UK police probe ticket problem that sparked violence and arrests of Polish fans at Aston Villa game
BIRMINGHAM, England (AP) — Aston Villa filed a complaint with UEFA on Friday over the conduct of Legia Warsaw officials and the “unprecedented violence” of the Polish team's fans outside Villa Park.
Police arrested 46 Legia supporters after “ 90 minutes of sustained violence " Thursday night when 1,000 Polish fans arrived to the stadium but weren't given their tickets to the Europa Conference League game.
“This shocking behavior followed Legia club officials’ complete lack of cooperation with West Midlands Police, Aston Villa and UEFA throughout the day,” the Birmingham club said in a statement Friday.
The Warsaw club had been upset that local officials who license all stadium events required the ticket allocation be reduced from 1,700 to 1,000 in response to disorder by Legia fans at an Oct. 5 game against AZ Alkmaar in the Netherlands.
At a standard pre-match meeting Thursday morning, “Legia Warsaw refused to confirm if they would accept their allocation of tickets for the match at that point,” Villa's statement said. “This is in stark contrast to normal UEFA operational procedures.”
The Polish club's officials confirmed at 4 p.m. that they would accept the allocation and then were handed the tickets when they arrived at Villa Park at 6:16 p.m., Villa said.
West Midlands Police said their investigation will include determining why the tickets weren't distributed, and that they'll pursue charges against those arrested after four officers — as well as a police dog and horse — were injured in what they described as “planned violence" by the away fans.
“The disorder that we encountered last night was the most severe that a lot of us have ever seen," assistant chief constable Damian Barratt told Talk Sport radio.
“It was undoubtedly, as I say, instigated as a result of this issue related to ticket allocation,” he continued. "That’s something I’ll be taking up with football authorities and UEFA in particular. I will be expecting some strong decisions on their part.”
Villa won the game 2-1. The away fans section of the stadium was empty.
UEFA said it “strongly condemns the unacceptable violence” and was "in the process of gathering all official reports from the game before deciding on potential next steps. We have no further information or other comment to make at this stage.”
Legia fans were also involved in violent clashes with police during a game at Leicester in 2021.
Legia Warsaw did not return an emailed message Friday seeking comment. On Thursday night, it blamed Villa for “refusing to allocate tickets to away fans.”
Barratt described “enormous hostility” among the away fans, some of whom started fires and threw flares. Police did not indicate that their officers' injuries were serious.
“One officer’s fluorescent jacket caught fire after they were hit with a flare. Fortunately his jacket was removed quickly and he was not injured,” West Midlands Police said in a statement. “He was later taken to hospital with smoke inhalation after the smoke from the flare made it into his helmet.”
Most of the arrests were for violent disorder, four for “possession of a knife/offensive weapon,” and four for assaulting emergency workers," police said.
Police confirmed on Friday that all of the arrests were away fans “and we’ll be working hard to charge and remand those suspects where we can today.”
Chris Heck, Villa's president of business operations, said the club “will be making further representations to UEFA in order to ensure that other clubs and police forces across Europe are not exposed to similar serious safety risks at the hands of Legia Warsaw.”
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