Friday, April 15, 2005

Madness in Milan
By Imtiaz Mussa

Imagine being in Giants Stadium on the last day of the season and the Jets and Giants were playing. Each team needed a win to get into the playoffs. Anything short of that means going home. This is a Jets home game so the crowd has noticeably more Gang Green followers in the stands. The Giants are winning and all of a sudden as Eli Manning is sitting on the sideline watching Chad Pennington get sacked by Michael Strahan, a live flare hits him on the shoulder pad. What do you think would happen?

Tuesday, April 12, 2005, Inter Milan and AC Milan are playing for a right to move on the Champions League Semi-finals. AC won the first game 2-0 and are leading this one 1-0 in the 75th minute. It’s not looking good for Adriano and the rest of Inter. Referee Markus Merk has just disallowed an Inter Milan goal and most of the crowd is going nuts. It should be noted that this was considered to be an Inter Milan home match. All of sudden, red flares and bottles start flying onto the pitch from the crowd. One of which hits AC Milan goalkeeper Dida on the shoulder. Play gets suspended for 20 minutes and they play for 30 seconds before referees decided to abandon the game. There is not doubt that AC will be given the win but what would UEFA give Inter as a penalty?
Dida did not suffer any serious injuries.

Today, that decision came down. Inter Milan would have to play their next four home European matches behind closed doors. If another incident happens anytime in the next three years, another two matches would be added. The thing that puts this penalty over the top is the financial penalty which is £132,000 or roughly $235,000. That is the largest fine UEFA has ever given. But the financial considerations of not being able to sell tickets for four Champions League matches are painful. Teams typically make about two million euros per Champions League home match on ticket sales. Inter will have to get ready to lose 7-8 million euros. With most Italian teams hurting financially, that’s a lot of money. All of this was done in consideration of the fact that in 2001 Inter were ordered to play two European matches away from the San Siro and fined £35,000 after similar crowd trouble at their UEFA Cup tie with Spanish side Alaves.

The penalty could have been a lot worse. Inter Milan still makes money on being in the Champions League and the television revenue. If Inter Milan was banned from the Champions League, it would be another Leeds financial train wreck. Leeds United used to be in the Champions League every year. Like many of the big teams, they use the Champions League to pay their high priced players. One year, they don’t qualify for Europe and that proves to be it for them. They enter heavy debt, have to sell their players for nearly nothing, and eventually get relegated. Chelsea was very close to falling into that very situation but Russian oil tycoon Roman Abramovich buys the club for £60 million and clears the club’s debt which is approximately £60 million as well. And now, thanks to Roman’s billions, Chelsea can buy any player and win the Champions League and Premiership.

Sadly, this was not the first incident to happen in this year’s Champions League. In the group stages, Ukrainian power Dynamo Kiev were playing AS Roma in Stadio Olimpico in Rome. High priced French defender Phillipe Mexes was red carded after the halftime whistle for tripping a Kiev player from behind. Referee Anders Frisk was struck by a coin thrown from the stands. The match was abandoned, Kiev was given a 3-0 victory, and Roma would have to play their next two matches behind closed doors. Roma would finish in last place in Group B and only got one point in the group, a 1-1 tie against Bayer Leverkusen. (Landon Donovan was still in the MLS) Nevertheless, Inter Milan’s resiliency will be tested as the San Siro will be empty next year.
People in Europe still remember the Frisk images.

How does something like this happen? In Europe, the older stadiums are not in very wide open spaces. They are often surrounded by many buildings which means that security checks outside the stadium can't happen. Even inside the stadium, the spaces are so tight that metal detectors and having people wait can't happen. The newer stadiums in Europe will probably take steps towards ensure security but not much can be done with the current ones. It's a shame that a few stupid fans have to ruin things for the rest of us.


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