A fan attending a Polish Ekstraklasa soccer game was briefly set on fire by a security guard after his team lost the match. In the Polish league, flares in the stands waved by fans are typical. After Slask Wroclaw defeated Zaglebie Lubin in the relegation round match-up this weekend, things got bizarre.
The Lubin fans stayed in their seating area following the loss and in true hooligan form, defying the loss by waving lit road flares and yelling some colorful chants. Stadium security stood around the group in the vacant areas surrounding the visiting fans section. It was nothing abnormal for the soccer league.
There are 16 teams that make up the Ekstraklasa and each team plays each other in the season. At the conclusion of the regular season, the top eight teams are put into a Champion Group and the rest are left to the Relegation Group. While the Champion Group winner will go on to play in the Champions League, the teams in the Relegation Group are fighting to stay in the Ekstraklasa. The bottom two teams at the conclusion of relegation play drop down to the second level league, I Liga. To replace those two teams, the top two teams from I Liga are promoted to Ekstraklasa play the next season.
Not expecting to be set on fire by a guard, a Lubin fan climbed a security fence and started waving his flare in defiance of the teams loss in the Polish league game. The guards decided this fan was going to far and one member of stadium security stepped up and sprayed the fan with what appeared to be pepper spray to try to get him down. It was a measure to keep the fans from getting hurt. Instead, the spray was ignited by the lit flare and engulfed the fan in a ball of fire.
The flames lasted for a split second and the fan, after quickly dropping the flare, jumped off the fence and back to the stands. Reports from the stadium indicate that the fan was unharmed by the brief fireball. As surprised as the fan was to go up in flames, the security guard seemed just as shocked as the pepper spray ignited.
The Ekstraklasa may start looking more closely at fan safety. Pepper spray may not be an answer to crowd security and fans may be barred in the future from bringing flares into stadiums. Even with the fan appearing not to have been harmed during his brief flame up, fans should expect different security measures the next time they attend a match.
The Polish soccer fan will more than likely not be climbing anymore fences with a lit flare with or without pepper spray wielding security guards around. The situation could have resulted in a devastating tragedy if the brief flare up did not extinguish itself as quick as it did. If this would have occurred during the game when the stands were full, it very quickly may have turned into a mass casualty situation. Everyone involved with the incident turned out to be very lucky this day.
Commentary by Carl Auer