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Soccer: Nocerina ejected from third tier over derby of shame

Ex president, coach, five players banned

29 January, 10:47
Soccer: Nocerina ejected from third tier over derby of shame (ANSA) - Rome, January 29 - An Italian Soccer Federation (FIGC) tribunal on Wednesday ejected southern side Nocerina from the third tier of Italian soccer and relegated them to a minor league for bringing the game into disrepute after a local derby was abandoned in November because of intimidation from fans.

The unprecedented incident in the game at Salernitana led to the match being dubbed the "derby of shame" and questions were raised at the highest level - including by Premier Enrico Letta - about the power of fans to influence Italian soccer.

Ex-chairman Luigi Benevento, who was this month arrested over allegations Nocerina players and employees were paid off the books, was handed a ban from soccer of three and a half years, along with the club's general manager, team doctor, coach and assistant coach.

Five players were banned for one year, while six others were acquitted by the sporting tribunal. The Campania derby between Salerno hosts Salernitana and Nocerina was abandoned after 21 minutes when the visiting side were reduced to six men - below the minimum needed to continue the game - after a raft of players feigned injuries.

The injured players could not be replaced as Nocerina made their three permitted substitutions in the first two minutes.

The Nocerina fans were angry about being banned from attending the game, which started 40 minutes late, due to concerns about crowd trouble.

Before the match around 200 of them went to their team's training camp and reportedly threatened the players not to play.

The incident was without precedent even in Italy's long battle with soccer hooliganism and it caused widespread dismay, voiced by officials as high up as Letta and Italy coach Cesare Prandelli.

"We witnessed very serious events on Sunday (November 10) and zero tolerance is needed against this," Letta said at the headquarters of the Italian Olympic Committee, the country's governing body for sport.

"Episodes like this have a dramatic effect on the values that sport transmits".

While ultras bring much of the colour and noise that make Italian football special, with their coordinated displays of banners, pictures and flags, they are also to blame for many of the episodes of violence, vandalism and racism that dog the game here.

Nocerina's disgrace was amplified by the media but it was by no means the only example of ultra power going too far.

In April 2012 Genoa fans managed to get a match suspended by throwing smoke bombs and intimidated their team to remove their shirts following a poor run of form because the players were supposedly unfit to wear them.

In March 2004 the Rome derby between AS Roma and Lazio was suspended when fans marched up to footballers to demand they stop playing following bogus rumours that a child had been killed by a police vehicle.

The interior ministry says that soccer-related violence has fallen significantly since anti-hooliganism measures were introduced after a policeman was killed during a riot at the Sicilian derby between Catania and Palermo in 2007.

The measures include greater use of video surveillance and the introduction of an ID card that fans need to travel to away games in order to make it easier to identify trouble-makers.

Nevertheless, the 'curva' end stands of Italian grounds, where the ultras gather, are still often 'no-go areas' where police and stewards do not intervene during matches for fear of causing clashes.

The extent of ultra power has been shown in some fans' defiance of new stricter punishments against regional discrimination and racism - another major problem that has marred the image of Italian soccer in recent years.

Some club chairmen have warned the fans may use the new rules, which include points deductions for teams whose supporters are repeat offenders, to blackmail clubs into bending to their will.

According to some reports, the Nocerina players were cowed by their fans because some have links to the Campania mafia, the Camorra.

Italy coach Prandelli said the incident was a defeat for "everyone" and he was pessimistic about finding a solution.

"Up to a little while ago, they used to say there was too much pressure (in Italian soccer)," said Prandelli.

"Today I say there is too much obsession. If we don't act (world governing body) FIFA or (European governing body) UEFA could ask us to stop... I'm not very confident for the future".

Salernitana were awarded a 3-0 win for the match.

In the criminal case in Nocera Inferiore, over 20 people have been reported to prosectors for their alleged involvement and 23 have been issued with bans from attending sporting events.