KEIR RADNEDGE in MARSEILLE: England prepared to face off against Russia in their debut at Euro 2016 to a depressing background of further street fighting.
As if trying to revive the Vieux Port violence from 18 years ago when England played Tunisia in the city, hooligan supporters of both nations clashed with local youths. Gangs of Russian fans were then being blamed for provoking trouble on the afternoon of the match. One fan was reported as being in a ‘critical’ condition with six others seriously hurt.
Riot police used tear gas both then and again yesterday and last night as the disturbances intensified following the arrival of more fans with nowhere to stay and who responded by throwing bottles at the security services.
Rowdy fans sang the national anthem, derogatory songs about the IRA and German bombers during the war as well as voting to leave the European Union. One man being thrown into the harbour after being beaten and more arrests followed.
The game had already been identified as one of the most sensitive flashpoint matches with 1,000 police being deployed in the Mediterranean city in the expectation of 70,000 England and 20,000 Russian fans flooding in.
French Sports Minister Patrick Kanner said today: “This is one of the five risky matches of the tournament … British and Russians with the heat, that can be explosive. But everything will be done to secure that match.”
A statement from the Football Association said: “We are really disappointed by the scenes of disorder in Marseille and condemn such behaviour. The FA urges supporters who are travelling to Marseille to act in a respectful manner and enjoy the match against Russia.”
England manager Roy Hodgson, in an obligatory news conference ahead of the game, said he hoped supporters could “avoid any troubles lurking around the corner.”
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