering alight. Batting out the few sparks, I noticed my leg was cut. The stewards and medical staff were helpful. Undoubtedly my ability to speak Italian helped me appear genuinely hurt.
The worrying matter is there was elderly couple in front of me. If they had been hit in the head the consequences could have been far worse. I have contacted Manchester United, Inter Milan and UEFA complaining, with only the English club replying.
It just begs the question: ‘is a supporter not able to go to a football game with the knowledge that their safety isn’t at risk?’. I have been to many Italian games this year. Only minor incidents have made me fearful.
But with the aggressive atmosphere of the San Siro, the drunken status of the majority of away fans and the presence of violent ultras I was deeply worried.
It’s a sensation I never want to feel again. Of course there will be chants, many abusive, and fans do get aggressive. It’s all part of the beautiful game. But on Tuesday night, it felt like the stewards had no control over the fans and their actions. Inexcusable. If this is the case at every away game in Europe, I’d prefer to stay at home and watch the football on my television in comfort.
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