Polish PM apologizes for soccer rampage

  • 2007-07-11
  • Staff and wire reports

MOB RULE: Legia fans proved their unruly reputation in Vilnius, a year after 5,000 of them carried out a riot in Krakow's Old Town.

VILNIUS - In a phone conversation with Lithuanian Prime Minister Gediminas Kirkilas on July 10, Poland's Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski apologized for the behavior of his country's soccer fans in Lithuania, referring to the riots that broke out the previous Sunday in Vilnius' Vetra Stadium.
On July 8 the UEFA Intertoto Cup match between Vilnius' FK Vetra and Legia Warsaw was halted at half time when hundreds of Legia fans, whose team had fallen behind 2:0, poured onto the pitch and began throwing stones and breaking fences.

The scene quickly turned into a riot as over 200 police officers, some on horseback, tried to contain the Polish fans, who were tearing up the pitch, setting advertisements alight and attacking the police with metal bars, chunks of concrete and flares.
"It was war 's war on the football field. Of the 2,500 Legia fans, about 500 were not interested in football at all, just fighting. We have never had anything like this before," Vetra press officer Tautvydas Vencevicius told The Baltic Times.
Police used tear gas, rubber bullets and batons to quell the crowd, clearing the Polish side of the stands before allowing the Lithuanian fans to exit the stadium.
One Lithuanian soccer fan, a 35-year-old man, was treated for a cut on his neck, BNS reports. Two police officers were treated for minor injuries.

Police detained 30 individuals, including four Lithuanians, during the incident. On July 9 and 10 the Third District Court of Vilnius found 16 of the suspects guilty of hooliganism and obstruction of police work. Seven of the Poles were sentenced to five to 15 days in jail. The remaining nine were handed fines amounting to 100 to 300 litas (29 to 87 euros). 
Stadium staff have put the cost of damages resulting from the riot at 21,000 euros, mainly from broken advertising screens, seats, gates, portable lavatories and TV cables. The stadium's Lithuanian flag was also reportedly destroyed during the chaos.
As The Baltic Times was going to press on July 11, European soccer's governing body UEFA was scheduled to rule on possible punishment for the Polish team. Likely measures include expulsion from the competition and financial penalties.

Vencevicius later said that he had seen over a hundred messages on the Internet posted by Legia fans expressing regret over the riots, and stating that those responsible were not true fans, but "criminals" and "idiots."
Whatever the fans' sentiments, Legia has been having a particular problem with attracting troublemakers in recent years. One of the more violent incidents happened in May 2006, when an estimated 5,000 Legia fans rioted in Krakow's Old Town.