VIOLENCE IN SPORT

How a hooligan’s killers were caught

Death of Galician fan in brawl has marked a turning point in handling of soccer violence

Scientific police analyzed this video showing the victim being tossed into the Manzanares river.

“What is it? Tell me,” said Ismael López Pérez, 34, into one of his three cellphones when he saw the call from his wife Inmaculada. It was 7.38am on December 16.

“Listen, Isma, don’t go outside the house with the kids, OK? Óscar and Sergio, OK?” she said.

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“What?”

“Óscar and Sergio.”

“OK, OK, I get it,” said Ismael.

“Don’t walk out the door,” she insisted.

“All right.”

Just minutes later, the police stormed Ismael López Pérez’s house in the Madrid satellite town of Parla and arrested him for the murder of Francisco Javier Romero Taboada, a soccer fan who died on November 30 after being beaten and thrown into the Manzanares river during a brawl between rival hooligan gangs outside Atlético Madrid’s Vicente Calderón stadium.

The 43-year-old Deportivo de La Coruña fan clung on to life inside the freezing water for nearly half-an-hour before the emergency services plucked him out. By then he had gone into cardiac arrest.

The police arrested 41 people in connection with the fight, including Ismael López Pérez, whom video footage shows to be one of the individuals who beat the victim and threw him over the handrails.

At the time of his arrest the suspect “burst into tears,” according to investigators

Although he had not used his telephone since that day, his 28-second conversation with his wife demonstrates that both were expecting law enforcement officers to show up any day, and had created a code to serve as an early warning.

Despite López Pérez’s lack of a criminal record, law enforcement officers knew he was a member of two hooligan groups: Frente Atlético and Ultras de Parla.

At the time of his arrest he “burst into tears,” according to investigators. But right after he was shown the photograph identifying him, “he adopted a cool attitude and denied having perpetrated the actions of which he was accused.”

The police also arrested Sergio Santiago Martínez, 23, who lived with his parents in Alcobendas. Police reports based on surveillance footage describe him as “a heavy-set male who covers his face with a white scarf.”

Deportivo de La Coruña players observe a minute’s silence after the death of one of their supporters.
Deportivo de La Coruña players observe a minute’s silence after the death of one of their supporters.Cabalar (EFE)

Martínez, a member of the extreme-right-wing Frente Atlético group, which follows Atlético Madrid,  had already been taken down to the police station on at least two occasions, and “was one of those who are always in the front lines of the fights between hooligans,” according to investigators.

Other detainees include Francisco Javier Jiménez Linares, 28, whom video footage shows was one of the first people to attack Romero Taboada, “hitting him with a blunt object he had in his hands, and later, when the victim collapsed to the ground, lifted him together with Ismael López Pérez and threw him into the river.”

The investigation was helped along by numerous witness testimonies, home videos and cellphone geolocation.

The brutal murder of the Galician soccer fan – known as Jimmy to his fellow members of the extreme left-wing Riazor Blues group of Deportivo supporters – has marked a turning point in how security is handled at soccer matches in Spain. Shortly afterwards, all the main leaders of the country’s soccer clubs drew up emergency guidelines to deal with violence at their stadiums.

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