By Poly Pantelides
A 20-year-old man with second-degree burns was on a respirator at Nicosia hospital’s intensive care unit on Saturday after being injured on Friday night when hundreds of hooligans clashed during a friendly football game between host team Anorthosis and guests Apollon in Larnaca.
At about 7.45pm, about 15 minutes after the game started, between 150 and 200 Apollon fans approached the stadium in an organised group carrying Molotov cocktail bombs, firecrackers, flares, bats, and stones, police said.
Authorities said the hooligans provoked Anorthosis fans who responded in their hundreds, with some 400 Anorthosis fans leaving their stands and stepping outside the stadium. A limited police presence had to try to break off violent clashes, which went on for about an hour.
At least three parked cars were damaged when people hurled stones at them. A 20-year-old was caught up in the crossfire of a flare, sustaining second-degree burns. He was initially taken to Limassol general hospital but was moved to Nicosia because of his injuries, considered serious but not life threatening.
He is still in intensive care, on a respirator because of inhaling fumes, police said. A police spokesman said there was a cloud of fumes from the flares, Molotov cocktails, as well as the tear gas police used to break up the crowd. The circumstances under which the man was injured are not yet clear.
Police said their officers were assaulted by he hooligans, with eight of their members incurring slight injuries. Two police officers went to Larnaca general hospital where they were treated and discharged, police said. Six people were later arrested, state broadcaster CyCB said.
Football games – friendly or not – often end up with troubles in Cyprus with the bigger games between traditional rivals getting heavily policed.
Courts have handed out jail sentences to hooligans in what they described as an effort to demonstrate that fair play must be the norm, not the exception. A Larnaca district court judge who last year handed out two four months’ jail terms to two men, aged 26 and 27, said that “playgrounds should harbour entertainment, sportsmanship and healthy competition, as they did in the past.”
But despite isolated cases where hooligans do get prosecuted and punished, arrests do not always take place during troubles and hooliganism continues being an unresolved problem.
In early April, hooligans clashed in the context of two separate football games, one between Omonia and Apoel in Nicosia, and another between Anorthosis and AEK in Larnaca. Again, cars were damaged, while Molotov cocktails, firecrackers and flares were set off. The justice ministry said it was discussing new measures to prevent this kind of violence; however the new measures discussed were in the vein of current actions taken, i.e. punishing vandals and increasing police presence at games.