Tear gas at Villarreal, racism and missile thrown at Cristiano Ronaldo among incidents overshadowing thrilling La Liga title race - European - Football - The Independent

Tear gas at Villarreal, racism and missile thrown at Cristiano Ronaldo among incidents overshadowing thrilling La Liga title race

The tear gas incident at Villarreal is just the latest in a string of incidents to hit Spanish football

The Spanish Football Association (RFEF) should be celebrating one of its most competitive La Liga campaigns in years as Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid battle it out at the top, but instead recent events off the pitch have warranted as much attention as those on it.

After 24 matches the trio are tied at the top with 60 points apiece, ensuring one of the closest title races in recent times in Spain. Each have slipped up, each have enjoyed formidable unbeaten runs and each have shown enough quality to suggest they can win the title. Atletico’s rise under Diego Simeone may only have made it a three-horse race rather than two, but the final few months of the season are set to be scintillating.

All three showcased their potential title-winning qualities at the weekend with emphatic wins. It started at the Vicente Calderon as Atleti bounced back from three straight defeats in all competitions with a commanding 3-0 win over Real Valladolid to move temporarily to the top. Just hours later Barca were back at the summit and in some style when they took advantage of Rayo Vallecano’s leaking defence to win 6-0 at the Camp Nou. On Sunday Real Madrid swept the pressure aside to ease to a 3-0 win at near neighbours Getafe. Three comfortable wins and three reasons why each can win La Liga this season. Unfortunately for Spain the race for the top was overshadowed by unwanted scenes elsewhere over the weekend.

The only thing untoward at El Madrigal with five minutes remaining on Sunday night was that Celta Vigo, five points above the relegation places before kick-off, were leading Champions League-chasing Villarreal in their own back yard. Fabián Orellana had given Luis Enrique’s side the advantage and they looked on-course to cause one of the shocks of the weekend against Marcelino’s men.

Then it happened.

At first it looked like a smoke bomb, not condoned but not exactly rare in European football stadiums. It was thrown from the stadium’s south end with around three minutes to go and Yellow Submarines striker Jonathan Pereira did as any other player would probably do in the same situation and kick it off the pitch. Only it wasn’t a smoke bomb. Pereira knew it, the 22 men on the pitch knew it and the 15,000 supporters inside the ground knew it too.

The players sped for the dressing room covering their mouths and noses and the fans fast-tracked for the exit gates doing the same. This wasn’t a normal smoke bomb, it was a tear gas canister thrown on to the pitch that caused panic around the stadium and caused shock for those watching the events unfold on their television sets. Used mainly by police to control riots and such like, the effects can cause blindness in the extreme cases. This was a dark day for Villarreal and it was a dark day for Spanish football.

Despite the commotion and despite the concerns the match was finished - there were only three minutes plus stoppage time to play. The players returned around 15 minutes later with the gas cleared but the vast majority of the shocked spectators did not. It certainly suited nobody but Celta returned and added a second to secure a valuable three points for them and leave Villarreal with plenty to do if they wanted to secure a top-four finish. But few were talking about the match.

Villarreal president Fernando Roig held a press conference straight after the match. "Villarreal regret and condemn what happened," he said. "We believe it was someone not associated with the club who committed an unspeakable act of vandalism, an outrage. Someone threw it from one of the exits and ran out. The police are looking into it, looking at the security cameras. The individual planned to come and do damage to Villarreal.”

Someone “not associated” with the club, but someone who initially could not be identified. Eventually after trawling through the CCTV footage police gathered some information on someone who was around 30-years-old and 1.70m tall. The poor CCTV quality, coupled with the masses of smoke that engulfed the stadium, prevented any clear identification and the perpetrator has yet too be found. Roig was keen to move the blame from his club and from his supporters but Villarreal have yet to produce their findings to Spanish Football Federation’s Competitions Committee. A meeting was due on Wednesday but that has been postponed to allow the Castellón club to complete their report.

The incident is the tip of the iceberg as far as recent off-the-pitch matters go in La Liga. At the end of Atletico Madrid’s 3-0 Copa del Rey semi-final first leg defeat at neighbours Real Madrid racist chanting from the away supporters was directed at Madrid full-back Marcelo, who was warming down with the rest of Los Blancos’ unused substitutes as Atleti’s travelling support were held behind at the end. His young son was on the Bernabeu pitch with him, too. The British press reported the ugly scenes but the Spanish press were not so forthcoming and, as seems to be the unfortunate norm, the story has already been largely forgotten.

Just a week later the abuse turned physical. In the return leg at the Vicente Calderon, with the tie all-but over as a contest after Cristiano Ronaldo scoring a brace of penalties to put Carlo Ancelotti’s men 5-0 up on aggregate, the Portuguese was struck on the head by a lighter as he walked off the pitch at half-time towards the tunnel with Sergio Ramos.

The punishment handed to the club by the Competition Committee? €600 (£490), a punishment less than the fine given for drinking in the street in the Spanish capital. Again, the culprit was never found and Los Rojiblancos put it down to the supporter wearing club colours and hence blending into the crowd. The fact Ronaldo was able to continue in the second half was also taken into consideration when the fine was confirmed.

Now the committee is under the spotlight again. The fine thrown at Atletico was an extremely lenient one and there will be pressure to act against Villarreal given the severity of this incident. This wasn’t just one man, albeit a player, affected, this was a whole squad of players and a whole stadium - by something that is used as a chemical weapon. On top of a fine, that could run up to €3,000, there is also the possibility El Madrigal will be shut down for anything from two-three matches to up to two months.

It may just be the madness of one man, who may or may not be a Villarreal ‘supporter’, but it will be the club that will suffer. It will be other clubs that suffer, too, as Valencia, and indeed Rayo Vallecano and Real Betis, found out this week. The Liga de Fútbol Profesional (LFP), the body in charge of administering the two professional football leagues in Spain, announced changes to kick-off times less than two weeks before they are scheduled to take place. Valencia fans are hit the worst, with their match against Rayo being moved from 12 noon on Sunday, March 2 to 9pm. The switch is to allow Villarreal’s match against bottom club Real Betis to be played earlier and minimise any risk of another incident at El Madrigal. The fans, as ever, are the ones to be hurt the most.

Spain has never had a shortage of off-the-pitch controversy, no matter how big or small, but in one of La Liga’s most enthralling title races for many years, the latest string of incidents have not helped sell the competition and the RFEF needs to act. How the Competition Committee acts following the incident at El Madrigal could be crucial in allowing supporters near and far to enjoy the final few months of an extremely close-fought season. 

News
Paper trail: the wedding photograph found in the rubble after 9/11 – it took Elizabeth Keefe 13 years to find the people in it
newsWho are the people in this photo? It took Elizabeth Stringer Keefe 13 years to find out
Arts and Entertainment
Evil eye: Douglas Adams in 'mad genius' pose
booksNew biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Sport
FootballFull debuts don't come much more stylish than those on show here
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Kim Kardashian drawn backlash over her sexy swimsuit selfie, called 'disgusting' and 'nasty'
fashionCritics say magazine only pays attention to fashion trends among rich, white women
Arts and Entertainment
TVShows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Arts and Entertainment
Hit the roof: hot-tub cinema east London
architectureFrom pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
Travel
travel
News
The ecological reconstruction of Ikrandraco avatar is shown in this illustration courtesy of Chuang Zhao. Scientists on September 11, 2014 announced the discovery of fossils in China of a type of flying reptile called a pterosaur that lived 120 millions years ago and so closely resembled those creatures from the 2009 film, Avatar that they named it after them.
SCIENCE
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Matisse: The Cut-Outs exhibition attracted 562,000 visitors to the Tate Modern from April to September
art
Life and Style
Models walk the runway at the Tom Ford show during London Fashion Week Spring Summer 2015
fashionLondon Fashion Week 2014
News
Kenny G
news
News
peopleThe black actress has claimed police mistook her for a prostitute when she kissed her white husband
Life and Style
techIndian model comes with cricket scores baked in
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week