46 arrests after 'extreme violence' ahead of Aston Villa v Legia Warsaw
46 Legia Warsaw supporters were arrested in what police described as “disgusting and highly dangerous scenes” ahead of Thursday night’s Europa Conference League tie at Villa Park.
Four officers were injured, with one taken to hospital having suffered burns, after Polish fans threw flares, bottles, tree branches and other assorted objects.
Two police horses and two police dogs were also hurt after violence flared on Witton Lane outside the stadium, around an hour before the scheduled 8pm kick-off.
A total of 46 arrests have so far been made on suspicion of offences including violent disorder and assaulting a police officer. All have been taken into custody for questioning.
In a statement, West Midlands police claimed the disorder had been sparked when Legia failed to distribute match tickets outside the ground, as had been expected.
Officers eventually took the decision to bar all visiting supporters from entering the stadium, meaning Villa’s 2-1 win was played out in front of any empty away section.
Chief Inspector Tim Robinson, match commander, said: "This should have been a great evening of football which was enjoyed by fans from both clubs.
"Unfortunately, there were appalling scenes which saw away fans dangerously throw flares and other missiles at our officers.
"We were there to help keep people safe, yet officers own safety was put at risk because of the deplorable actions of others.
"Due to the extreme violence, there was no other choice but to prevent away fans entering the stadium. The safety of everyone is our priority, and clearly we had no other option.
Legia’s ticket allocation for the match had been a focal point in the days preceding the match, with the Polish club unhappy it had been reduced to just 1,000, less than half the number typically permitted under Uefa rules.
That decision was taken by the Safety Advisory Group, made up of emergency services and local authority departments, after violence flared when Legia visited Dutch club AZ Alkmaar earlier in the competition. Their supporters were subsequently banned by Uefa from attending their next away match at Zrinjski Mostar.
The police also had concerns over Legia’s previous record in the UK, after 20 officers were injured during a Europa League tie at Leicester two years ago.
Claims more than 1,000 fans had travelled despite having no ticket for the match guaranteed a large police presence pre-match.
In a statement released shortly after the trouble began, Legia placed the blame for the reduced ticket allocation, accusing them of “exacerbating” the atmosphere among supporters.
A subsequent Villa statement hit out at Legia’s lack of co-operation in the build-up to the fixture, claiming they had repeatedly warned the visiting club and Uefa ticketless fans were intent on getting into the ground.