Russia face a Uefa investigation after England supporters fled the Stade Velodrome in Marseille, in fear of being physically attacked by opposition supporters after the worst days of football violence in decades. Women and children were thought to have been caught underfoot in a stampede out of the stadium at the end of England’s 1-1 draw, when Russian fans broke from their area of seating and ran at the English supporters. Russia fans are serial offenders when it comes to misconduct at games and the national side have only just avoided an automatic six-point deduction that would have seen them effectively thrown out of European Championships.
They received a suspended six-point deduction for throwing fireworks and display illicit banners in 2012 but their period at risk ended after the Euro 2016 qualifiers. Uefa will now examine how they will be punished for the severe violence of supporters which saw English fans set upon and one man suffer a cardiac arrest. Deducting World Cup points would be difficult as they are 2018 hosts.
Uefa also face severe questions about the handling of security at a game which was always destined to be a potential flashpoint. In particular, the lack of segregation at Stade Velodrome was astonishing and there were deeply inadequate numbers to deal with an obvious threat of violence. Uefa had no comment to make on Saturday night, but said they would reveal details of disciplinary proceedings when they receive information from their disciplinary department on Sunday morning.
But Russia face the most questions. Before the English fans were chased, three flares were set off in the stadium, some of the burning for several minutes before they exploded. The players were alarmed to hear the accompanying loud bang and see the flares sent across the pitch towards them.
At the end of the match, Joe Hart mouthed to his family in the stand to stay in the ground at the end of the match, for their own safety. Jamie Vardy’s wife Rebekah tweeted: “That has to be up there with the worst experience ever at an away game! Teargassed for no reason, caged and treated like animals”
The Russia manager Leonid Slutsky ducked questions on the violence on Saturday night. He said: “Once again I can’t really comment on what’s gone on. I can’t really address that. To be honest, I’m not really up to speed with what’s gone on. We were focused on the game, so I’m not really up to speed with what’s been going on outside the stadium. But, clearly, that’s not good to go hand in hand with football.”
Reminded of the previous offence, he said: “What problem did we have in the qualification campaign? What problems did we have? I don’t remember that situation with the six points. I think you’re mistaken there. I don’t think there was a six-point suspended sentence.”
The violence earlier in the day was far more severe, when English fans who had been drinking in the sun for much of the day found themselves set upon by gangs of Russians, many wearing uniform black T-shirts. Some of the English were simply too drunk to escape the faster, fitter Russians who clearly arrived intending violence. They were attacked with any weapon that came to hand.
Though the Russian behaviour and Uefa’s own organisation pose the prime questions, the inflammatory conduct of some English will come under question. Senior British police have urged England fans to consider the fact that their French officers are already dealing with a serious security threat before acting in a way which may provoke clashes throughout the tournament.
The reputation of the nation’s supporters took a further battering on Saturday, when there were yet more running battles between English fans and French police, confirming the worst fears of senior British officers about the scheduling of the opening game on a hot weekend on the Mediterranean.
Mark Roberts, head of the UK Football Policing Unit, told The Independent three months ago that he wanted fans to consider the size of the task facing the French force before they travelled. With the first fixture having brought the worst instances of English excess drinking and anti-social behaviour to southern France, officers desperately want to prevent the actions of a minority spiralling out of control by provoking an increasingly strong French reaction.
Though there has been a substantial element of provocation behind the violence in Marseille’s old port, some English conduct has been an embarrassment and shown the absence of any kind of self-policing among groups. A low point was the chanting about Isis by a few moronic fans – which shows a blatant disregard for the seriousness of the task in hand for the French.
In a series of tweets, shadow Home Secretary Andy Burnham said England fans had been “let down by a minority”, who may have been provoked but were “not blameless.” Burnham said when the terror threat in France was taken into account, it made the ”behaviour of these England ‘fans’ even more embarrassing“.