English, Russian soccer fans clash in huge brawl before and after soccer match

Soccer hooliganism in Europe is an art form, but what happened between Russian and English fans before and after their soccer match at the Euro 2016 tournament was about as ugly as it's ever been.

Running street battles between the two sides went on in the hours before the match and afterwards with at least 31 English fans hospitalized. The Russian fans appeared well organized and spoiling for a fight.

Violence also broke out in the stadium where the match was played. At one point, a Russian fan fired a flaregun at British fans, raising worrying questions about security. 


The violent scenes, in which hundreds of English fans were willing participants, drew claims that the nation had been “embarrassed” by a new bout of English hooliganism, overshadowing a game that ended in a 1-1 draw after Eric Dier had given England the lead before Russia equalised in injury time.

However, while English fans said they had gathered in large numbers, they claimed that they were not the ones to instigate the violence and blamed more than 200 Russian and French hooligans for attacking them. Several said the French riot police, engaged in a running battle with English fans for the third day in a row, escalated the problem through heavy-handed tactics.

“They have caused a lot of the trouble by using teargas needlessly,” said Harrison Biggins, 20, from Sheffield.

Michael Tashall, from London, was in Marseille as the violence erupted. “We were in the old port town and the Russian ultras ganged up with the Marseille ultras and attacked the English supporters that were sitting there drinking beers,” he said.

“You go into town now and there are English supporters with blood pouring from their head from the Russian attacks. They are outrageous. The World Cup in Russia should be taken away from them. It is an outrage.”

Once the trouble escalated police deployed water cannon and teargas in the most severe scenes of violence seen at an international fixture since the last time the England national team played a major event in Marseille, during the 1998 Fifa World Cup.

Former sports minister Gerry Sutcliffe told the Observer that it was an embarrassing day for the country.

“I thought we had got past this, I really did,” Sutcliffe said. “The French and British police should perhaps be cooperating more. But I have to ask: what more can be done? Those involved in the violence should be prosecuted.”

The "ultras" are Russian soccer fans who hold extremist views. Racists, nationalists, neo-Nazis, ultras have been showing up at European soccer matches in recent years spoiling for a fight.

To be sure, the term "hooligan" was first used to describe English soccer fans back in the 1970s, so as far as blame is concerned, take your pick. But what's happening in France during this tournament raises questions about security at the World Cup in Russia in 2018. The French security services knew this was coming and was still unable to control the crowds. 

I doubt the Russians can handle it either. 

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