The head of football policing in the UK has called for Legia Warsaw to be thrown out of the Europa Conference League over the fan violence that left five officers injured before their defeat at Aston Villa.
Chief Constable Mark Roberts, who leads the country’s Football Policing Unit, told The Times one police officer needed hospital treatment after being burnt by a flare thrown by a Legia supporter, while two horses and two dogs were also hurt.
Some of these clips from Villa Park are crazy. Missiles being launched into the ground with the Legia Warsaw fans denied entry outside.
— HLTCO (@HLTCO) November 30, 2023
“Sadly, Legia have become well known in Europe for appalling fan behaviour,” said Roberts, who confirmed 46 arrests had been made to date. “From a police perspective they are extremely difficult to manage and there comes a point when you have to ask where police and public safety outweighs the needs of the competition.
“I spoke to Uefa last night and we will speak again today. They are urgently reviewing the situation. But I think there is a really good case for having them thrown out of the tournament.”
Legia fans were banned entry to Villa Park on Thursday night after clashing with police and throwing fireworks before the match.
Footage appeared to show missiles being thrown into the stadium from outside the ground and midway through the first half of Villa’s 2-1 win, while some Legia fans appeared to try to break into the ground from behind the North Stand.
“The officers did a really good job in holding them back,” Roberts said. “But there were injuries. Missiles were thrown. Flares and metal grids were thrown; Portaloos were turned over. I’m glad to say the officer who suffered burns is now out of hospital but all the officers injured required medical treatment.”
Visiting supporters had been given 1,000 tickets for the game, after their allocation had been cut from 1,700 on police and safety advice. Dutch police officers were injured during Legia’s group match against AZ Alkmaar last month and Uefa banned the club’s supporters from travelling to Mostar for their game against HŠK Zrinjski as a result. Another 1,000 supporters had been expected to turn up at Villa Park without tickets.
Legia issued a statement on their official website that accused Villa of refusing to allocate tickets but the Premier League club hit back and said the Polish side had not co-operated with them over the threat of ticketless fans arriving at Villa Park.
Roberts said: “Legia did not manage the situation well. They said, after their ticket allocation was cut, that the fans [without tickets] would turn up and attempt to force entry into the ground, and they were late in identifying a ticket collection point – the coach park. Some fans were turned away at the border but, the fact is, we think only 600 or 700 Legia fans turned up in the end, so there were more than enough tickets for everyone. As a club, Legia haven’t helped in this situation.”
Villa said: “Aston Villa can confirm that no away fans were allowed into Villa Park on the advice of West Midlands Police following large-scale disorder outside the stadium caused by visiting supporters.
“The UK safety authorities, Uefa and Aston Villa, communicated on Nov 2 that the ticket allocation for away fans for this fixture would be reduced to 1,002 on the advice of safety authorities as a result of previous large-scale disorder caused by Legia fans last month at AZ Alkmaar.
“In spite of numerous requests for co-operation from Legia Warsaw concerning their travelling supporters, especially in the last two days, no assistance on the serious safety matter of away fans attending Villa Park was forthcoming from the visiting club. The club has repeatedly, including this morning, raised concerns in conjunction with Uefa and all the relevant authorities to Legia that ticketless away supporters were attempting to attend Villa Park.
“Approximately an hour before kick-off, Legia fans engaged in planned and systematic violent acts against West Midlands Police officers and a decision was then made by West Midlands Police to exclude all Legia supporters.”
Legia said: “Aston Villa is refusing to allocate tickets to away fans in accordance with Uefa regulations for a Uefa Europa Conference League match.
“Instead of relieving potential pre-match tensions, restrictive measures by Aston Villa FC as a host club, they unnecessarily exacerbate the atmosphere. In our view, such measures are counterproductive and unfounded.”
Professor Clifford Stott, a specialist in the psychology of crowds and football hooliganism, said the scenes at Villa Park were “the most serious disorder I’ve ever witnessed in a Uefa competition”.
He added: “I can’t see how Uefa cannot act.”
Legia’s owner and president, Dariusz Mioduski, had already decided to boycott the game and it is also thought that some of the Legia directors left at half-time.
Neither Villa manager Unai Emery nor Legia coach Kosta Runjaic would comment on the crowd trouble outside the ground.
Runjaic said: “We have great fans. We can always rely on them.”
But he said it would have been “helpful” to have had his team’s fans inside the ground.
He added: “The atmosphere would have been much better in general in the stadium.”
“Uefa is in the process of gathering all official reports from the game before deciding on potential next steps,” a Uefa spokesperson added.
Emery’s enduring love affair with European football goes on
Aston Villa 2 Legia Warsaw 1
The Spanish manager has steered Aston Villa into the knockout stages of the Europa Conference League, and needs just a point from the final group game against Zrinjski Mostar this month to make sure of finishing top of their table and moving straight to the last 16 of the competition.
What a difference a year makes.
It was just over 12 months ago that Emery took charge at Villa Park following the dismissal of Steven Gerrard. The former Arsenal manager clearly had his sights set on what had looked a seemingly unlikely target of getting Villa into Europe for the first time in 13 years.
Emery’s face lights up when talks of taking part in such competitions. After all, this is a man who has three Europa League trophies to his name from his time at Sevilla. And despite losing to Legia Warsaw in their opening group game in Poland, he will be able to plot a clear path if Villa can do what they need to against HŠK Zrinjski Mostar in Bosnia.
Once the night’s controversy involving Polish supporters outside of Villa Park had subsided, Emery’s side could focus on what was needed.
After making an excellent start after only three minutes, when Moussa Diaby latched on to a Youri Tielemans ball and drove the ball in decisively with his left foot, Villa stumbled. A mistake from Boubacar Kamara – who blind-passed in a lack of concentration – allowed Ernest Muci to equalise.
— Football on TNT Sports (@footballontnt) November 30, 2023
Legia hit the crossbar from a Gil Dias header after the break but then Villa took control. It was an unlikely hero who put the home side ahead with Spanish left-back Alex Moreno, marking his first game of the season following a hamstring injury, with his first goal for the club.
Douglas Luiz’s free-kick was met by Moreno, who scored with a spectacular volley from inside the six-yard box. There was a Var check for offside, but nothing was going to ruin Moreno’s moment.
— Football on TNT Sports (@footballontnt) November 30, 2023
Villa could have made sure of top spot had they won by two clear goals – and substitute Leon Bailey almost produced just that. A route-one long ball from goalkeeper Robins Olsen – playing instead of the rested Emi Martinez – found Bailey, but his lob hit the underside of the crossbar and bounced on the line.
The only downside of the evening, from a team point of view, was the absence of top scorer Ollie Watkins, who missed the game with a pain he felt in training.
But the Villa manager knows the next stage of his European journey is almost complete.
He said: “I’m really happy. We were thinking when we were preparing for the match try to show how we have improved. We played well, we are progressing. We are feeling stronger and we want to finish first in the group.
“Now we are close to it and we want to finish these matches by winning in Mostar.
“Alex came back, Jacob Ramsey get more minutes as well - we are building and learning things.
“It’s very important this competition because it’s a way for a trophy and for Europe next season - as well as getting injured players feeling in good rhythm again.”
On Watkins’ absence, Emery added: “He was not available. He felt something, I don’t think it’s important but we decided not to take a risk.
“I don’t know right now but we will test tomorrow and Saturday and see how he is, but hopefully yes.