Battle of Marseille: Violent fans hurl missiles, clash with police ahead of Russia-England match
The head of the All-Russian Fans' Union, Alexander Sprygin, told Reuters that English fans were "drinking a lot and behaving badly" prior to the outbreak of violence outside the Queen Victoria pub in the Old Port area of the city.
Conversely, multiple English supporters claimed that they were attacked by Russian fans, some of whom had posted pictures of England's St. George flags which had been won in the ‘battle’.
Local television channel BFMTV claimed that in one clash, in a backstreet near the pub, 200 fans from one side, were confronted by 300 from the other.
Eyewitnesses indicated that French youths, who had been involved in clashes with English fans in the same location during the previous two evenings joined the fray.
Rival fans threw bottles and chairs at each other, as small groups of fans bull rushed and encircled their opponents during a series of disorganized melees.
Social media has been flooded with photos of blood-covered and topless men, with shirts discarded or torn off.
"It's not everybody but there are a lot of people involved,'' Gary Toal, an England supporter told Reuters. "It is a bit of a mob mentality and it's not nice to see so we are trying to keep away from all that and enjoy the football.''
Local news outlets reported at least ten casualties, with one England supporter in critical condition after suffering a suspected heart attack, following a violent encounter.
Six people have been arrested and are expected to face a court hearing early next week.
Police used tear gas and water cannon to put an end to the violence, with hours still to go until the start of the match.
Some English fans accused the police of stoking tension by releasing tear gas canisters near fans, who were singing, but not initially violent.
“There has been tear gas thrown by police and fans throwing bottles at the police. The England fans we spoke to said the police have overreacted, although some fans have admitted that other England fans were throwing bottles at police and provoking them,” said RT correspondent Eisa Ali.
The two sets of fans were supposed to proceed from the Old Port through separate routes to the Stade Velodrome, located 4 km away.
Just an hour before kick-off a new set of scuffles broke out next to the sports arena, which is heavily guarded.
A district mayor of the city claims Marseille has claimed that the city is in a “full state of emergency,” and said that authorities had been warning about the danger weeks in advance.
“We are aware of an incident taking place in Marseille. We are currently working with French police to identify supporters who have be involved. Investigations will continue in the UK to ensure any British fans who may have been involved will be identified and dealt with accordingly,” said the National Police Chiefs’ Council’s lead officer for football policing, assistant chief constable Mark Roberts, in a statement.