A WEST Mercia Police officer has been hospitalised in 'unprecedented' football violence outside Villa Park.

The officer had a lucky escape after being hit by a flare during the violence outside Aston Villa’s stadium on Thursday (November 30) night.

He was struck by the flare, which set his jacket on fire. The jacket was removed quickly and he wasn't injured, but smoke entered his helmet and he was taken to hospital for treatment for smoke inhalation.

Pete Nightingale, West Mercia Police Federation branch secretary, said: “One of the officers who was hospitalised was a West Mercia Federation rep.

“He’s not seriously hurt but it could’ve been far worse if he wasn’t wearing the protective gear.”

Officers from West Mercia Police and other forces were supporting their West Midlands Police colleagues at the European fixture between Villa and Polish side Legia Warsaw.

The serious disorder outside Villa Park has been described by some officers as "unprecedented" and the worst violence they’ve seen at a football match in more than two decades.

One officer sustained a suspected broken hand and at least two others were injured.

Two police horses were punched and kicked, and several police dogs were also injured walking on broken glass after bottles were thrown at police lines. They’re not thought to be seriously hurt.

There was a significant police presence at the game - including officers from West Mercia - based on intelligence and previous matchday disorder involving Legia Warsaw fans.

West Midlands Police said that 46 people were in custody on Friday afternoon following “90 minutes of sustained violence”. No home fans were among the arrests, the Force said.

Pete Nightingale said: “Officers are human beings and go to work to police a football match and don’t expect to face serious disorder such as they faced on Thursday night with missiles and flares raining down on them.

“Football is meant to be a family sport and there will have been young children there looking forward to a big European occasion.

“What happened is completely unacceptable and for those who are guilty of it, we should be looking for the toughest punishments possible to serve as a deterrent in the future.”