Policeman Dies of Heart Attack as Spartak Moscow, Athletic Bilbao Fans Clash

Gill Clark@@gillclarkyFeatured Columnist IFebruary 22, 2018

Basque autonomous police officers stand guard outside the San Mames stadium before the Europa League Round of 32 second leg football match between Athletic Club Bilbao and FC Spartak Moscow at the San Mames stadium in Bilbao on February 22, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / ANDER GILLENEA        (Photo credit should read ANDER GILLENEA/AFP/Getty Images)

A police offer has died after Spartak Moscow and Athletic Bilbao supporters clashed ahead of the two sides' Europa League match on Thursday. 

Bilbao police said in a statement, per Alex Richards at the Mirror: "Our condolences to colleagues, friends and relatives of the Ertzaintza deceased in Act of service. Rest in peace. Goian Bego."

The police officer suffered a heart attack during the violence and died in hospital as medics fought to save his life.

Marca's Juanma Velasco reports glasses and flares were thrown in the scuffle between Spartak and Bilbao fans, which led to "several arrests." Another police officer was taken to hospital along with three Russian fans, according to Javier R. Beltran at AS.

Fierce fighting erupted between both sets of supporters until local police intervened. There were also reports that fireworks were being used as weapons, as shown by Sport Witness:

Sport Witness @Sport_Witness

Claims Spartak Moscow fans are causing trouble in Bilbao. Fireworks seemingly being shot as weapons. https://t.co/Zy7bgOvwEj

When Sunday Comes showed scenes of the clashes in Bilbao:

When Sunday Comes @WSCsupporters

Scenes in Bilbao tonight before the match between Athletic Bilbao and Spartak Moscow https://t.co/MPxdKO8EHG

Athletic Bilbao had been preparing for trouble with over 2,000 Russian fans predicted to arrive in Bilbao. Concerned by the fans' reputation for violence, the police had set up a "massive security operation," per Beltran.

The heavy police presence appears to have prevented the situation from escalating further.

Despite the shocking scenes, the match went ahead as planned with Athletic Bilbao 3-1 up after the first leg in Russia. Spartak won the game 2-1, but Athletic progress 4-3 on aggregate.

It remains to be seen what action will be taken in the wake of the violent scenes, but both clubs may face sanctions for their supporters' actions. However, football writer Simon Harrison was dubious as to how severe any punishment may be:

Simon Harrison @simonhfootball

I wonder what peanuts fine will be dished out after the events of this evening. https://t.co/ddTc3FlG0g

La Liga offered a statement via Twitter:

LaLiga @LaLigaEN

#LaLiga deplores and condemns the death of a police officer following incidents before tonight's match between Athletic Club and Spartak Moscow and extends its deepest condolences to his family and friends. Say no to violence.

The Europa League is unfortunately not a stranger to scenes of violence. The game between Lyon and Besiktas in April 2017 was delayed due to trouble and led to supporters running onto the pitch. 

The events will also likely damage the reputation of Russian fans even further. BBC Sport's Richard Conway explained how one supporter heading to the game was arrested on his way to Bilbao in connection with a previous attack:

Richard Conway @richard_conway

31 year old Russian - wanted in connection with an attack on an England fan during Euro 2016 - has been arrested in Germany. Faces up to 15 years in jail in France on charges of attempted homicide and grievous bodily harm. (via AFP)

Russia will host the 2018 FIFA World Cup this summer, an event that has already seen fears raised about the potential for violence between rival supporters. Thursday's violence will only deepen concerns that the summer's showpiece event could be severely harmed by hooliganism.