The Slovenia Times

Country shocked by football fan violence incident

Football fans amid flares at a match. Photo: Nebojša Tejić/STA

In an incident without precedent in Slovenian sports history, things got seriously out of hand among the ranks of the Maribor ultras during a football premier league game in Murska Sobota on 18 February. Five players and an assistant coach of the home team had to be taken to hospital after a stun grenade, hurled from the midst of the Viole, exploded in their proximity.

The event, which has drawn wide condemnation, including from Prime Minister Robert Golob, occurred in the 57th minute as the visiting team held a 2:0 lead. The stand filled with Maribor's Viole supporters was already ablaze with flares as a loud detonation caused several Mura team members warming up or sitting at the side of the pitch to cover their ears or even fall on the ground.

The match was terminated and five Mura players as well as an assistant coach had to be brought to Murska Sobota General Hospital for suspected auditory damage.

After initially saying that "temporary loss of hearing, severe headache and leg burns in two players are only some of the consequences", the club explained that one player, Niko Kasalo, remained hospitalised overnight for observation over potential permanent hearing loss concerns. All six have been referred to the UKC Maribor hospital for further testing at the otorhinolaryngology clinic.

Police, who had assessed the match as a medium-risk event, have said that as yet unknown perpetrators are being investigated on suspicion of several criminal acts, including general endangerment and vandalism.

The home club expressed shock at the event, and FC Maribor and the Football Association (NZS) condemned the incident in the strongest of terms. The NZS said it would punish the perpetrators and expressed hope that they would face "sanctions from official authorities" as well.

The shock was shared by FC Maribor's president Bojan Ban, who told the press he hopes the individual responsible will be identified by the authorities, as "things really went too far". He finds the event hard to fathom, additionally so in the face of the two clubs having traditionally been on friendly terms.

The Viole, one of two well-established ultras groups in Slovenia along with Ljubljana's Green Dragons, distanced themselves from the event, taking to Facebook to condemn the incident and blame it on an "irresponsible individual", while declaring themselves "strict opponents of the use of pyrotechnics".

Problem that must be addressed

The NZS underlined the need to distinguish between real football fans and hooligans, adding that such incidents deterred fans and families from coming to matches. "It is time that the problem is addressed in cooperation with all stakeholders. The event is an additional signal that a systemic and comprehensive solution is needed."

This was echoed by Prime Minister Robert Golob, who expressed indignation and expressed hope that the injured recover quickly. "Hooliganism and violence have no place in sports," he said.

The Bishop of Murska Sobota Peter Štumpf reacted too. "Hooliganism is not support, it is barbarianism. A team that has hooligans behind it and is well aware of this, does not meet any conditions to perform and play," Štumpf said in s statement for a regional paper.

"Until boundaries are set, sports, and football in particular, will become increasingly criminalised, and without any resistance. The continuation of this leads to gladiator-style spectacles that require victims, and even death in their most radical form," said Štupf calling for decisive action from authorities.

Maribor Mayor Saša Arsenovič meanwhile expressed disappointment and offered apologies to the injured and others affected. He called "not only on supporter groups, but also on football club officials, the NZS, the legislator and law enforcement" to make sure that football stadiums will be places of joy.

Security expert Denis Čaleta pointed his finger primarily at club officials, telling the Slovenian Press Agency it is clubs that bare the responsibility for working with their fans.

"What we are seeing today is that these ultras enjoy the tacit support of the clubs, in terms of tickets for access to matches as well other benefits. We simply need to have a clear agreement that if the fans express support in a normal and sporting way, then of course the club supports the fans with all the appropriate activities. But if this line is crossed, then the club must simply no longer identify with these fans, or even more, they should be clearly banned from sporting events," he aid.

Čaleta added that all other stakeholders will of course also need to contribute, with cooperation being key. While highlighting England and Germany, which have successfully eradicated hooligans from football stadiums in the past, he acknowledged that the Slovenian Football Association has also been engaged in various training and awareness-raising projects for both clubs and fans.


More from Sport