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Police officer set on fire and three more hurt after Polish football fans unleash 'planned violence' at Aston Villa game
1 December 2023, 07:04 | Updated: 1 December 2023, 07:41
A police officer who was set on fire was among four injured on Thursday night after clashing with Polish football fans ahead of Aston Villa's home Europa Conference League tie.
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Officers in riot gear were bombarded with missiles and flares outside Villa Park as they confronted Legia Warsaw supporters.
One officer was taken to hospital with burns after being hit by a flare. None were seriously injured.
Two police dogs and a horse were also hurt in the clashes. Some 39 people were arrested.
Away fans were banned from entering the stadium as West Midlands Police launched a "significant policing operation", but the game kicked off at 8pm.
Aston Villa said they unleashed "planned and systematic" violence after it announced a reduced ticket allocation over safety worries.
The number of tickets allocated to Legia Warsaw fans for the Aston Villa match was slashed from 1,700 to 1,002 after violent scenes with Dutch police at a game between the Polish club and AZ Alkmaar.
That was said to have enraged the Legia Warsaw travelling faithful, and around 1,000 ticketless fans tried to storm the turnstiles. None of the away fans were allowed into the stadium after Thursday's clashes.
Nie ma spokojnych wyjazdów w przypadku Legii w tym sezonie europejskich pucharów… najpierw przepychanka o bilety z władzami Aston Villi, tutaj starcia z policją chwilę przed meczem, bo mnóstwo kibiców zostało bez wejściówek i zostało zamkniętych w strefie pod stadionem. Naprawdę… pic.twitter.com/QYxnG8MXdU— Dominik Piechota (@dominikpiechota) November 30, 2023
Birmingham Police said on Thursday night: "We're currently unable to allow away fans into Villa Park following disorder outside the stadium which has seen missiles thrown at officers.
"Three officers have already been injured & a significant policing operation continues.
"Please avoid Witton Lane where possible."
The Warsaw fans were instead kept in a coach.
Journalist Dominik Piechota said the disorder broke out after "a fight over tickets with the Aston Villa authorities".
He said: "Then clashes with the police moments before the match, because many fans were left without tickets and were locked in the area under the stadium."
Aston Villa confirmed in a statement that no away fans were allowed into the stadium and that the violence came after it had reduced the Polish side's ticket allocation over safety fears.
"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," the club said.
"Aston Villa strongly condemns the behaviour of those visiting supporters and would like to thank West Midlands Police for their professionalism in very difficult circumstances."
It added: "The UK safety authorities, UEFA and Aston Villa, communicated on November 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.
"A number of Dutch police officers were injured during that disorder. As a consequence, UEFA banned Legia supporters from travelling to Mostar for their game against HŠK Zrinjski.
"In spite of numerous requests for cooperation 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."
West Midlands mayor Andy Street said: "Deeply unpleasant scenes outside Villa Park tonight, which were dealt with absolutely appropriately by West Midlands Police.
"A huge thank you to the brave officers who put themselves in harms way to keep others safe.
"I trust UEFA will now move swiftly to take strong action."
Villa went on to win the game 2-1.