Football was of secondary importance in Bilbao on Thursday when before the start of a Europa League clash, police had to contend with clashes between visiting Russian and hosting Spanish fans.
A police officer in the northern Spanish city of Bilbao has died of a heart attack while on duty at Athletic Bilbao's Europa League game against Spartak Moscow.
The police officer died in hospital, after the regional Basque Country police force was trying to stop street battles between supporters of the two teams, the police said. With many traveling fans believed to have arrived without tickets, the atmosphere was reportedly tense from the start.
After the first signs of trouble were dealt with in one area, fighting broke out elsewhere as a few Russian ultras threw glass at some home fans. Both sets of supporters started to throw bottles and flares at one another before a police charge put the fight on hold. A press spokesman for the police force in the region confirmed the death of the police officer, but refused to comment on speculation that the officer died as a result of the fighting.
La Liga president Javier Tebas said afterwards he was "deeply affected" by the events. "This is madness... The Russian ultras should never have been allowed to travel to Bilbao. Some of them will be known to the authorities and, for that reason alone, it's not surprising that we have witnessed trouble."
Over 500 police officers had been deployed for the high-risk return leg of the tie, but that didn't stop trouble from starting as Spartak ultras arrived at Bilbao's stadium ahead of the game. Some lit and threw smoke bombs and garbage cans, even fireworks were let off. At least five people were arrested.
Spartak won the match 2-1, but Bilbao went through 4-3 on aggregate.
In June this year, Russia host the World Cup and local authorities are putting strict security procedures in place to control hooligans.
jh/em (Reuters, AFP)