A stabbing between Atlético fans makes the problem of radical supporter groups resurface in Spain after many thought they had gone away
Last Wednesday, mere minutes before the game between Atlético and Sevilla in Wednesday’s Copa del Rey fixture, a 22-year-old man stumbled outside a bar after being stabbed in his back, arm and thigh. The three wounds made him bleed profusely and he was barely able to get to where the police cars were parked. After being rushed to the hospital and undergoing surgery, the wounded man is out of danger.
The fan belongs to the Frente Atlético supporter group, which has a long history of violent incidents over the past three decades. The suspect of the knifing, Ignacio Racionero, is a former member of the group, and currently belongs to the Suburbios Firm faction (with almost 20 members of extreme right-wing ideology) that parted ways with Frente Atlético in 2013, and was also involved in an infamous incident that changed the Spanish people’s perception on radical fans forever: the murdering of a young Real Sociedad fan, Aitor Zabaleta, stabbed to death in December 1998 in Madrid.
At that moment, Racionero was 20 and he was sent to jail for a few days as the main suspect of the attack, although he was ultimately released. Since then, he has spent almost ten years in prison for robberies. He was kicked out of Atlético de Madrid as a season-pass holder in 2005, but that never stopped him from belonging to radical supporter groups and attending events outside the stadium.
“They must be wiped out”, said Javier Tebas recently, in what might be his first proper good call since he’s been in charge of LaLiga. This new incident outside the Wanda Metropolitano stadium has been a serious wake-up call for many clubs and fans who, in the last few years, had believed the ‘ultras’ problem was solving itself. At least, many hoped that the new countermeasures and regulations were helping to prevent another ‘Jimmy’ incident.
In November 2014, after yet another brawl involving Frente Atlético and Deportivo de la Coruña Riazor Blues radical supporters, the away fan Francisco Javier Taboada (nicknamed ‘Jimmy’) was knocked out after getting his spleen smashed and thrown into the Manzanares river. He was rescued, but died later that day in the hospital. Spain was shocked after watching how the football underworld could take away someone’s life with such ease. The murder case was investigated, closed and recently reopened so that the judge could identify his killers and point out anybody who was involved in the fight.
Suddenly, hooliganism and violence was an issue to resolve swiftly: the problem had been there for decades, but only now LaLiga was taking matters into its own hands to make stadiums a much safer environment for families. After all, nobody is going to pay hundreds of millions in cash for the TV rights of a competition where a supporter could suffer a stabbing or be murdered on their way to the game.
Stricter regulations were put into action: ID card identification was mandatory, image databases have been collectively adopted, fingerprint scans are used with potentially dangerous groups in clubs such as Valencia CF and Atlético.
The Colchonero side, by the way, was appalled by what happened last Wednesday but quickly deflected any blame: “they try to use football and sport, their environment, as an excuse to commit crime without having anything to do with the event itself or the fans that come together for a game. The rule is that of zero tolerance”, Atlético stated while remembering that they are powerless to act when incident take place outside their stadium.
A report compiled by the State Anti-Violence Commission at the end of 2017 states that nine radical supporters groups classified as “high risk” remain in operation in the top three divisions of Spanish league football: Frente Atlético (Atlético de Madrid), Riazor Blues (Deportivo de La Coruña), Biris Norte (Sevilla), Malaka and Frente Bokerón (Málaga), Iraultza (Alavés), Avispero and Ligallo Fondo Norte (both from Real Zaragoza) in the Second Division, and Jove Elx (Elche) in the Second Division B.
With the spotlight over these groups once again, the sad truth is that the issue of violence in Spanish football never went away: it was only (conveniently) swept under the rug.