Aston Villa: Officer hit by flare in clashes with Legia Warsaw fans

1 December 2023 0 By Total Football News
Media caption,

Video footage was captured as police came under attack outside Villa Park

Aston Villa fans said "all hell broke loose" before the European fixture with Legia Warsaw.

Four police officers and police dogs were hurt in clashes with away fans, with one officer suffering concussion when he was hit by a flare.

Forty-six Polish fans were arrested after the violence erupted when about 1,000 away supporters were not given tickets, West Midlands Police said.

The assistant chief constable said this had sparked the sustained disorder.

Home fans also said missiles were hurled into the Birmingham stadium, from outside the ground, as police stopped Legia Warsaw fans getting in.

The concussed officer's jacket caught fire after he was hit with a flare, but the jacket was removed quickly and he did not suffer burns.

The officer, sent by West Mercia Police to support the West Midlands force, was later taken to hospital with smoke inhalation after the smoke from the flare made it into his helmet.

The force faced 90 minutes of "sustained violence", West Midlands Police said.

General view of the debris outside the stadium after the pre-match disturbances with the Legia Warsaw fans
Image source, Action Images/Reuters
Image caption,

Flares were thrown outside the stadium and fans said bottles had been hurled into Villa Park from nearby roads

Police said a total of 46 people remained in custody and that no home fans were arrested.

The force had intelligence beforehand that Legia Warsaw fans were coming over to "cause problems", said Jason Dooley, deputy chair of West Midlands Police Federation.

Assistant Chief Constable Damian Barratt said he had "no doubt" the failure of Legia Warsaw representatives to distribute the tickets to fans had sparked the "high levels of violence" and "sustained disorder".

Officers from Derbyshire, Staffordshire, Warwickshire and West Mercia took part in last night's operation as well as mounted officers from Gloucestershire and Thames Valley

Villa fan Justin told BBC Radio WM he had been walking to the ground ahead of the game and had just reached the north stand car park when "literally all hell broke loose".

"I turned round and there were flares thrown, things coming over the top. [The police] reacted very, very quickly to shut that down," he said.

'Unprecedented violence'

Several police dogs suffered cuts to their paws from broken glass and two police horses were injured when they were punched and kicked, he explained.

"This is unprecedented violence, we've not seen for years and years," Mr Dooley said.

"You've got elderly people, families trying to go to a game and these fans, I would call them hooligans, were intent on causing damage to any person who was walking their way.

"It's just a difficult situation because we knew the intelligence that they were coming over to cause problems and the police gave the operation the fullest attention possible - we've policed it correctly but you just cannot stop the sporadic violence which occurs."

He said the force had given the policing operation for the match "the fullest attention possible".

"We've policed it correctly, but you just cannot stop the sporadic violence which occurs," he added.

'Ketchup bottles launched'

Forty one people were detained for violent disorder, four for possession of a knife or offensive weapon and four for assaulting emergency workers. All were fans of the Polish side.

Phil Strickley was in Villa's Holte End and said fans outside the stadium had started throwing bottles in, including some picked up from a burger van.

"They were literally picking up all their ketchup bottles and launching them into the stadium, trying to hit our fans," he said.

Villa's Europa Conference League game went ahead and the Legia Warsaw fans were stopped from entering Villa Park over safety fears.

Waseem Zaffar with his son at the game
Image source, Waseem Zaffar
Image caption,

Birmingham councillor Waseem Zaffar was at the game with his son and said some visiting fans had got into the ground

Birmingham councillor Waseem Zaffar was at the game with his eight-year-old son and said some away fans had managed to get into the ground.

"As soon as their team scored, they jumped up and then there was little spats here and there and a few of them got kicked out," he added.

Legia Warsaw fans are removed from a home supporters stand during the match
Image source, Reuters
Image caption,

Some Legia Warsaw fans who got into the stadium were removed from a Villa supporters stand during the game

Prof Clifford Stott, from Keele University, who is an expert on the policing of football crowds, was at the game.

"Some of the most serious disorder I've ever witnessed in a Uefa competition context tonight. Legia Warsaw have serious issues to confront and I can't see how Uefa cannot act," he posted on X.

Uefa - European football's governing body - said it strongly condemned the "unacceptable violence" around the game.

"Uefa is in the process of gathering all official reports from the game before deciding on potential next steps," a spokesperson added.

Dutch police officers were injured during large-scale disorder during Legia Warsaw's match against AZ Alkmaar last month.

Aston Villa won Thursday evening's game 2-1 courtesy of a 58th minute goal by Alex Moreno.

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