Napoli fan shot in Cup final violence dies

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ROME: The Napoli fan who was shot during violent clashes between supporters of his club and rivals AS Roma before last month’s Italian Cup final has died overnight.

Ciro Esposito, 29, had been left in a critical condition at Rome’s Gemelli hospital after being shot in the chest in the Italian capital on the night of the final on May 3, which Napoli won 3-1 against Fiorentina to secure their fifth Italian Cup.

“At six o’clock this morning, after a 50-day ordeal, our Ciro, a hero of the people, passed away,” his family said in a statement.

“That damn May 3 our Ciro stepped on to the Via Tor di Quinto in Rome to save Napoli fans on a bus. Our Ciro heard the screams of children, who together with their families just wanted to go and watch a game of football.

“Ciro died to save others. We ask the institutions to do their part.”

Rumours had circulated on Tuesday that Esposito had died, but those reports were revised when it was revealed that he had slipped into an irreversible coma with the announcement of his death coming yesterday morning.

“Ciro was a Napoli fan who wanted to spend a joyous evening supporting his team. This tragedy should make everyone in football and the institutions that work with it reflect,” Napoli president Aurelio de Laurentiis said.

A notorious Roma supporter was arrested and charged with attempted murder after the incident, which set off ugly scenes in the stadium during a match attended by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and watched by nine million television viewers.

The kick-off of the game was delayed by 45 minutes as news of the shooting spread around the stadium, with Napoli fans pulling down their banners and a large chunk of their support watching the final in silence. Spectators were treated to the unedifying spectacle of match organisers discussing what to do on the pitch in front of a baying crowd, before approaching hardcore “ultra” fan leaders to explain that Esposito had not been killed and was being treated in hospital in a bid to quell the unrest.

As they and Napoli midfielder Marek Hamsik made their way to the Napoli end of the stadium, they were pelted with flares and smoke bombs.

After the match, Napoli fans flooded the pitch, with a large group making provocative gestures at the Fiorentina supporters.

Roma and Napoli fans are bitter rivals and the incident has fuelled deep resentment in Naples, the biggest club in Italy’s poor south.

As well as repeated incidents of racist chants against black players, matches in Italy often feature chants aimed at Naples supporters, with rival fans calling them “cholera-sufferers” and “filthy Africans” or wishing the volcanic Mount Vesuvius to erupt over the city.

During Roma’s 1-0 defeat to Juventus on May 11 a group of Roma fans in the Olympic Stadium held up a banner in support of the alleged shooter.

Fan violence has long been a problem in Italian football, and authorities have tried a number of draconian measures to crack down on the trouble, including a controversial fan ID card scheme and banning of away fans for certain matches. — Reuters

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on June 26, 2014.