‘Appalling’ football violence worst officers have seen in decades

The deputy chair of West Midlands Police Federation said the violence outside Villa Park on Thursday evening (November 30) was the worst officers had seen at a football match in more than two decades.

Dec 1, 2023
By Paul Jacques

Jase Dooley praised the efforts of those officers on duty who were faced with serious disorder ahead of Aston Villa’s European game with Legia Warsaw.

West Midlands Police said its officers were subjected to “90 minutes of sustained violence” from away fans in “disgusting and highly dangerous scenes” as trouble flared ahead of the fixture.

Officers were attacked with missiles and flares. A number of officers were injured, with one taken to hospital with burn injuries after being hit by a flare while another suffered a suspected broken hand.

Two police horses were punched and kicked, and several police dogs were also injured walking on broken glass after bottles were thrown at police lines. They are not thought to be seriously hurt.

So far, 46 people, all away fans, have been arrested for offences including violent disorder, assaulting police officers and weapons possession.

No home fans were arrested and there were no issues from Aston Villa supporters at any point, said West Midlands Police.

Assistant Chief Constable Damian Barratt said: “This was appalling and completely unacceptable disorder.

“What we saw was 90 minutes of planned violence, with one officer saying it was the worst he had seen in 28 years of policing.

“Our officers bravely put themselves in harm’s way and I would like to commend each and every one of them for their efforts.

“We are committed to charging and remanding any and all responsible for attacking our officers and endangering the public.

“We had no issues with the home fans and would like to thank them and Aston Villa for their support and kind words last night and this morning.

“The only issues inside the ground last night were from a small number of away fans who had managed to get into home areas.

“We will be liaising with the club and footballing authorities in the coming days to discuss last night’s appalling scenes.”

West Midlands Police said it had a “significant policing presence” in place because of safety concerns.

This stemmed from visiting fans having been involved in previous match day disorder.

The disorder is believed to have sparked when tickets were not distributed by the away club to supporters outside the ground, as had been anticipated.

The away allocation had been reduced to 1,000 tickets on the joint recommendation of the Safety Advisory Group (SAG), working alongside Aston Villa and supported by UEFA.

The SAG is made up of emergency services, local authority departments and transport who assess the health, safety and welfare of those involved with public events to offer advice and guidance to organisers.

The disorder led to away fans not being allowed into the stadium due to safety concerns, and a significant number of arrests were made, the force.

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.

“There can never be a place for such appalling behaviour, and this is something ourselves and the wider community should never have to experience.”

Mr Dooley said officers “did a really good job in the face of sustained violence from people intent on disorder”.

The Federation deputy chair added: “Our colleagues from Thames Valley Police horse section said they haven’t seen violence like it in a very long time, and I’ve got 28 years’ experience and used to be on the operational support unit, and I’ve not seen anything like that since the turn of the century.”

He said there was a significant police presence at the game based on intelligence and previous matchday disorder involving Legia Warsaw fans.

“West Midlands Police did a really good job in briefing officers, telling them what to expect, the way they had the numbers in force,” he said “It was just unprecedented violence from people who were intent on causing injury to anybody.”

Mr Dooley said dealing with those arrested would take valuable resources away from other areas of policing.

“Our investigation teams were working extremely hard until the early hours of this morning and they’re all back on shift again today,” he said.

“We’ve had to pull resources from everywhere. They could be doing something so much better with their time than dealing with mindless hooligans, and this is affecting other operations.

“The thin blue line is stretched that little bit thinner today, and community policing is going to be suffering because of these thugs.”

Mr Dooley is encouraging officers who were on duty at the game to speak to their reps and seek the support of the Federation if they needed it.

“We have a lot of young officers in the force and most of them wouldn’t have seen anything like that before, and some senior officers as well won’t have experienced it before,” he said.

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