By Amb. Apple, Finland and Jake Clifford, Nigeria
Police in Helsinki and Kuopio are on guard as Serbian and Polish football fans arrive to support their teams this week.
Red Star supporters light torches during the Serbian Cup Final in Belgrade, Serbia. Image: Getty Images
Finnish football will get a fillip of international interest this week as teams from Serbia and Poland arrive to challenge local clubs in regional tournaments.
Helsinki club HJK will face off against Serbia’s Red Star Belgrade (Crvena Zvezda) at 7.00pm on Wednesday evening at the Töölö stadium as they duel in the second qualifying round of the UEFA Champions League.
Meanwhile Kuopio outfit KuPS will challenge Poland’s Legia Warsaw at the same time on Thursday at the Kuopio football stadium in the second qualifying round of the Europa League.
Police said that they are taking precautions as they expect both teams to be followed by hundreds of supporters from their home countries, including so-called “ultra fans”.
Chief inspector Seppo Kujala of Helsinki police department said that he has a fair idea of what to expect at the Töölö stadium on Wednesday. He noted that the department began to prepare for the match as soon as it received information about the opponent two weeks ago. Officials have also received background about Red Star fans, who have a reputation of being troublesome.
“Red Star supporters are a rather fanatical lot. There have sometimes been some disruptions. We have to pay attention to that,” Kujala noted.
Police will be working with the Helsinki club to secure the game. The department’s role is to have a public presence before and after the match and to provide back-up if something unexpected happens.
“The starting point and set up are in good shape. The majority of supporters are just regular people,” he stressed.
Kujala added that there were no extraordinary arrangements in place for Wednesday’s game, given previous experience with similar events.
“We’ve had fanatical supporters before, and there hasn’t always been over the top behaviour,” he explained.
UEFA-appointed head of security
HJK vice president Kari Haapiainen is also responsible for organising Wednesday’s fixture. He said that the club has reserved 500 seats for Red Star fans in the stadium. Officials estimate that around 200 supporters will come from Serbia for the match, in addition to football enthusiasts from other countries such as Sweden.
According to Haapiainen, HJK has received assistance from UEFA and Serbia to host the game. He added that spectators can expect to see somewhat heightened security compared to a game featuring local clubs.
“Everyone seated in the Red Star fan section will be required to present a passport. Serbian police have also sent personnel to help control the situation on site. This is also the first time that UEFA has named a head of security for the event,” Haapiainen revealed.
Security arrangements will also be evident post-match: Serbian fans will be allowed to leave the stadium a bit later than other patrons to help avoid potential hooliganism.
“It’s a perfectly normal practice. They will be asked to linger a bit longer after the game. Red Star fans will hear an announcement in their own language,” he added.
Meanwhile, police in Kuopio in eastern Finland are also getting ready for an international fixture that will pit Poland’s Legia Warsaw against the home team KuPS. Police inspector Markus Taskinen stressed that only a portion of the visitors’ fans come with a bad rep.
“Of course this will affect our preparations. However the majority of people are decent fans. There are also some ultra supporters among them who may cause some trouble.”
In similar fashion to the Helsinki game, police officers from the visiting club’s homeland will be on hand to safeguard the event.
“They will help us identify [people] if something happens. They can assist with interpreting if needed. In a worst case scenario there may be violence and vandalism,” he outlined.
Like their Helsinki counterparts, Kuopio police have looked into Legia Warsaw fans’ backgrounds. In addition officers will be visible at the stadium and on the streets.
“There are no threats or risks. We have been cooperating with international agencies and anyone can attend the match with confidence,” he concluded.
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