Policeman dies as Russian, Spanish hooligans stage scary pregame battle

Basque police were called on to quell violence between fans of Spartak Moscow and Athletic Bilbao before a Europa League match. (Getty)

A police officer has died of a heart attack after he and colleagues were called on to curb violent clashes between fans outside a soccer game in Bilbao.

The officer’s death was confirmed by Spain’s national police service late Thursday night. According to reports in Spain, a blow to the head had sent him into cardiac arrest. He, along with four others, had been transported to a local hospital hours earlier, before kickoff of Thursday’s Europa League match between Athletic Bilbao and Spartak Moscow.

Russian hooligans had descended on the Basque city for the knockout-round match. One of them, in fact, had been detained en route, arrested for attempted homicide in a 2016 beating of an England fan.

The rest clashed with Bilbao “ultras” in the streets outside Athletic’s stadium, San Mames, beginning around 90 minutes before the 9 p.m. local time kickoff.

Videos from witnesses showed fireworks being hurled, and street barriers being turned into weapons, among other acts of violence and chaos.

According to reports, at least five people have been arrested. According to Spanish newspaper AS, three of them are Russian. There will surely soon be news of more injuries, too. This was ugly.

Here are more details from AS:

The first scuffles took place about an hour and half before the game kicked off. Prior to that, groups of Russian hooligans met close to the regional television headquarters ETB but a quick response from the civilian police, the Ertzaintza, prevented trouble from escalating out of control.


But shortly after that, fighting broke out in the Deusto district when a few Russian ultras threw a glass at a group of home fans. Bottles, glasses and flares were hurled from both sets of fans and only a police charge prompted a pause in the battle.

Meanwhile, Athletic Bilbao won the two-leg series 4-3 on aggregate despite losing Thursday’s second leg 2-1. The Spanish club will advance to the Europa League round of 16.

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Henry Bushnell covers global soccer, and occasionally other ball games, for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at henrydbushnell@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell.