With 78 minutes on the clock, a strange scene was unfolding in the centre circle at Marassi. Genoa’s Marco Rossi took his shirt off before, one by one, most of his teammates followed suit. Play had been stopped for some time and Siena’s players were nowhere to be seen, as the likes of Davide Biondini, Alberto Gilardino and a tearful Giandomenico Mesto were among those to remove their jerseys and hand them to their captain, before he made his way over to the players’ tunnel that had become besieged by Genoa ultras.
Angry at what had unfolded in front of them, supporters had forced the abandonment of play some 25 minutes earlier by throwing flares and firecrackers on to the pitch, and entering the playing area themselves before preventing their own footballers from leaving the field by surging towards the canopy that surrounded the tunnel.
Four-nil down to Siena at the same time that Lecce were closing in on a hard-fought point away at Lazio – eventually achieved through a dramatic last-minute equaliser – the Grifoni were about to extend their winless run to 12 matches and have the gap to the relegation zone shortened to a single point. More than the fact Genoa’s top-flight status was coming under threat was the manner in which they were looking like losing it in.
Where Rossi had tried to negotiate with the ultras’ ringleader to allow the game to continue to its seemingly inevitable conclusion, with the promise that the players were trying their best, he had been sent back to the huddle of upset teammates to retrieve their shirts. The ultras had deemed them unworthy to wear them.
Giuseppe Sculli, whose replacement on 53 by Kakha Kaladze had seemingly prompted the transition of insults to violence, refused to hand his shirt over, and after an emotional five-minute negotiation with the head ultra, he amazingly ensured that the game was able to restart – players shirted and all – some 40 minutes after it had been abandoned.
However, from Mesto having to wipe away tears, Sebastien Frey arguing with fans behind his goal, Siena returning from the dressing room to applause from the home crowd and the supporters then singing with their backs turned to the game for the remainder of its duration, this was not a normal atmosphere for Serie A. That the game finished 4-1 to the Robur was almost an incidental side-note at the final whistle.
“Sixty people, from the 20,000 that were present, held the stadium hostage,” stormed President Enrico Preziosi, who a number of protests have been aimed at in recent weeks. “It is sad that they have the impunity to say and do whatever they like and we are without the control to send them home.”
Preziosi declared that he would be happy for the club to be banned from its stadium as punishment, so as to at least find some peace of mind for the players to work in. There was slight confusion over who told Rossi to follow the ultras’ demands for the shirts – Preziosi suggested the police told the player to placate the demand, the police angrily said it was Preziosi’s influence and they were against ‘surrendering to blackmail’ – but it was clear that few outside the stadium supported the decision.
“What happened in Genoa once again represents the worst side of Italian football,” reflected an equally angry Gianni Petrucci, CONI President. “The TV images that led directly to the homes of millions of Italians is a further sign of the moral degradation of the sport that it should be moving away from. The shirt is the untouchable symbol of a team, it can neither be offensive nor vilified or even less, subject to negotiation.”
“The jersey ransom is unacceptable,” reflected Players’ Association President Damiano Tommasi. “Perhaps these are the same fans, if one can call them that, who forced [Omar] Milanetto to leave or a few weeks ago broke into the dressing room to ‘talk’ to the players. Handing over the shirts was a bad gesture.”
That focus from the game’s most prominent and authoritative men was on a criminal act and how a group of young footballers responded to it says it all about what happened in Week 34.
Indeed, the events at Genoa pulled focus from what was otherwise another interesting week for on-the-pitch action too. Milan needed a last-minute goal from Zlatan Ibrahimovic to save a point at home to Bologna in a result that allowed Juventus to pull away by a further two at the top. The Bianconeri scored twice as many goals as the Rossoneri in Week 34 in a 10th of the time, through Arturo Vidal, before Maarten Stekelenburg’s red put an end to any hopes of a comeback for a poor Giallorossi, who eventually conceded twice more on the night.
At the other end of the table, Cesena avoided the drop for at least another few days after earning a draw with Palermo at the Dino Manuzzi. However, sat 14 points adrift of safety and with just 15 points to play for, it is only a matter of time before Serie A loses its first team of the season. Meanwhile, goal of the weekend belongs to Catania’s Alejandro Gomez, for his 30-yard effort that arrowed into the Atalanta top corner on Saturday night.