LUCA BIANCHIN / AIPS in MILAN —– Italian football could be in danger. National coach Cesare Prandelli has talked about possible sanctions from FIFA and UEFA against Italy and its favourite sport  after events last Sunday afternoon in Salerno.

The match between Salernitana and Nocerina, in the third tier Lega Pro Prima Divisione, turned almost immediately from football to farce.

Nocerina: the club, the fans and the 'injuries'

Nocerina made three substitutions in the second minute, then five players simulated injury to leave the game. After 20 minutes, only six players remained on the pitch in the red and black shirt so the referee had to abandon the game.

The script for this pantomime had been written a few hours before the game when 200 Nocerina ultras visited the team at their hotel in Mercato San Severino, less than 20km from both Salerno and Nocera.

Hotel confrontation

Nocerina ultras had visited the team at their hotel in Mercato San Severino, less than 20km from both Salerno and Nocera.

They asked the players not to play as a protest against a ban on visiting fans imposed by Prefect of Salerno because of public order concerns.

“The team were pressured to boycott the game under the threat of life, retaliation and revenge,” reported La Gazzetta dello Sport. The ultras denied the allegation in a public statement, saying:  “We did not threaten any player. After peaceful meetings, we just asked them for a resounding expression of their response to the injustice we suffered.”

However, Salernitana’s striker Matteo Guazzo spoke about  “players crying before the game started” when he gave an interview to Rtl 102.5, an Italian radio station. He added: “I saw some guys crying in the tunnel before going out on to the pitch. They did not even want to do that. We were told later that they had been threatened by their own supporters who did not want the game to be played”.

Police asked Nocerina to play anyway but coach Gaetano Fontana and the players took a different view. They said: “How could the police protect all 22 of us for an entire year if we played?”

Slovene striker Kris Jogan disagreed with his team-mates and decided, initially, to leave not only the dressing rooms but the stadium. However, it seems his team-mates convinced him change his mind, insisting he had to start the game with them or risk being banished from the squad.

Criminal records

The central police station of Nocera detained 22 Nocerina ultras, some with a criminal record, and imposed a “Daspo,”  a bar from attending any sports event. One of them was Pino Alfano, a Nocera city councillor.

Salernitana were awarded a walkover victory while Nocerina risk being expelled from the championship. The players could be disqualified for three years or more.

On Sunday night both coach Fontana and sports director Luigi Pavarese offered their resignations which were rejected.

Nocerina have indicated a civil lawsuit against any persons judged responsible for actions damaging the image of the club. But, each day, the situation in Italy is becoming more complex.

The Ministry of the Interior declared its concern ab out “a malicious relationship between some clubs and groups of criminals.” Viminale said to be also worried for illegality in football, “that is taking place of violence and brawls”.

Critical timing

Federation president Giancarlo Abete talked about “the crucial role of gangs able to pressure clubs and players.

In an era of matchfixing, this is a critical matter: how is it possible to maintain the credibility of the game if 200 ultras can decide whether a match is played or not? No wonder the matchfixing analyst Declan Hill described Italian football earlier this week as “dead man walking.”

The ultras movement in Italy is undergoing one of the most turbulent periods in even its own history.

Giampaolo Tosel, judge of Serie A, has just decided that a section of the Juventus stadium will be closed for the games against Udinese and Sassuolo for abusive chants aimed at Napoli and their fans.

Similar punishments had already been inflicted on Roma, Napoli, AC Milan and Internazionale. Italian regulations state that a club can lose points because of supporters’ misbehaviour.

The risk is that the clubs could be blackmailed by their own fans.