PARIS – Fear and trepidation, rather than excitement and thrills, may grip fans when Europe’s domestic soccer leagues resume this weekend in the wake of deadly terror attacks in Paris.
Real Madrid against Barcelona would normally be hailed as a tantalizing encounter featuring the world’s best attacking talent; while in Turin, Juventus vs. AC Milan is usually a much-talked about clash between Italy’s two most storied sides.
Instead, these matches crystalize fears surrounding the weekend’s games, with security around stadiums at a maximum in exceptionally sombre circumstances.
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“You have a bit more of a question of security because it looks like it’s not the end of it, in France especially,” said Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, who is French. “A way for us (to overcome it) is just to get on with life and respond in a positive way to the situation.”
But cities, not just teams and stadiums, will be on red alert amid fears of fresh attacks. Instead of being festive, the atmosphere is likely to be watchful. Intense rivalries, such as Spain’s clasico, fade in significance, as does whether Barcelona star Lionel Messi returns from injury to face Madrid archrival Cristiano Ronaldo.
Italy goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu, who plays for Paris Saint-Germain, lost two friends in the attacks that killed 129 and summed up the anxious mood.
“It’s an attack on our way of lives,” Sirigu said. “The fear concerns all of us, not just those of us who have to return to Paris.”
Fans have a far greater civic duty than usual. Everyone will be asked to be on their best behaviour for fear of causing panic and confusion in others, so flares and pyrotechnic displays – a spectacular sight at many Italian games among their largely self-governing tifosi — are not welcome.
But it’s also about clubs reassuring fans with stringent security measures, as John Beattie, the European Stadium & Safety Management Association’s president, explains.
“What most clubs should be doing is showing a much more visual deterrent, making things a lot more obvious,” Beattie told The Associated Press by telephone. “The public would like to see it more visible, just for more of a confidence factor on their part.”
Beattie could not reveal much about extra security measures, although fans being searched twice is one possibility.
“If you tried to do that in a normal sort of climate you’d probably get the fans going ‘Oh, why have I got to be searched again?'” Beattie told The AP. “But you tend to hope that their mentality at the present time is ‘I want to feel safe, therefore the more safety … I’ve got to go through, the better I’m going to feel.'”
Spanish authorities have declared Saturday’s game between Real Madrid and Barcelona a high-risk event with unprecedented security measures at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium.
Following meetings, officials said nearly 1,500 private security agents and at least 1,000 police officers will be on site — double the usual presence for high-risk games.
The safety net will stretch far, as there will be several security zones in place outside the stadium to keep those without tickets away from the 81,000-capacity venue.
Security officials are confident that the measures will be enough to guarantee safety and have asked fans to trust their local police.
The Bernabeau should be well prepared, if previous experience is anything to go by, since it has been targeted by extremists in the past.
In May 2002, a bomb from Basque separatist group ETA exploded near the venue hours before a Champions League semifinal against Barcelona, slightly injuring 17 people.
In 2004, the stadium was evacuated because of a bomb threat late into a game against Basque side Real Sociedad.
Tensions would have been higher if Paris Saint-Germain was playing at home, but the defending champion is playing away in Brittany against Lorient.
That offers some relief, given how stretched police forces are in the French capital following Friday’s deadly attacks, which began with explosions outside the Stade de France, where France played Germany.
“In the centre of Paris you did not feel secure anywhere,” said Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, who was supposed to attend the game. “I was late (for an) appointment and was late going to the stadium so I decided to stay and watch the game inside the hotel.”
Although PSG is away, one second division match will take place on the Paris outskirts when Creteil faces Nancy on Friday night.
The weekend finishes with a high-profile match between Saint-Etienne and Marseille, a match where tensions between fans sometimes runs high.
France’s secretary of sport Thierry Braillard will attend a security briefing there before the game, also because Saint-Etienne’s Geoffroy Guichard stadium is hosting games at next year’s European Championship.
Extra security measures include metal detectors at stadium entrances and more thorough bag searches.
To help out overworked police forces, there will be no away fans at any top French games this weekend.
The English Premier League is the most popular league in the world and says “clearly there is a heightened sense of awareness that clubs and fans must be sensitive to” after the Paris attacks.
The league has been in consultation with police and security advisers, as well as the British government, and a full briefing was provided to the 20 clubs on Wednesday. That included a detailing of the current threat level, which the league says remains unchanged.
English fans travel in their droves, and Manchester United’s fans are likely to be numerous for the trip to Watford just outside the capital.
In west London Chelsea faces Norwich and Chelsea will be increasing its security controls inside and around Stamford Bridge, requesting supporters avoid bringing bags.
The EPL said in a statement that each club will liaise with its local police force “to ensure that appropriate arrangements are maintained and delivered in the context of the guidance provided by national security services.”
The biggest match this weekend features AC Milan at four-time defending champion Juventus in Turin on Saturday — a clash between Italy’s most decorated sides.
While there will be increased security at stadiums in Italy this weekend, local officials have not announced any drastic measures.
“(Last weekend) we had 20,000 football matches and nothing happened,” Italian football federation president Carlo Tavecchio said, referring to lower-division and other games. “There are 15,000 stadiums. Football won’t stop.”
Enormous banners, flares and pyrotechnic displays are commonplace in Italy — even though there is a largely-ignored ban on such displays.
Sunday’s biggest game will be in Milan, where Inter faces Frosinone at the 80,000-capacity San Siro.
It comes days after the U.S. State Department issued a warning that Milan’s cathedral and La Scala opera house had been identified as “potential targets.”
The Bundesliga is going on despite what authorities say was a very specific threat to attack the Germany-Netherlands friendly in Hannover on Tuesday night, cancelled at short notice after police received concrete evidence that someone wanted to set off an explosive device in the stadium.
Team officials say Germany players were shaken to be involved in another scare, following the explosions outside Stade de France.
Clubs were stepping up security measures, and although they were not giving details, more security personnel and closer body inspections are expected.
Bayern Munich warned fans that new, unspecified measures could lead to longer lines and that they should arrive earlier.
Officials also appealed to fans not to smuggle in fireworks because bangs could trigger panic and a stampede.
The Belgian league will also be on high alert, after Belgium’s friendly match against Spain in Brussels on Tuesday night was cancelled after the government raised the security threat level.
Belgium has also been affected by terrorism. Security forces hunting the Paris attackers have detained 9 people during as many raids in and around Brussels relating to the Paris attacks. Two suspectsare already in custody charged with terrorist murder and belonging to a terrorist group.
Clubs like Lokeren, Club Bruges or La Gantoise have announced specific measures.
Bags are not allowed into stadiums, there will be increased body searches and gates will be opened earlier.
As precautionary measures, Brussels-based Anderlecht cancelled its club day for young fans on Sunday and Charleroi switched its winter training camp from Turkey to Portugal.
On the same night British and French soccer fans sang the French national anthem together in solidarity for victims of the Paris attacks, some Turkish fans disrupted the national anthem of their Greek rivals and booed during a moment of silence for the 129 people killed. The contrast vividly illustrated what has been a decidedly ambivalent reaction in Turkey, France’s NATO ally.
The ugly incident unfolded as the prime ministers of Turkey and Greece attended the match together as part of efforts to overcome strained ties. It drew unequivocal criticism from government officials, including Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who appealed for soul-searching, though he only mentioned the interruption of the national anthem. He said the incident reflected “a few hundred irresponsible people” who he accused of tarnishing Turkey’s traditional reputation for showing hospitality to visitors.
Other officials condemned the interruption of the moment of silence that included nationalist chants and scattered calls of “Allahu Akbar” or “God is great.” Officials have scrambled to avoid a repeat in future games.
During the incident at Istanbul’s Basaksehir Fatih Terim Stadium Tuesday night, team captain and Barcelona midfielder Arda tried in vain to silence the crowd.
“What has happened to us?” Turkish national team manager Fatih Terim asked in despair in a news conference after the game that ended in a 0-0 draw.