Francisco Javier Romero (AKA “Jimmy”) Taboada was brutally murdered last Sunday, not long after arriving in Madrid to attend an away match for his beloved Deportivo de La Coruna against La Liga champions Atletico Madrid.
Jimmy was a member of the Deportivo ultras Riazor Blues, a group which is explicitly left-wing, anti-racist and proudly Galician. The picture above (“Love Depor, hate Racism”)shows that their ethos is as far as it is possible to be from the group of far-right Atletico Madrid ultras, Frente Atletico, who lay in wait for their arrival at the stadium last Sunday. The ambushing fascists were armed with deadly weapons including knives, clubs and metal bars, and the helpless Riazor Blues were immediately overwhelmed. Videos (see below) show the intensity of the clash that took place along the banks of the Manzanares river. It was along this river where Jimmy would be savagely beaten and then thrown down a steep embankment into the freezing water, trapped there for half an hour as rescue attempts were disrupted by the ongoing battle.
Jimmy’s autopsy showed he died of head trauma with internal bleeding from blows to the head, possibly caused by an iron bar. He was the sole fatality in an attack that saw at least a dozen injured, three stabbed and another person thrown into the river. Bloody photos of the injured circulated on social media and Spanish news outlets spoke of police encountering trails of blood across the whole area of Frente Atletico’s savage charges.
This ‘El Pais’ video is especially spine-chilling for those of us who know the approach to Atleti’s stadium along the leafy riverside Avenue, with bars I remember fondly from Liverpool’s visit to Atleti in 2008, when many friends were made with normal, non-fascist Atleti fans. The video shows fighting between two groups, yes – witnesses says that Jimmy was was one of the first to defend himself – but what is hard to make out from footage like this is that one group consisted of a coachload – a few dozen – and the other of several hundred ambushers. I would hope that if a coachload of my own friends ever gets jumped by fascists, we would try to defend ourselves, but that would not make it any less of an ambush.
In the aftermath, a narrative that indiscriminately denounces all ultras has prevailed, not just in the Spanish media but in most commentaries on it by complacent foreign journalists who have been content to take the word of the ‘football authorities’ at face value. Articles that should have been highlighting the problem of fascism in football have instead suggested a false equivalence of ‘two extremes’ at either end of the political spectrum, both of whom, it is suggested, somehow enjoy violence for its own sake. These narratives were spread by the authorities, who within hours of Sunday’s murder were lying about the Riazor Blues and Frente Atletico having communicated over social media to arrange a fight, as if this was somehow an equal and consensual thing rather than a brutal, cowardly ambush by the fascists.
By Monday, this claim was already being revoked by police sources. The only communication for which they had evidence was in fact between the fascist Frente Atletico members who were called upon to gather for the ambush, ominously ending their call with “Atleti o muerte”. Atletico or death.
Like so many police and press conspiracies to smear anti-establishment groups though, the damage already appears to have been done. The Spanish and international media is still full of calls for both groups (nay all Spanish ultra groups, whether good or evil) to be banned, and the right-wing establishment of Jimmy’s own club Deportivo have even seized the chance to say they will ban the victim group from the stadium, even though it’s a group who have been responsible for anti-racist initiatives, etc! Anti-fascist ultras exist because fascist ultras exist, but surely that does not make them part of the problem!?
Attempts to decontextualize the violence or deny its political nature, or say that somehow the fascists and the Depor fans were equal players in Sunday’s events, simply do not stand up to a closer examination of the Frente Atletico ultras’ record. The group has murdered before – in 1998 near the same stadium where Jimmy was killed on Sunday, they cornered and fatally stabbed Aitor Zabaleta, while hunting down defenceless Basque fans ahead of a match with Real Sociedad. This isn’t blind violence against random opponents – this is cowardly mob murder with a clear fascist motive. the name of the fascist thug who was sentenced for the killing of Zabaleta is still regularly chanted from the south stand occupied by the Frente, together with warnings to Basque fans: “we came here to knife you.” In 2011 Frente Atletico ultras were recorded celebrating Zabaleta’s murder during another match against Real Sociedad. The Frente ultras chanted “you don’t fool us, Aitor Zabaleta was from Jarrai.” Jarrai is a radical left-wing youth organization advocating Basque independence, which has been outlawed by the Spanish government. Whether those who deny fascist violence a problem wish to believe it or not, Frente Atletico members themselves consider their violence political and glorify it as such.
The appeals for ‘football without violence’ by the media, political authorities and sections of the public risk becoming ‘football without any ultra groups’, when the objective should be ‘football without fascism and racism’. Ultra groups such as Riazor Blues at Deportivo, Biris Norte at Seville FC or the Bukaneros of Rayo Vallaceno are part of a strengthening anti-fascist and anti-racist tradition being built in La Liga, offering a far more heartfelt, ‘bottom-up’ stance against racism than the fines and rehearsed, ‘top-down’ pre-match statements by football federations.
The problem with the media just echoing the authorities’ response to Sunday’s violence isn’t just a matter of false equivalence between the far-right ultras who brandish their racist Celtic cross symbols (because they’d like to use swastikas, but can’t) on the one hand, and the left-wing ultras who protest during matches about good causes such as home evictions, violence against women, and austerity measures, on the other. The problem is that authorities and the media are together taking advantage of this fatal attack by the far-right to continue a long-standing campaign of criminalisation against left-wing ultras. This is particularly the case with Rayo Vallecono’s wonderful Bukaneros, who have been demonised for several years now by the right-wing Spanish media as the shock troops of various mass anti-government mobilizations in Madrid over recent years. Before it was even clear what had happened on Sunday, the Bukaneros were already being linked to the violence by police and news outlets, when the bloodstained hands on the videos of the violence clearly belonged to Frente Atletico. If a few Bukaneros were arrested as fellow victims with their friends from the Riazor Blues last Sunday, it’s not some sign that a “left v. right” fight was arranged, but that the network of anti-fascist friendship is strong. Many of us on the left in European football have paid homage to the Bukaneros and stood on their terraces with them in Madrid, just as we make pilgrimages to St. the likes of St. Pauli. It doesn’t mean we are looking for a fight or asking to get murdered.
Of the 21 arrested following the street battle, only six were from the far-right ultras. It is always easier to pick up outsiders and victims. No justice can be expected from a state that has common cause with the killers of Jimmy and Aitor.
This post was loosely based, with my own additions, edits and re-translations, on an excellent article on an Italian blog by David Perreira http://wire.novaramedia.com/2014/12/how-madrids-fascist-ultras-are-getting-away-with-murder-actually/
POSTSCRIPT 12/12/2014: The lies of the authorities gradually start to unravel. The police withdrew their “pre-arranged fight” allegations within hours. Now ‘El Pais’, Spain’s establishment newspaper, has shown that the Madrid police were indeed given prior information by email that this one coachload of Riazor Blues was travelling to Madrid, something which had previously been denied. Furthermore, Depor’s President has now admitted he was wrong to order the closure of the Riazor Blues’ end for last week’s cup game, which came across as punishing even more of their own fans for being victims of this ambush.