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SPANISH SOCCER

Depor fan dead after clash between ‘ultras’ ahead of Atlético match

Details emerge of early-morning confrontation on the banks of Madrid’s Manzanares River

Video shot by a passer-by of the fight between Deportivo and ‘ultras.’

A violent confrontation between hardcore groups of Spanish soccer fans – known as ultras – left a 43-year-old man dead and many more injured in Madrid on Sunday morning. 

Two large groups of Deportivo de La Coruña (Galicia) and Atlético de Madrid fans clashed at 8.49am on the banks of the capital’s Manzanares River. On one side were a hundred or so members of Riazor Blues, the radical section of Deportivo de La Coruña’s fan base. On the other, more than 150 members of Frente Atlético, from the ultra section of Atlético de Madrid, whose stadium is near to where the incident happened.

Most of the members of the two gangs were carrying bats, metal bars and knuckle dusters. Anyone who wasn’t armed grabbed metal chairs from a nearby terrace. Once within 20 meters of each other, the groups began to throw fireworks and firecrackers. After a minute of loud bangs, fighting broke out: punches, kicks and stabbings. The Galician ultras, who were outnumbered, fled the scene, but some were left behind.

At 8.52am, according to a recording made by a bystander, a dozen or so Atlético ultras threw one of the Galicians into the river. He managed to get out of the water after having fallen five meters into the Manzanares. Other members of the gang did the same a minute later with Francisco Javier Romero Taboada, a Galician ultra who managed to hang on to the handrail after being thrown over the side. Blows and beatings rained down on him until he fell into the water.

Taboada called for help for half-an-hour from the river as he tried to keep himself afloat

Taboada called for help for half-an-hour from the river as he tried to keep himself afloat and scale the sheer wall lining the bank, according to a taxi driver who witnessed the scene. A number of passers-by harangued one of the few municipal police officers on the scene for not jumping in after him as, all the while, the confrontations between the two groups of ultras continued on the river bank. According to the same source, the officer explained that he was awaiting backup.

Fifteen minutes later, municipal squad cars arrived, as well as officers from the National Police, who began making arrests. Later on, firefighters used a ladder to rescue the man from the water.

When an ambulance finally arrived, the man was in cardiac arrest and was showing signs of hypothermia. He was, according to an official source, “clinically dead.” Romero Taboada, or ‘Jimmy’ as he was known, was a familiar face to the police in La Coruña. He was 43, and had a wife and two children.

The incident left 10 injured, 21 arrests, 30 people identified by the authorities and a lot of stitches. Among those detained were two members of the Bukaneros, the radical section of Madrid team Rayo Vallecano, and who, like the Riazor Blues, are also of the extreme left. Frente Atlético, in contrast, follows a neo-Nazi ideology.

The police want to check phone records of those arrested to find out if the fight was premeditated

The scene was left covered in blood stains, an officer present at the scene told EL PAÍS. Among the last to be arrested was a La Coruña radical with a stab wound in his back. The police interviews continued on Sunday night. The police have requested a judicial order to check the telephone records of the arrested men to find out whether the fight had been premeditated.

The central government’s delegate in Madrid, Cristina Cifuentes, stated on Sunday that the tragedy could have been avoided if the National Anti-violence Commission – which is part of he Interior and Culture ministries – had classed the game as high risk, given that 10 times more officers would have been deployed around the stadium (around 150) and a police escort would have accompanied the ultras on their journey into Madrid. The commission claims it did not know that the 200 radicals would be traveling to the Calderón stadium.

Despite the incident, the game went ahead. The final decision as to whether or not to suspend the match lay with the Spanish Football Federation.