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Fear and Loathing in Vila-real

Villarreal fell to a 0-2 defeat against Celta Vigo at El Madrigal. But the game quickly became of secondary importance after the events just a few minutes from time. We discuss the state of the investigation here.

Jony: on target with canisters.
Jony: on target with canisters.
David Ramos

Villarreal 0, Celta Vigo 2. Goals from Orellana and Nolito earned the victors the spoils. The Yellow Submarine dominated the match, but wayward finishing and conceding two goals from set pieces were the differences. Real Sociedad won in Málaga, and Athletic Bilbao fell to a shock defeat at home against Espanyol, so the Champions League qualifier race has tightened. Still eight points clear of eighth place.

Now on to the sad events near the end of the match. Start by reading Sid Lowe's excellent piece for The Guardian, then we'll fill in more details.

Here's what we know so far:

  • In the 88th minute, an individual in the crowd hurled a tear gas canister onto the field. Jony Pereira tried to kick it away, thinking it was a flare, but the smoke plume swelled, forcing the players and officials off the pitch. Then the fans followed onto the streets surrounding El Madrigal in a remarkably orderly fashion.
  • El Madrigal evacuated in just eight minutes. There were fifteen people treated for minor injuries -- eleven at the stadium and four in ambulances. No hospitalizations, thank goodness. In a way, it's almost unimaginable that it did not turn out worse. But that is the only saving grace of the situation.
  • We know the canister came from a quiet section of the south stand -- I stood near this section with the Agrupació de Penyes last year for the Elche match. Reports are that the section typically is reserved for youth team players and friends and family of those on the pitch. One note is that it has convenient access onto the busiest side streets around the stadium, so it would have been easy for the perpetrator to blend in with departing fans, even nearing midnight.
  • Initial reports disseminated via social media were that the perpetrator wore dark clothes and a ski mask and used a launching device. And he may have entered the ground only in the final ten minutes of the match -- league protocol requires the gates to be open for fluid departure by the fans. He may also have been from Castellón de la Plana...the plot may thicken.
  • But the surveillance video suggests a man of average height (5'7") wearing jeans, a Giovani dos Santos Villarreal away jersey, and a bomber jacket. Around 30 years of age, with no launching device -- he threw the canister manually. And he faded into the night -- two witnesses could not quite pinpoint him.
  • Keep in mind that this was no ordinary tear gas canister. It requires a pin to be pulled prior to release, just like a grenade, and it is only available on the black market. In Spain, its only availability is at a military facility. The canister in question was more powerful than what police typically use. It should be traceable given its scarcity, so that may be another clue investigators are able to turn up.

And Allen picked up on a potential bombshell in watching the match on replay. In his words:

I watched the match tonight and paid special attention to the exit where the perpetrator ran out.  All of the exits at El Madrigal have a security guard at them.  The guards are easy to spot because of their bright orange bibs.

Sometime around the 85th minute, the guard at the exit in question disappeared.  He was there around minute 83 for sure.  The next time you see him is after the canister was thrown and people were evacuating -- around minute 90.  And I don't think it was a "the security guards open the doors" sort of thing, because the guard at the exit on the other side of the goal was there in minute 85 -- only this guy was not.

So....was the perpetrator taking advantage of an opportunity?  Did he know that this security guard usually disappears around this time (if he does)?  Or...?

Boy, would that be something. Great catch by Allen. We'll have more on the story as it develops -- keep it here.

Update: I (Allen) watched the tape again and can confirm at 85'16" (match time per the TV feed) there is no security guard visible at exit 10.  There is some movement--a couple of people getting ready to leave, perhaps, or else just walking past, but the camera moves away at that point.

Unfortunately, that's the last time we see the exit before the canister hits the pitch, which judging from Pina's reaction as he suddenly stops moving forward with the ball, was around 86'42".