Schalke have condemned a police operation in the Veltins Arena's Nordkurve as "excessive" and said they had no knowledge of the operation.
A group of 100 police officers waded into the Schalke fan curve in the 75th minute of their Champions League qualifier against PAOK Salonika on Wednesday night and attacked fans with tear gas. Police had entered the block to remove a flag.
When Slovakia international Miroslav Stoch scored to pull PAOK level at 1-1 the stadium filled with whistles and uproar in a matter of seconds. Whereas at first it was believed Schalke supporters had turned against their team, it soon became evident that the wall of noise was not directed against the players but against a police operation.
Police had entered the block to remove a banner that included a Macedonian flag displayed by one of the Royal Blues’ supporter groups. In a statement released late on Wednesday night, Schalke attempted to explain the situation.
"Fans had displayed a 'Komiti Skopje' banner in the Nordkurve. The Vardar Skopje Ultra group is befriended with the Royal Blues Ultras," the statement read.
"Through this banner the PAOK fans felt massively provoked. The situation in the away end escalated, the Greek supporters threatened to 'attack' the Nordkuve [which is on the other end of the stadium] and cause the game to be abandoned. It should not go unmentioned that bangers and flares had been used in the away end and several provocative banners had also been shown in the away end."
The banner that led to police storming the Schalke block displayed the Macedonian flag and includes the Vergina Sun, a controversial symbol that was used on the official Macedonian flag from 1992 through to 1995 when it was changed to its current form following Greek claims that it is a symbol of their own nation.
Police had asked Schalke fans to no longer display the banner, but that request was not adhered to.
"During the opening minutes we spotted a banner which massively offended the Greek fans," a police spokeswoman told Radio Emscher Lippe, a local radio station on Wednesday. "To our findings this fulfilled the legal prerequisite of Volksverhetzung [a concept in German criminal law in which someone is guilty of hatred against a segment of the population]."
When questioned how a Macedonian flag could be an example of this, she replied: "That, I can’t tell you right now."
Pictures and videos show police entering the block, using tear gas and attacking fans and even stewards, who stood far away from the Macedonian flag.
"Those were the appropriate steps to not further put the life of innocent bystanders into danger," the spokeswoman continued. "We cannot understand why Schalke now reacts this way."
Schalke executive member Peter Peters said: "This operation was excessive. This must be discouraged and we don’t have any understanding for it. We have an urgent need for discussion. This incident has to be reviewed."
An eye witness told ESPN that everything had been totally peaceful in the Nordkurve until the operation began.
"An Ultra capo tried to calm down his lads and asked them to no longer provoke the police. This led the police to get going again and clubbed everyone down," he said. "It was totally absurd. I have never seen this happen anywhere."
Several injured people were treated underneath the Nordkurve, while Sky Sports News in Germany are running unconfirmed reports that a young woman is intensive care following the incident.