Tuesday, April 24, 2018
Public safety

Raucous fans, smoke bombs disrupt Rowdies match against Orlando

ST. PETERSBURG — Four men were arrested, 16 fans were ejected and smoke bombs were set off Sunday at a particularly raucous Tampa Bay Rowdies game.

The club blamed members of a group of Orlando City Soccer Club fans who arrived at Al Lang Stadium before the 6:30 p.m. game.

In a statement released on the club's Facebook page Monday, Rowdies owner Bill Edwards said local fans were intentionally moved away from Orlando fans and additional security guards and police officers were called in to monitor the situation.

"Despite these measures, certain members of the Orlando City SC supporters group engaged in disorderly behavior beyond acceptable limits," Edwards said in a statement.

Stadium staff put up bike racks between the groups in an effort to separate them, police spokesman Mike Puetz said. But as they tried to eject some fans who were trying to start fights, police met with resistance, Puetz said

Stephen Marva, 24, of Deltona was charged with battery on a law enforcement officer. Puetz said he shoved an officer out of the way while trying to start a fight. Charles Tolman, 30, of Orlando was charged with battery on a law enforcement officer. Puetz said he was trying to wave a flag in the opposing team's section and struck a police officer with the flag's pole when he was asked to stop.

Jimmy Galvez, 28, of Orlando was charged with disorderly intoxication. Police asked him to leave three times, Puetz said, but he sneaked back in after pretending to leave. Jared Ambrose, 24, of Clermont refused to move out of the way of officers and was charged with disorderly intoxication as well, Puetz said.

A widely circulated photo also showed what looks like a fire in the stands. Fire spokesman Lt. Steve Lawrence said a smoke bomb canister was set off during the game. No fire was reported, Lawrence said, and no one was injured. While smoke bombs are allowed at games, explosive fireworks are not.

Sunday's game was the second leg of the "I-4 Derby," a sort of cross-state rivalry except they're exhibition games — Orlando is in USL Pro, a league below the Rowdies' NASL. Orlando won the first leg of the derby at home, and on its website, the club invited fans to travel to St. Petersburg for the second leg.

"Entering hostile enemy territory to chant and sing for 90 minutes is an exhilarating experience, particularly with a chance to humiliate a local rival on the line," the club's website reads.

Soccer fans are notoriously enthusiastic, but Edwards praised Rowdies fans, particularly the team's independent fan club "Ralph's Mob," and said they work to foster a family environment.

"I hope that Orlando City SC can get control of this problem, and I look forward to meeting them once again when they do," Edwards' statement said.

Orlando City beat the Rowdies 3-2 to claim the I-4 Derby title.

Claire Wiseman can be reached at cwiseman@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8804. Follow @clairelwiseman on Twitter.

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