Englishman fighting for life after violence plagues Euro 2016
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Marseille: An England football supporter was fighting for his life on Sunday after clashes with Russian fans in the French city of Marseille, as football’s plague of violence hit the Euro 2016 tournament.
After the worst scenes at an international tournament since the 1998 World Cup, fears of new violence ran high hours ahead of the Turkey-Croatia game in Paris, which organisers have also classed as high-risk.
In Marseille, English and Russian supporters fought pitched battles ahead of their countries’ opener on Saturday.
An Englishman who had apparently been beaten around the head with an iron bar was left in a critical state in hospital and more than 30 other people were injured.
Fans who had been drinking heavily for hours pelted each other with bottles and cafe chairs in Marseille’s Vieux-Port district as 1,200 police tried to control the crowd with teargas.
Ten people, including English, Russian, French, German and Austrians nationals were arrested, police sources said.
The violence also spilled over into the match in the Stade Velodrome. As the England and Russia players left the field at the end of the 1-1 draw, Russian fans charged into the England supporters’ section and scuffles briefly broke out.
Later on Saturday, the Euro 2016 violence spread along the Mediterranean coast to Nice, where Northern Ireland fans were drawn into fights with local youths, witnesses said.
Seven people were injured there including one man who suffered a serious head injury, police said.
The scenes in Marseille were reminiscent of incidents in the same city during the 1998 World Cup, when English and Tunisian were involved in a mass brawl.
England fans said the clashes were caused by Russians, who charged at them.
“There were about 100 Russians. They just came out of nowhere, something was thrown and that started it all off,” said one England supporter, who asked not to be named.
Another fan, Danny Hart, 23, said the kick-off time had fuelled the violence because the supporters had been drinking beer all day.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea to have scheduled the match at nine o’clock tonight. By that time everyone’s going to be completely pissed (drunk).”
European football’s governing body UEFA slammed the violence.
“UEFA firmly condemns the incidents in Marseille,” said a UEFA spokesman. “People engaging in such violent acts have no place in football.”
At least three other people suffered serious injuries but their lives were not in danger, officials said.
It was the third consecutive night of violence involving England fans.
Six people were arrested on Saturday, adding to seven held in the district on Friday night in similar disturbances.
In a game also seen as “high-risk” by organisers, Turkey and Croatia will play at Paris Parc des Princes stadium.
French police will also be heavily deployed at Thursday’s Germany-Poland game in Paris, and England’s next match against Wales in Lens in northern France on Thursday, and the Ukraine-Poland match in Marseille on 21 June.
Before the tournament, police were on high alert for potential terror threats after the jihadist attacks in Paris in 2015, but so far it has been the old plague of hooliganism that has marred the Euros.
The violence will also raise concerns about Russia’s hosting of the 2018 World Cup.
The scenes caused revulsion in England, where hooliganism is often thought of as a phenomenon of the past.
“What is wrong with these people? An absolute embarrassment to the country,” tweeted former England striker Gary Lineker.
“You can talk about police provocation, or other fans causing trouble, but it only seems to happen where the English go.”
“Back in the dark ages?” read the front page of the sports section in The Mail on Sunday.
The Sunday Telegraph said the rioting fans had been a “disgrace”.
“Fear has already won at the Euros,” French sports paper L’Equipe said.
In Lyon, meanwhile, four French men aged between 20 and 24 were briefly detained following a fight in a bar where England fans had been drinking, police said.
Witnesses said the French men attacked the England supporters.
The violence has marred French joy at an otherwise smooth start to the tournament after the buildup was overshadowed by months of industrial unrest and terror fears.
However, the strikes in France have showed little sign of letting up, with Air France pilots joining rail workers, rubbish collectors and oil refinery workers in walking off the job.
The strike by a quarter of Air France’s pilots meant only 83% of flights operated on Saturday, the company said, but disruption was limited.
The strike is set to continue until Tuesday, when unions have organised nationwide rallies to protest government labour reforms.