An unfortunate byproduct of football is violence between fan bases and it can take on a particularly nasty face ahead of international matches.
The biggest match of Thursday night’s Euro 2024 qualification schedule sees England travel to face Italy in Group C. Both teams will think they can top the group that also contains Malta, North Macedonia and Ukraine.
England always take an impressive number of fans on their away trips wherever they may be, and the trip to Naples to take on Roberto Mancini’s side is not expected to be any different. Owing to the precedence set by both recent clashes in Naples and at other locations involving England fans, there are some serious safety concerns.
Between both the local authorities in Naples and the police back in the United Kingdom, this match has not been taken likely. The first port of call was to introduce a very stringent alcohol ban at the game. That ban came into effect at 7am on the day of the game around the stadium and runs until midnight. The same ban is in place in the city centre from midday.
There are a lot more police on the streets of Naples than there would normally be but at the time of writing, there is not any reported trouble involving England fans in the city centre.
The English FA has warned fans not to wear belts to the game as police will likely confiscate them as a potential weapon. The same goes for phone chargers and power banks which cannot be taken into the stadium. Provisions are being made to keep England fans safe who are not looking to cause any trouble. 20 buses have been set aside to take fans from the port area to the stadium from 4pm.
England are also expected to be held in the stadium after the game, potentially until midnight, so that the Italy fans can leave the area first.
Local prefect Claudio Palomba said: “There has been an exchange of information between us and British colleagues and we have agreed a security plan for the match.
“Buses will be laid on for the English supporters from the port to the stadium but we appreciate others may want to take public transport. Every effort is being made to avoid any possible confrontation.”
Beyond just general concern and the perceived threat the England fan base brings, the concern from the authorities in Naples stems from the Napoli fans. There have been two main instances of trouble involving them this season.
One was a clash with AS Roma fans on a motorway when the two sides were travelling to away games. Matches between the pair are known as the Derby del Sole and their organised fight on a motorway led to away bans for both teams.
The most recent issue was clashes between Napoli fans and Eintracht Frankfurt supporters ahead of their Champions League match. The Frankfurt fans were joined by Atalanta Ultras as the two clubs have a twinning, meaning they often go to see each other’s teams and will back them up in perceived conflicts.
The centre of Naples was trashed that night, largely inflamed by the local authorities’ decision to ban Frankfurt fans from the game altogether. Stopping them from going to the stadium did not stop them from travelling to Naples and only heightened the tension of the situation.
As part of the event, some fans had organised a friendly to be played between two teams of fans from each country. That has had to be scrapped over security concerns.
It was advertised on social media but the response soon came from ‘hardcore’ fan groups that there would be a serious backlash to this sort of event.
One email read that the hooligans said: “We are coming for you. You advertise this game for us to see where you’ll be… Stupid man you are. We will be there. 60 ultra to get you. Be warned.”
Garford Beck, the organiser and boss of England men’s supporters’ team, said: “I was going through my emails and my eyes nearly popped out of my head. I had no choice other than to get in touch with our friends in Italy to see if this was a viable threat.
“They’ve taken it really seriously and are having meetings with the police and local authority. Safety has to be our priority and we would have been an easy target for these people,” Beck added. “They normally come tooled up to the hilt so it could have been a very nasty situation had I not opened that email.”