At 11:41 p.m. local time on Sunday night in Spain, Celta Vigo were three minutes or so away from a big away victory over Villarreal at Estadio El Madrigal. One minute later an as yet unidentified person threw an object on the pitch that begin spewing smoke into the air.
What most presumed at the time was that an overzealous fan, upset with the fact their team was losing, decided to voice their frustration with a smoke bomb or flare. That would have been bad enough, but it wasn't that simple. It was tear gas.
According to reports what the man threw was essentially a grenade, complete with a pin and detonator, similar to what is used by military and police forces. The particular item used was not one used by Spanish authorities but even if it were, the fact remains that it's not something that can be acquired legally.
The object landed in the penalty area, and Villarreal striker Jonathan Pereira, assuming is was a smoke bomb, kicked it off to the side of the pitch. Instead of a short cloud of harmless smoke, the chemical spewing from the grenade began to affect players and fans alike. Tomas Pina told reporters after that match that he began coughing and that his eyes were burning.
Villarreal captain Bruno said, "The stinging sensation was powerful," and players began covering their mouths and noses in an attempt to find some relief. Fans in the stands began making for the exits, trying to protect their children from the noxious fumes. On television there was a shot of the club's directors, their faces covered, exiting their box.
It was a genuinely frightening situation, and something that protesters might expect to deal with but not a situation that should happen in a football stadium. All signs point to this being a pre-meditated act, unless it's becoming the norm for someone to carry a tear gas grenade with them to a sporting event.
As police search for the person who they believe committed this crime, there are serious questions and concerns being raised about safety and security around Spanish stadiums. Fingers are being pointed at Villarreal's security, and there's the possibility that the stadium could be closed for significant time in the wake of the incident. Questions abound and accusations are flying around, but there are very few answers.
Villarreal is not a club with a history of incidents or violent displays by its fanbase. There are no ultras associated with the club that enjoy raising hell under the guise of being passionate fans. It may seem extremely cliche to say it, but Villarreal are not that kind of club and their fans are not those kinds of fans. Yet someone decided to take a tear gas grenade into their stadium, set it off and throw it on the pitch.
Assuming that authorities are able to find and arrest the individual responsible, we might eventually learn the person's motives if they decide to divulge them. There's just as good a chance we may never know what drove someone to disrupt a football match in such a dangerous way. Perhaps they were trying to send a message, or maybe they were just crazy or seeking attention.
Whatever the reason, it's certainly going to leave a lasting mark on the sport in Spain. Because while the match was completed -- Celta Vigo held on for the win -- it was ultimately an afterthought. Instead of talking about Celta's excellent recent form that has them pushing back into the Europa League race, we're going to be talking about security measures, potentially repercussions against Villarreal and fans likely being subjected to increased scrutiny as they enter stadiums.
It's not the narrative we want, but it's the one we're going to have to deal with for the foreseeable future.