Legia Warsaw fans caused controversy on Thursday when they held aloft a banner of Pope John Paul II just before kick-off in their match with Rangers.
Despite crashing out of the Europa League at Ibrox, it was Legia’s papal performance that may have caused the night’s biggest upset.
It’s likely that the huge banner of the late pope, who was also Polish, accompanied by the words “Be Not Afraid”, will see some form of retribution from UEFA, European football’s governing body. The banner was also accompanied by pyrotechnics, with the resulting smoke filling the stadium and temporarily bringing a halt to the night’s proceedings.
Although it was clearly Legia provoking the home side’s protestant support, it’s not the first controversy Rangers have been involved in this season. Their first game in the tournament, against Gibraltar side St Joseph’s, saw sectarian chants being sung by their fans, something that was then repeated in the first leg against Legia in Warsaw last week.
As a result of the chanting, Rangers were forced to close 3,000 seats at last night’s game and they await another hearing from UEFA later today. It’s possible that the Glasgow side could be banned from taking any fans to their next away game in the competition or be forced to play their next home game behind closed doors.
Earlier in the week, former Rangers striker Steven Naismith called for harsher punishments as a way to combat sectarian singing.
He said: "It needs to be a harsh punishment to rid it from our game. For years it has gone on and there's a fine, but the only way to deal with it is definitely harsh [measures] like stadium closures. That's the only way it will get through."
Among the Legia fans last night was Bournemouth stopper Artur Boruc. The former Legia goalkeeper played for the club for six years before signing for Rangers’ arch rivals Celtic in 2005. The diehard fan was in the crowd rallying those around him with a megaphone in tow.
Artur Boruc leading the chants for Legia tonight 👀 pic.twitter.com/NUbX9xGfMq— 32Red (@32Red) August 29, 2019
While Boruc and the travelling support stole the show at the beginning of the game, the reality was that it was the home side celebrating at the final whistle, and despite the restricted seating the Rangers fans were on their best behaviour and in fine voice.
Alfredo Morelos’ injury-time winner saw his side go through 1-0 on aggregate, although the club also confirmed earlier in the week that they will not be taking up their ticket allocation for their first away game in the group stages as a result of the charge from UEFA.
The draw for the Europa League group stages will take place at 12:00 BST.
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