Two English football fans have been arrested after French police used tear gas to disperse an apparent clash with locals in Marseille ahead of the first matches at Euro 2016.
Press Association Sport reports that one England supporter suffered a head injury in the brawl after being hit across the face with a wooden chair. French police clad in riot gear and accompanied by dogs were deployed on the streets of the southern city after trouble flared outside a pub shortly before midnight on Thursday.
Police said one of the fans was arrested for assaulting a barman and the other for violent disorder. According to unconfirmed reports, local “ultras” descended on the pub.
Supporters have travelled to Marseille ahead of England’s game with Russia on Saturday.
The clash took place outside the Queen Victoria pub in the Old Port district after English fans set up camp there.
This morning the only evidence of the incident was a few tear gas canisters lying on the floor alongside dozens of plastic cups.
Ambulances were seen arriving after police carrying riot shields moved in to separate the two groups and tear gas was used to clear the area.
Footage of the incident showed men hurling chairs, a brutal fist fight outside a McDonald’s and chanting England fans surrounded by police officers with dogs.
A clip posted on Twitter apparently showed the aftermath of the disorder as shop workers swept a street strewn with broken glass. According to reports some England fans were heard chanting: “Isis, where are you?”
Kevin Miles, chief executive of the Football Supporters’ Federation which runs the fans embassy in Marseille, said he believed the locals turned up with the intention of provoking the English fans.
“There’s not huge numbers of England fans in town yet, probably the biggest congregation anywhere was outside this pub,” he said.
“People were drinking and having a bit of a sing-song all day, the French police were very relaxed, letting them get on with it.
“It was all fine until, our understanding is, a group of around 30 to 40 locals turned up, I think with the intention of provoking the England fans to see if they could get a rise out of them.
“In those circumstances it’s the police’s job to prevent a confrontation and they used French methods to do so, which we’re not particularly used to.
“They used tear gas, which is a little bit indiscriminate for my liking, but it did the job and the problems were over. There were a couple of arrests of English fans as they responded to that provocation.”
He said: “The police have confirmed that version of events. I understand one England fan has been treated in hospital for a head injury which apparently isn’t serious, and there have been two English arrests.”
Mr Miles said he did not believe the incident set the tone for the rest of the tournament but was just 10 minutes at the end of the night after people had spent the day enjoying themselves.
He said: “In a city like Marseille, where it has its own domestic social problems, particularly with the youth culture who see the arrival of lots of foreigners singing on their streets as a provocation to them, which clearly it isn’t, it’s just people coming to enjoy themselves.”
Thousands more England fans are expected to arrive in the historic port city before the game on Saturday, with the tournament kicking off tonight as the hosts France play Romania.
England fans were involved in violent clashes with locals in Marseille during the World Cup in 1998.
The U.S. State Department last month singled out the England-Russia game as having potential to be disrupted by fan trouble.