Roman police on edge for Roma-Feyenoord
Thursday night at 9 p.m., Feyenoord and AS Roma will meet at the Roman Stadio Olimpico for the return match in the Europa League quarterfinals. Police in the Italian capital are already on high alert for this. Fences have been placed around important monuments and extra police in plain clothes are patrolling certain neighborhoods.
After the 2015 riots that damaged the centuries-old Barcaccia fountain in Piazza di Spagna, the Roman city council is taking a precautionary approach. Two weeks ago it decided to ban all Dutch from the stadium. Still, several hundred to as many as a thousand Feyenoord fans are expected to try to watch the match in Rome. There has been a lot of coverage in Italian media for days.
Friends from Naples
No Feyenoord scarves could be seen in the center of Rome today, although anonymous videos of fans in the city are being shared on social media. How many Dutch people travel to Rome today and tomorrow in total, police cannot estimate. “We only know what the Dutch authorities have told us, which is that despite the stadium ban, up to 200 to 500 supporters are coming to Rome,” Roman police chief Giuseppe Rubino told reporters.
Officers in plain clothes are operating in the stations and at the airport, trying to map all the arriving Feyenoord supporters. “We identify them, check them and try to find out which hotel they are staying in,” Rubino outlines. “Well-meaning supporters who had already booked their trip and want to catch a few days of Rome despite the stadium ban are welcome. But those who have violence in mind will be dealt with severely.”
What is of additional concern to police is that in recent days pictures have been circulating on social media of Feyenoord supporters visiting Naples, fraternally standing next to ultras of Napoli. “It involved only 20 to 40 Dutchmen,” Rubino knows. But it is possible that the Napoli supporters, also in bitter conflict with the AS Roma fans, helped the Dutch get tickets. As a result, they could still get into the stadium. In addition, police are taking into account that some Napoli ultras want to descend on Rome together with the Feyenoord fans and are out for confrontation
In Via Condotti, the chic shopping street that opens onto the Barcaccia fountain, shopkeepers are holding their hearts. “In 2015, we were totally surprised,” recalls shopkeepers’ association president Gianni Battistoni. “Back then, no one expected this invasion into the center, our beautiful open-air museum.”
So his memories of Feyenoord fans are anything but positive. And yet Battistoni doesn’t think the stadium ban is a good idea. “Instead of allowing them into the center of Rome, you should allow supporters into the stadium,” Battistoni believes. “What can they do there? There they can watch the match and then you can calmly lead them away in groups, to different places. In the center of Rome, neither Roma nor Feyenoord supporters should be allowed in.
The images of the riots and the destroyed Barcaccia fountain are still fresh in the minds of many Romans:
February 2015: Feyenoord fans vandalize fountain in Rome
And yet that is the trade-off the Roman police are making: the stadium is off-limits, the center is under extra surveillance. “Concerned we are not,” says police boss Rubino. “We are only alert and present.” Today and tomorrow, a thousand officers are on the beat in the city, and sports bars are under strict surveillance.
An additional reason for the Roman police to leave nothing to chance is the awkward timing of the match. Exactly this week, inspectors are visiting from the Expo 2030, which the city is eager to host. The Roman flower beds have been extra raked, the streets have been cleaned. A security row is something the city government can miss like a toothache.
In the unlikely event of riots, with damage to monuments, the perpetrators can expect even heftier punishments than in 2015. Culture Minister Gennaro Sangiuliani recently submitted a bill to punish the defacement of monuments with fines ranging from 10,000 to 60,000 euros, and even with prison sentences.