Not for the first time or the last, Jurgen Klopp searched for the right words in a difficult situation and found them.
Wearing a Liverbird badge in the colours of the Irish flag, Klopp said: “The game on Tuesday night showed the beauty of the game, and it showed the most ugly face of parts of the game.
“When I heard for the first time about it, I cannot describe my emotions in English to be honest. That should never have happened, it should never have happened before and it should never happen again in the future. We all have to do everything to make sure that things like that will not happen anymore.”
Cox, a 53-year-old Irishman who was attending the game with his brother, suffered serious head injuries after being targeted by a 20-strong gang of Roma supporters outside a pub, yards from Anfield. He continues to battle at The Walton Centre, where his family are at his bedside.
Liverpool, too, have made regular visits to the hospital, and continue to offer their full support. The shirt of St Peter’s Dunboyne, Cox’s GAA team, was hung in the home dressing room before Saturday’s Premier League clash with Stoke City at Anfield. A fund set up to aid the victim and his family has raised more than €70,000 in donations.
In the meantime, all eyes will be on the second leg in Rome. On the pitch, the aim is for Klopp and his side to secure a first Champions League final appearance in 11 years; off it, the challenge is to ensure the game passes without incidents such as the one witnessed at Anfield last week. Neither will be an easy task.
Liverpool officials have been in Rome since Thursday, so grave are their concerns. The club took the exceptional measure of requesting an extraordinary meeting in the Italian capital on Friday, at which supporter safety was top and bottom of the agenda.
Present were representatives from Roma, from UEFA and from Italian police and security forces. Liverpool described the meeting as “positive and productive”, as they sought reassurances over a number of security issues, such as meeting points, transport to and from the stadium, turnstile opening times and ticket checkpoints. With 5,000 Reds fans set to descend on the Eternal City this week, and given Roma’s history of violence with English supporters, the fears are understandable.
Liverpool have suffered in Rome before. Their last visits, in 2001, were soured by stabbings, missile attacks within the stadium and clashes with an unsympathetic police force. Fans who visited for the 1984 European Cup final share even darker memories. “Stab City,” was how they christened the place.
There have been other incidents too. Three Middlesbrough fans were stabbed outside a bar in 2006, while Chelsea fans were ambushed at an Irish pub ahead of their group stage match earlier this season. Leeds, Tottenham, Arsenal and Manchester United supporters have also experienced trouble, as have fans of various other European clubs.
It is an issue which continues to plague Roma, one which the club’s president, James Pallotta, is acutely aware of.
Pallotta, a pal of Liverpool owners Fenway Sports Group, went public this week, slamming the “f***ing morons” who he claimed were “destroying the history” of Roma and creating wider issues for Italian football in general. The American, to his credit, has not shied away from taking on the more hardcore elements of the club’s support since taking over in 2012.
Others appear less willing. Il Tempo newspaper last week ran a story citing ‘police sources’ in which it was suggested that around 1,000 of the 5,000 Liverpool fans expected to travel were “ultras” who brought a “risk of trouble.”
Il Tempo claims violent #Lazio ultras are ready to unite with #LFC fans to cause trouble against #ASRoma . Includes mock-up of The Beatles Help cover with weapons and headline: 'The Barbarians are coming' https://t.co/8W3ai49NEx #RomaLiverpool #ASRLIV pic.twitter.com/GAGGxmTYVM— footballitalia (@footballitalia) April 28, 2018
The same publication later carried an interview with Andrea Cecchini, spokesman for the Union of Italian State Police, in which he suggested that Reds supporters could look to team up with those of Lazio, Roma’s city rivals, in order to cause trouble. Liverpool, he reasoned, planned to train at Lazio’s Formello base, so the idea of “an alliance” between fans was clear. The headline to that article was “Help!” with the image showing the classic Beatles album cover, amended to show supporters wielding weapons. Classy.
Liverpool were quick to point out that not one Reds fan has been arrested at a European away game this season, with Lee Lomax, Merseyside Police’s dedicated football officer, telling the Liverpool ECHO that the behaviour of supporters this season has been “impeccable.”
Merseyside Police will have officers in Rome this week to provide assistance and advice to their Italian counterparts. The five-strong team will be led by chief superintendent Dave Charnock, and will be based in key locations around the city. There will be around 1,000 local police officers on duty, and Liverpool were given assurances at Friday’s meeting that fans will be protected and treated fairly and with respect.
A further pre-match planning meeting between clubs and police is scheduled for Monday, while on Sunday, guidelines were issued for travelling supporters via Liverpool’s official website. They advise fans, among other things, to avoid the north of the city, and in particular the notorious Ponte Milvio Bridge, and to use organised shuttle buses to travel to and from the stadium. Under no circumstances, they warn, should fans attempt to walk.
In addition, fans have been told to avoid hanging banners and scarves on fountains and statues. The areas of Piazza Campo de Fiori and Largo Corrado Ricci, near the Colosseum, have been designated as ‘safe’ spots for visitors, though warnings over the sale and consumption of alcohol have been issued. Those heading to the game have been warned to arrive early and to expect to be kept behind for longer than usual after the final whistle. They will hope they are celebrating their side’s progress by that point.
Klopp’s advice for travelling fans, issued at his press conference on Friday morning, was simple and to the point. “Behave!” he said. “Behave like you want to be treated if you are alone in the street or whatever. You want to be safe. It’s common sense.”
How we all hope his warning is heeded. Liverpool’s aim on the pitch this week is the same as it is off it; get in and out of Rome and get the job done. Safely.