No Hiding Places Left For Ultras

It would be no exaggeration to say that Spain is a place where there are a lot of loud barks but very little bite. Normally when an incident occurs that outrages or disgusts the general public, politicians etc. make promises to make sure it never happens again. But, as the media frenzy dies down and interest wanes, in the end nothing is done or changed.

That is why most people are surprised, that almost three weeks after the death of a Deportivo de la Coruna fan, that both the authorities and the media have not forgotten the story. In fact, the opposite has happened and Spanish Police have been working flat out to bring those responsible to justice. They may not have caught everyone involved but they are definitely on the right path.

On the 30th of November Spain was shocked by the news and then by the images of violence that preceded a game at the Vicente Calderon. A few hours after announcing the death of one person, the Spanish authorities announced a crackdown on those responsible. Many pointed out it was not an isolated incident and that for years Ultras had been allowed do whatever they wanted at grounds across Spain. Those in charge of the game set out straight away to change that. On the day, police arrested 21 people. The argument of whether it was an organised brawl is still raging but as more and more information comes out, it is hard to believe that it wasn’t.

What shocked many in the aftermath of the clashes was that it wasn’t a simple Atleti v Depor fight. The Ultras of both clubs were not alone. Also involved were Ultras from Alcorcon and Rayo Vallecano. It was also announced that people based as far away as Gijon in the north of Spain were also involved. The police asked for time and as they make more arrests, the scale of the incident baffles people.

So far, 54 people have been arrested in ‘Operacion Neptuno’. The last 48 hours has seen the police working non-stop as they have arrested the bulk of those believed to be responsible and they haven’t ruled out more arrests in the coming days. The majority of those belong either to El Frente Atletico or the Riazor Blues but some arrests have no affiliation to either group.

It was announced this week that one of those arrested was a Spanish solider and another was a Guardia Civil officer, and that has raised more questions. It is possible that the questions being asked may have no easy answers. We are often led to believe that those involved with Ultras are uneducated etc. but here we have two people involved in the security of Spain accused of being responsible for some of the worst violence in public that the country has witnessed in decades. What is more, if Spain digs too deep it may find something it doesn’t like. But, for now it would appear that that hasn’t deterred the police.

Police have arrested two people they believe are responsible of the murder of Francisco José Romero Taboada. One of the suspects is in his 40s, a taxi driver and has two children. The other is just over 20 and lives in the north of Madrid. Both have been charged and are now awaiting trial. It marks a huge turnaround in Spain. Ultras can no longer do what they want and the tide is turning and quickly at that.

The LFP president, Javi Tebas, has announced that it won’t just stop here. Tebas has already announced a crackdown on abusive chanting at grounds and already results have been seen. At home games at the Vicente Calderon, homophobic chanting towards an ex-Real Madrid player can be heard at every game. That was until last week. It is still early days and it is also true that the Calderon was far from full. The Frente Atletico have been banned and the truth is that they were the ones responsible for the vile chants, but it cannot be denied that it is progress, no matter how small, but the bigger question is for how long will it last?

Tebas wants to make it permanent and he seems determined in his quest to do so. Club presidents are not impressed though. This week has seen the presidents of Rayo Vallecano and Atletico de Madrid both speak about how unfair it is to punish the clubs for the behaviour of a section of fans. A poor excuse or defence it may be but one that was used many times in the past and which got clubs off the hook when incidents occurred at grounds. Now it appears that things are changing and that the infamous excuse will no longer be seen as valid and so whilst clubs are happy to accept money from anyone, they too must be prepared to accept responsibility for their actions.

On December 22 there is a planned meeting where the football authorities will discuss a range of issues and one of the most important ones will be the future of Ultras in football grounds. But, is everyone on board? The RFEF, the Spanish FA, may have denounced violence in football but as of yet, Angel Maria Villar, the FA President, has not spoken on the events of November 30. Villar’s silence has drawn criticism from all quarters and the media are claiming that he believes Tebas is trying to force him out, which could result in him ignoring the LFP’s Presidents plans to change the rules regarding Ultras.

Many in Spain already consider Angel Maria Villar a laughing stock. His behaviour in presenting Atletico the League trophy was a farce. But still, the topic on the table is far more serious. Yet, Spain is wrought with stories of people in power or in control failing to do something that would see progress just to spite a rival. Spain has made some real progress in the past few weeks and even though it may have taken time to do so, it is better late than never.

On what has been done so far, the authorities, both in football and outside, should be praised, but there is still much work to be done. This can only be done if everyone is on the same page but it looks like that may not be the case. Can Spain progress and clean the image of its tarnished game? So far there are those who believe it can and, with the majority of the public behind them, let’s hope that this is all the beginning of something good.