Head of UK football policing: Strong case for Legia Warsaw Europa Conference expulsion
The UK’s head of football policing believes there is a strong case for Legia Warsaw being booted out of the Europa Conference League after Thursday night’s violent scenes at Villa Park.
Four police officers were injured and 46 visiting supporters arrested in the worst trouble seen at the ground in decades.
On Friday, Villa lodged a formal complaint with Uefa over Legia’s conduct in the build-up to the Group E tie, which they claim made the situation more dangerous.
The Polish club were unhappy at their ticket allocation being cut from 1,700 to 1,002, a move instigated by the UK’s Safety Advisory Group after Legia fans were involved in violence in a previous Conference League match at AZ Alkmaar.
Chief constable Mark Roberts, who leads the UK’s football policing unit, said there should be serious concerns about Legia’s track record of causing trouble, with 20 officers having also been injured following clashes in Leicester during a Europa League tie two years ago.
Uefa have launched their own investigation into Thursday’s violence and Roberts said: “From my perspective, I think it really does put in focus whether there is a case to exclude them from the competition because they can't keep going round Europe causing this sort of havoc.
"It's not for me to make that recommendation but my view is that it's very difficult to manage and there should be very serious consideration for excluding them from the competition.
"Because what price public safety and the safety of police officers when the club has a proven record?”
One officer was taken to hospital suffering from smoke inhalation when his jacket caught on fire after being hit by a flare. None of the injuries suffered by the police are thought to have been serious.
Trouble initially broke out in coach park on Witton Lane, which Legia had identified as their preferred location to distribute tickets.
Supporters threw flares, bottles, bricks, tree branches and other assorted objects at officers as they tried to break out of the compound. They were eventually forced out of the coach park in the other direction, into Station Road, where it is believed they attempted to overturn a police van.
After police confirmed no supporters would be permitted entry to the ground, further isolated pockets of trouble broke out, with Legia fans throwing objects – including tubs of mayonnaise – into the stands. Some are believed to have tried to force entry into the ground.
Roberts, who confirmed 11 Polish fans had been stopped from entering the country by border control, explained: "Very late in the day they (Legia) articulated that they were going to use the coach park at Villa as the collection point, despite it being far from a suitable place.
"When we do it with our teams abroad it's usually a box office or the club's ticket office or even a hotel.
"It's very difficult to try and hand over tickets and verify ID's in a car park.
"The difficulty also presents itself to police trying to stop ticketless fans getting near the ground.
"If everyone can say the tickets are at the collection point with the club you have no chance of ticketless people coming on.
"What they've then faced is the people in that car park started throwing missiles and flares.
"Then throwing things over in the ground and there appears to have been an attempt to force entry into the ground.
"What you can't allow for obvious reasons is for fans - even those with tickets - to force their way into the ground because of all the risks.
"Given the level of violence shown by the Legia fans, you can imagine if they had got into the stadium there would have been an even greater risk of injury to people inside the stadium. But the police did a really good job and were well prepared.”