“The feeling of anxiety became contagious amongst Euro 2016 fans as I was told to ‘stay safe’ rather than enjoy the game.”
England and Russian football fans dominated the news during the early days of the Euro 2016, as fans on both sides came head-to-head with each other following the 1-1 draw. As violence dominated the streets, French authorities detained 63 people and UEFA threatened to expel both countries out of the European Championship finals.
At least 35 people were injured during the violence, which has been referred to as the worst violence at an international tournament since the 1998 World Cup in France. Three people were said to be in a serious condition as police were given new powers to ban alcohol around stadiums.
Joe Bartram, sports journalist and football fan, writes for the IPF about experiencing the England-Russia violence first hand.
As one of the many thousands who travelled to Marseille in nervous anticipation, I witnessed scores of England fans running from Russian “Ultra” supporters, seemingly intent on destroying the reputation of English fans as the “world’s toughest”. This notion has not been relevant for 30 years.
With the port of Marseille home to the violence that engulfed England’s 1998 World Cup game against Tunisia, the city was a known risk for travelling fans. It was no surprise that the feeling of anxiety became contagious amongst Euro 2016 fans as I was told to “stay safe” rather than enjoy the game.
At no point during the seven games I attended at the Euro 2016 finals, or in my previous years supporting the England national side, have I felt such fear and animosity.
It is for this reason the violent scenes in the aftermath of England’s fixture against Russia would have come as no surprise to anyone at Marseille’s Vieux-Port in the preceding hours.
Prepared with face masks, balaclavas and gum shields, a number of Russian fans beat and abused English and some French citizens, both inside and outside the stadium. The signal to attack was a flare, somehow allowed into the stadium despite promises of tighter security in light of the Paris terror attacks. Once this was set off after Russia’s late equaliser, which earned them a draw, selected Russian fans ambushed anyone in an England shirt.
Inside the ground, supporters of all ages, ethnicities and nationalities were attacked in areas of the Euro 2016 stadium designated for neutral supporters. Not only were these areas adjacent to the Russian supporting section, but they were largely filled with England fans who would’ve bought the tickets through non-official means. It was not long before dozens of Russian fans jumped over UEFA hoardings and barriers to these areas, attacking anyone they believed to be English.
Some Russian supporters even went to lengths of employing guerrilla tactics, disguising themselves in England shirts inside the neutral section before unleashing their assault.
As French police, equipped with tear gas, batons and riot shields, attempted to disperse the congregation of 1000-plus England fans in Marseille on the Saturday afternoon, they simply lit the fuse for another set of violent scenes. While more than 200 Russian “Ultras” found a window to attack groups of England supporters in what were clear, planned hits, the French police’s use of tear gas induced vomiting and tears amongst dozens of England fans.
Bars along the port stopped serving alcohol and became a place of refuge, temporarily housing fans seeking escape from the violence.
The ignition of a supposed war between the two sides spilled onto the streets of Lille just four days later. Russian fans remained in the city following their defeat to Slovakia, while English supporters gathered before the clash against Wales the next day in nearby Lens. Many others, including myself, avoided travelling to Lille to steer clear of any further trouble.
Russia exited the tournament with only the sole point they gained against England to their name and a lasting stain on their fans’ reputation, surely blemishing their hosting of the World Cup in two years. Meanwhile, England fans will be wary of any plans to attend a tournament that could endanger themselves once again, worsening the concerns surrounding English football both on and off the pitch.