English fans involved in bloody clashes before and during England’s match with Russia at the weekend insisted Russian hooligans and French police were to blame, as fears mounted of fresh violence to come.
As images of the unrest which marred Saturday’s 1-1 draw between England and Russia continued to feature prominently in newspapers, eyes were turning to Thursday’s fixture between England and Wales in Lens, northern France.
Russia are set to play Slovakia in nearby Lille the day before, setting up a potential flashpoint.
UEFA have warned that both sides could be thrown out of the tournament if their fans are involved in more disturbances.
But England fans insisted that Russian supporters should shoulder most of the blame for clashes before Saturday’s game, as well as in the stadium following the final whistle.
George Amos, 29, and his brother Harold, 26, told the Times they were attacked in Marseille before Saturday’s match.
“Out of nowhere, 300 Russians came running out of an alley. We didn’t have anywhere to go,” Harold Amos said. “The Russians were proper street fighters, they had gumshields and MMA (mixed martial arts) gloves.”
“The Russians looked like the black death squad,” added George Amos. “They had these uniforms on. The police just stood there watching.”
In the stadium after the game, fan Brian Gurler, 55, said Russian supporters “had evil in their eyes”.
“They didn’t care who they attacked, man woman or child,” he told The Sun. “I can’t see why anyone would go to the World Cup in Russia in 2018 if they face being battered black and blue”.
– ‘Shocking’ policing –
Before the tournament started, English and Welsh fans were advised to travel to Lille, near Lens, ahead of Thursday’s game.
But Russia supporters will also be in the city for their clash on Wednesday with Slovakia and police are now reportedly suggesting that fans consider avoiding Lille.
“It is realistic to expect that the Russian fans will seek to try to behave in a similar way,” Assistant Chief Constable Mark Roberts, the head of Britain’s policing operation for the tournament in France, told the newspaper.
“The majority of Russian fans are no doubt decent folk but there is a hardcore group of Russian fans who are willing to use extreme violence.
“They will be in Lille the night before and people should just bear that in mind.”
On Sunday, Britain’s government offered to send more police to France before Thursday’s England-Wales game.
Some England fans have blamed French police for making the situation in Marseille worse. The use of teargas by officers in France is much more common than in Britain.
“All the way to the ground there were police everywhere, and we were being randomly teargassed for no reason,” Lee Gibson, 41, told the Daily Mail.
“But when we got to the ground, there were no police at all. It was shocking.”
England player Jamie Vardy’s wife Rebekah, who was in the stadium, also took to Twitter to complain about the use of teargas.
The National Police Chiefs’ Council, which is overseeing the British operation in France, could not immediately say Monday whether extra British police would be sent.
Police estimate that a record number of up to 500,000 fans from England, Northern Ireland and Wales are attending the tournament.
Over 1,900 known troublemakers have been banned from travelling to France.
Officers believe that the level of violence associated with football in Britain has dropped since the worst incidents of hooliganism in the 1980s.
But a Times newspaper editorial Monday called football violence “an abhorrence and a national shame”.
“English visitors to Marseille at the weekend can deflect some of the blame for the appalling scenes that marred the start of the European Championship,” it said.
“But they should not be surprised that UEFA officials are less inclined to distinguish between hooligans by nationality.”