MARSEILLE: Hundreds of fans charging through streets holding chairs above their heads ready to throw and bloodied, bare-chested men brawling with police — football’s plague of violence has returned with a vengeance in France.
English and Russian supporters fought pitched battles in Marseille ahead of their countries’ Euro Championships opener on Saturday (Sunday in Manila), with bottles and cafe chairs flying and clouds of teargas choking the city’s Vieux-Port district.
An Englishman was left fighting for his life and at least 34 other people were injured, said Laurent Nunez, police prefect from the southern French city.
A police source said the man had been beaten with an iron bar, “apparently around the head,” and was rushed to hospital after emergency first-aid at the scene.
The violence also spilled over into the match. At the end of the 1-1 draw in the Stade Velodrome, Russian fans charged into the England supporters’ section and scuffles briefly broke out.
Later 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, including one man who suffered a serious head injury, police said.
The scenes in Marseille were reminiscent of the 1998 World Cup, when English and Tunisian fans brawled in the port city in some of the worst violence seen at a football tournament.
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.
‘No place in football’
Another fan, Danny Hart, 23, said the 9:00 pm (1900 GMT) 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.
Nunez said officers had moved in to separate groups of English and Russian fans before they were “set upon” by both sets of fans.
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. Police also broke up fighting involving England fans on Thursday.
Before the tournament, French 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 brawls will also raise concerns about Russia’s hosting of the 2018 World Cup.