Pisa will not bend: Ultras, protests and injustice in Tuscany, by Allan Gaskin

The message from the protesting fans is clear: ‘Pisa will not bend’

It is Thursday, 2 February 2017, and I am making a familiar journey to Tuscany to take in the Serie B clash between Pisa and Virtus Entella. My in-laws live a stone’s throw away from Pisa’s Arena Garibaldi and I will always look to combine a visit with a home fixture.

The last Pisa game I attended was September’s 1-0 victory over Brescia, which was played at the Stadio Carlo Castellani in Empoli due to the Arena undergoing maintenance work. In a quirk of timing, that game against Brescia will overshadow the build-up to Saturday’s fixture against Entella.

However, this is yet to become apparent as I board the plane to Pisa, mulling over the activity of the Nerazzurri in the January transfer market. It had been a busy month for the Tuscans following the recent completion of Giuseppe Corrado’s purchase of the club. Notable additions include Rey Manaj from Inter, along with the experienced Gaetano Masucci, arriving on loan from Entella. However, Gennaro Gattuso had used his pre-match press conference to hit out at suggestions that his side where perhaps missing the icing on the cake, expressing his satisfaction with both the quality and quantity of signings made during the window.

By Friday afternoon however, attention turns to social media, where details of a planned protest at Saturday’s game are beginning to emerge. The protest relates to the events surrounding the aforementioned game against Brescia. Confirmation has been received that 95 “DASPO” (Divieto di Accedere alle manifestazione Sportive – essentially the Italian equivalent of a banning order) have been issued to the ultras of Pisa who had been detained prior to September’s fixture. There is a great deal of conjecture surrounding the incident in Empoli. Fan groups have been campaigning under the heading of “Pisa non si piega” (Pisa will not bend) in support of the ultras ever since the accusation that three coaches carrying Brescia supporters were ambushed in an orchestrated attack.

The ultras contest this, questioning why the authorities allowed the coaches to exit the motorway at the same junction designated for those travelling to the stadium from Pisa. Whilst it is apparent that an incident did occur, the nature and responsibility for this is hotly debated, with the Pisani ultras rejecting the idea that this was a pre-planned attack. They point out their own surprise at finding the coaches being directed through crowds of home supporters making their way to the game. They refute the accusation that bats and stones were used to attack the coaches. If that had been the case, the ultras query why no evidence of damage to the coaches has ever been presented, nor any injuries reported. At the same time, the role of the ultras in the recent takeover of Pisa by Giuseppe Corrado has been highlighted.

The takeover was a protracted affair. Various consortia had attempted to broker a deal with outgoing president, Fabio Petroni, with talks ongoing since July. The peaceful nature of the pressure the exerted by Pisani on Andrea Abode (Serie B President) and Marco Filippeschi (Mayor of Pisa) to bring about a successful conclusion to the talks, is held up as further evidence that an ambush would be out of character. The ultras feel there has been an abuse of power. In a show of solidarity with those facing a DASPO (which will result in the recipients having to report to the local police station for the next eight years), all Pisa supporters were invited to boycott the opening five minutes of the game against Entella.

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The banner reads, ‘Participate in the protests, during the first five minutes, we all leave the stands’. Pisa supporters made good on their word and emptied the Curva Nord (image taken by Allan Gaskin)

The Arena Garibaldi Romeo Anconetani is similar in construct to many other Italian stadiums, with its one seated Tribune (or main stand) accompanied by sweeping uncovered curved terraces.

​I have a ticket for the Gradinata, an uncovered terrace directly opposite the Tribune. I arrive at the ground amidst a downpour, but the stands are filling up nicely. In fact, the Curva Nord is sold out. A leaflet is handed to me as I enter the ground which provides a reminder of the activities planned ahead of today’s game. Supporters are asked to show their appreciation to the team during the warm up, but as soon as the teams emerge for kick-off, there is to be a mass walk out. The first five minutes of the match are to be boycotted. Banners adorn the Plexiglas that separates the supporters from the pitch. The banners read “Partecipiamo tutti alla protesta, I primi cinque minuti usciamo fuori” (Participate in the protest, during the first five minutes, we all leave the stands).

As the teams emerge, this is precisely what happens. The entire Gradinata and Curva are empty. The many and various ultra and supporters groups have come together to stage the protest. Flags and banners of the various groups – Rangers, Sconvolts, Vulva group, Svitati, Gradinata 1909 – are all visible, but barely a single person remains on the terraces. With the match under way, a handful of enthusiastic supporters make their way back to their seats. The shout of “cinque minuti” goes up and those supporters quickly retreat back under the stand. The 100 or so Entella supporters who had made the 130 kilometre journey from Chiavari take the opportunity to make themselves heard. After five minutes, the shout goes up and the terraces once again fill up. A few sarcastic comments and gestures are directed across the pitch to those sat in the Tribune, who by and large did not participate in the protest.

On 35 minutes, a banner is held aloft in the curva. This reads: “Che non c’e giustizia per noi ultras” (There is no justice for us ultras). This is greeted with warm applause across all areas of the ground.

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‘There is no justice for us ultras’. Pisa fans continue their protest (image taken by Allan Gaskin)

The game itself is a tense affair. Pisa are embroiled in a relegation battle, having only scored nine goals in 23 previous Serie B outings. Entella on the other hand, occupy one of the play-off spots. Despite this, the Nerazzurri are playing the better football, switching the play nicely with only the final ball letting them down. In first-half stoppage time, Pisa believe they have a penalty. A foul is given but the referee is indicating a free kick on the edge of the box, much to the bemusement of the Pisa players and supporters alike. The free kick comes to nothing and the half ends in stalemate.

Early in the second half, a further penalty appeal for the home team is waved away. This results in an umbrella being launched towards the pitch from the back of the stand. In a humorous turn of events, the heavens begin to open up once more, prompting an apologetic supporter to retrieve the umbrella from a steward a few minutes later.

On 74 minutes, a penalty is finally awarded. However, this goes the way of Entella. Luca Verna is subsequently dismissed for his protests and Francesco Caputo duly despatches the penalty high into the roof of the net. With Pisa down to 10 men, few people hold out much hope of a comeback. However, ex-Leeds United forward and Albanian international Edgar Cani is summoned from the bench. Cani duly fires in a deflected shot which loops over the visiting goalkeeper to rescue a point for the Nerazzurri.

The point did little for either sides differing ambitions, although Entella certainly seemed the happier.  For the Pisani, their burning sense of injustice had only grown stronger during the game, directed towards both the authorities on the pitch, and towards those in the Tuscan courtrooms.

Words by Allan Gaskin: @allan_gaskin

‘Allan is based in Manchester but with ties to Tuscany. He has a passion for Italian football at all levels, with Pisa being his team of choice’