Knives out for the English angels and demons

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To Italians, the fixed image of the typical English football fan is beer-swilling, shaven-headed aggression.

“Hooligan” is virtually synonymous with “Englishman” – apart from poets, 19th-century writers or David Beckham, who are “gentlemen.”

Nothing will change the stereotype unless those following English clubs to the Bel Paese turn up in straw boaters and engage in polite conversation while sipping a glass of wine.

"Fragola, signor?" 

Michel Platini did little to allay local fears by raising the spectre of Heysel in a recent press conference, and even before the inevitable imposition of an alcohol ban many bars and restaurants had already informed Rome City council that they would be closing their premises on the day of the match.

NEWS: Alcohol ban in Rome

If there is any intimidation then it would seem to come from the perceived threat of the Manchester United fans, but the reality is that with AS Roma long departed from the competition, their followers will be maintaining a low profile.

The only time the knives should be out is to tuck into the fine local pizzas.

But there will be those among the local population – like the ever-growing and vocal neo-fascist community - who will be out to prove themselves, even if that means attacking some defenceless fan who has wandered into the wrong place at the wrong time.

Who needs ultras when you have skinheads?

Having said that, Rome, for all its faults, is not a particularly dangerous city when it comes to serious crimes against tourists. Muggings are a very rare occurrence.

"It's round here somewhere" 

However, this is a different situation and the advice to any Manchester United fan would be to dress more conservatively, remain in the centre of the city and lay off the booze a bit.

Of course, Rome itself is pulling out all the stops to provide a showcase event – and the last thing the city fathers want are stories of stabbings and images of baton-welding police “restoring” law and order flashing around the world.

No-one wants to dissuade potential visitors among those who have seen the glories of the Eternal City in the blockbuster Angels and Demons.

We cannot expect either cherubs or devils over the next few days, but somewhere in between would do. Maybe then we can start to change Italian perceptions of those alien creatures known as il Inglese.

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