Another European championship kicked off last Friday and another England campaign, that will probably end in disappointment, kicked off the day after. The headlines after the match didn’t concern England’s fantastic first half performance, Eric Dier’s great free kick to give England the lead or Russia’s last minute equalizer to steal a point in the final minute. Everyone was instead talking about the violence that started between England and Russian fans even before their two teams had arrived at the stadium where the game would be played.
The day before the match began, English and Russian fans met at Marseilles old port area. The results were messy, the two passionate sets of fans clashed almost immediately and glass bottles were being thrown straight away. The two sets of supporters were also involved in hand to hand, physical violence, which lead to reports of injuries and arrests for both sets of fans. In total, 31 English fans were in hospital that evening. There were also reports of local French fans being involved in the violence.
The French police stationed in Marseilles used tear gas and water canon to eventually separate the two parties, but the damage had been done and multiple fans were left lying injured on the ground
Just before the game finished, several white flares were lit up in the Russian end and a firework was let off in the stadium, flying over the England goal and erupting in a shower of red sparks.
The violence reached a crescendo directly after the match. Russian fans managed to climb the segregation fences which are designed to keep opposition fans apart. England fans were seen fleeing up the stadium as Russian fans stormed their end after punching their way through the final line of marshals. Projectiles were hurled from both sides and England fans were seen trying to escape the section of stadium by trying to climb fences or escape down the entrance/exit routes in the stadium.
Violence has contained in the days after the match but official’s in France have traced a lot of the violence to a group of around 150 Russian fans, nicknamed “ultras”. These fans were most likely the ones to have initiated the stadium violence. What makes it worse is these fans weren’t drunk or anything like that, they had driven all the way to France purely to fight with opposition fans. Footage has been released online taken by a GoPro camera strapped to one of the Russian fans’ chests of several Russian men attacking an England fan.
At this point, I would like to say I am not trying to defend the England fans. They were also responsible for the violence in the Marseilles port before the game and there is footage of England fans throwing bottles at Russian fans before the match. However, it was the Russian fans who attacking England fans directly after the match and UEFA have hit the Russian football federation with a fine and suspended disqualification after the violence, pending any further violence. England have also been threatened with disqualification from the tournament.
French security forces have of course had to react to the violent scenes, more security forces have been bought into the areas and stadiums where England and Russia will be playing. There has even been a security presence around the England training camp. The British police forces have also sent over more “spotters”, who have documentation of fans who have caused trouble before this tournament.
These scenes have marred what has been, football wise, an enjoyable tournament to watch so far. Both sets of fans are to blame for this violence, but this is so far the only major violence that has sprung up so far. So why England and Russia? There appears to be no other answer other than two hugely passionate and patriotic sets of fans came together and inevitably came to blows. Whatever the cause, the violence that surrounded English football in the 70’s and 80’s is much better left in the past and the French authorities have a huge responsibility now to make sure that this tournament is enjoyed and remembered for the action on the pitch, not violence off it.
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