BERLIN (AP) — Berlin police were on alert for fan violence Thursday after Union Berlin’s Europa Conference League game with Dutch team Feyenoord.
Police made at least 74 arrests in the run-up to the match, which Feyenoord won 2-1, and were maintaining a highly visible presence in and around the stadium to keep rival fans apart.
“With the final score, it’s the nature of things that some are happy and others not. In order to channel these emotions somewhat, our emergency teams will also ensure that fan groups are separated for departure,” Berlin police said on Twitter.
Despite a ban on pyrotechnics at the game, it began under a of smoke from flares set off before kickoff by the visiting fans. The Feyenoord supporters lit more flares once the game started, contributing more smoke, and they were promptly faced by a line of riot police.
There had been disturbances and an attack on the Union team delegation for the teams’ previous game in Rotterdam.
Some 5,000 visiting supporters began arriving in the German capital on Wednesday. Police made 71 arrests altogether late Wednesday and early Thursday morning for offenses including rioting and other disturbances after fans had been drinking heavily in various parts of the city.
Two Feyenoord fans were apprehended after painting their team’s name on the East Side Gallery, an open-air collection of artworks on the longest surviving stretch of the Berlin Wall. It was promptly painted over in gray by Union supporters who wrote “Ultras Union!” That in turn was later daubed over by Hertha Berlin fans.
Police stopped rival fans from coming together for pre-planned fights in Treptower Park and Tempelhof, police spokesman Martin Dams told The Associated Press.
“They were prepared for violence,” Dams said.
There were more arrests shortly before kickoff. Berlin's police said one fan was apprehended for setting off a flare at Rominter Allee near the stadium, and two more were arrested for allegedly resisting and attacking emergency service personnel.
There were announcements in Dutch and German reminding fans that pyrotechnics are not permitted. Heavy rainfall kept supporters moving along relatively quickly. Police in riot gear maintained a very visible presence on the subway to the game.
Police said the Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz subway station was full of smoke, that a train had to be replaced at Alexanderplatz due to a door being destroyed, and that fans set off more pyrotechnics en route.
“We have lots of understanding for football fans looking forward to their team's game. We have no understanding if crimes are committed and bystanders are hindered or even endangered,” police said on Twitter in both German and Dutch.
The Berlin senate gave the go-ahead on Wednesday for up to 30,000 spectators to attend the match in Olympiastadion, usually home to Union’s city rival Hertha. Union is using the stadium because its own in the eastern borough of Köpenick doesn’t have enough seating capacity to meet UEFA demands.
Union deployed 800 game stewards to help with security, the most it has ever had at a match.
Union lost on its visit to Feyenoord 3-1 on Oct. 21, but that game was overshadowed by the attack on Union's team delegation, including club president Dirk Zingler, the day before, followed by what it said was “brutal police violence” against its fans on the day of the match.
“Unfortunately, many of us did not feel welcome in Rotterdam,” Zingler wrote in the program for Union’s match against Bayern Munich last Saturday. “It began on the eve of the game with the attack on the employees and official delegation of our club. … On the day of the match, there were serious organizational deficiencies, perhaps even deliberately by the host club, that meant many Unioners missed large parts of the game.”
Zingler also referred to the reports of police violence that led to some Union supporters being taken to the hospital for treatment.
“We have never experienced anything like this to this extent before, and we will not let it die down,” said Zingler, adding that his club is "pressing for an explanation.”
Union finished Thursday’s game with nine players following the sendings off in the final minutes of captain Christopher Trimmel, who had scored a fine equalizer, and Cedric Teuchert. Luis Sinisterra and Cyriel Dessers scored for Feyenoord.
The game was sold out with 30,000 supporters, making it Union’s biggest ever in European competition. The club had to keep two sections of the stadium closed as a UEFA sanction for the antisemitic behavior of some of its fans toward supporters of Israeli team Maccabi Haifa on Sept. 30.
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Ciarán Fahey, The Associated Press