Foreign fans accused of kicking off pitch invasion

At least 40 people are facing legal action after around 200 hooligans invaded the pitch in a Football Bundesliga match at the weekend.Vienna police said today (Weds) 40 people will be prosecuted over the incidents in which two police officers were injured. They added that not all of the offenders who stormed the green 26 minutes into the clash between Rapid Vienna and city rivals Austria Vienna have been identified so far as many of them wore facemasks. Investigators explained they will need a few more days to examine all of the relevant CCTV footage recorded during the pitch invasion which occurred in front of 17,500 fans in the packed Gerhard Hanappi Stadium – and hundreds of thousands of TV viewers – on Sunday afternoon.Greek and German hooligans are suspected of being the ringleaders of the incidents, according to Austrian newspapers. Some Rapid supporters have had close ties to fan groups of Greek top-flight side Panathinaikos Athens and German Bundesliga club 1. FC Nuremberg for years. The supporters – many of them linked to various violent incidents in Austria and Europe – keep visiting each other throughout the season.Rapid bosses pledged to reform its ticketing modus to avoid that Rapid fans of the Gerhard Hanappi Stadium’s west stand can pass on their annual passes to others. Apart from charges considering the pitch invasion, Rapid rioters will also face consequences for smashing the windows of the bus of the Austria Vienna squad ahead of the most recent and 297th Vienna derby.The match was put down in the statistics 3-0 in favour of Austria Vienna. The team – who led 2-0 when the Rapid hooligans took over the pitch – have chances to win the league in the final round tonight. However, a draw may be enough for leaders Sturm Graz to celebrate a third title in the club’s history. Austria Vienna face 2009/2010 season champs Red Bull Salzburg (RBS). Sturm will play against Wacker Innsbruck.Social Democratic (SPÖ) Sports Minister and Rapid fan Norbert Darabos spoke out in favour of a “radical reaction and solution” to last Sunday’s occurrences which made headlines in sport newspapers across the globe. The minister argued more drastic measures than ever before should be agreed upon to get rid of hooliganism in Austria for good.Darabos said lawbreakers should be banned from pitches in the whole country for life – a suggestion backed by Rapid President Rudolf Edlinger who said: “We don’t want to see them in our stadium anymore.” The former SPÖ finance minister added those who masterminded and headed the pitch invasion should not be allowed to attend Rapid’s away matches either. However, it is Edlinger and the club board who have faced harsh criticism for years from law-abiding fans for allegedly being not strict enough with violence-endorsing supporters of the club which is considered as the most popular football team of the country.Peaceful fans were outraged yesterday when an Austria Vienna fan group offered their apologies to Rapid’s hooligans for not having stormed the pitch themselves. The Austria Vienna hooligan group argued they did not want to endanger their team’s chances to win the league title. Rapid and Austria Vienna rioters had clashed at train stations and other public places in Vienna many times in the past decades, with the number of incidents on the rise in recent years.A Rapid Vienna fan club defended the invasion – which could leave the club with a stadium ban and a fine of tens of thousands of Euros – in a statement published online yesterday. The group said the actions were justified as posters crying for change within the team to boost their performance failed to have any impact. The organisation described the invasion of the pitch as “our last cry for help.” They added that a majority of supporters of the club founded in 1899 were not satisfied with the team’s displays this season.Darabos vowed to raise the issue in parliament to introduce more stringent regulations as soon as possible, while People’s Party (ÖVP) Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner suggested stadium crowds should not be allowed to disguise their faces by law. She named England as a possible role model in fighting hooliganism in Austria. Officials in the birthplace of football failed to substantially reduce the number of violent acts inside and outside venues for a long time before harsh restrictions were implemented by MPs.The Austrian Green Party suggested clubs should lose points garnered in the race for the title if their fans become violent. The right-wing Freedom Party (FPÖ) provoked a public outcry by claiming that Sunday’s incidents do not mean that existing laws must be reformed.Edlinger said he considered the negative impact on the club’s reputation as more severe than the financial effects the occurrences will have, but consequences in economic regard could be immense as well.Main club sponsor Wien Energie reportedly urged the Rapid board to sort out its problems with violent fans as soon as possible. The energy sector company has funded Rapid for years. Other major investors are brewery Ottakringer, oil and gas group OMV AG and mobile communications provider Orange. Bank Austria (BA) stopped its financial support for the club a few weeks ago. Erste Group Bank AG (Erste Bank) launched a partnership with the football team shortly after it emerged that BA – one of its key competitors – will not extend its sponsorship deal.The Kurier newspaper reported that a special trade emissary from China attended the scandal-hit match on Sunday. The Asian official was reportedly in the country to negotiate with Vienna City Hall chiefs and industry representatives how his nation can benefit from Austria’s knowhow in environmentally friendly infrastructure solutions.Asked for the impact the “derby disgrace” will have on the image of Austria’s soccer, internationally experienced referee Thomas Einwaller – who refereed the match – said: “Now the last bit of good reputation Austrian football had in the world is ruined.”The Austrian Bundesliga table after 35 of 36 rounds:Sturm Graz, 63 pointsAustria Vienna, 61Red Bull Salzburg, 60SV Ried, 55Rapid Vienna, 50Wacker Innsbruck, 50Magna Wiener Neustadt, 49Kapfenberg, 38SV Mattersburg, 30LASK Linz, 19