High profile English fans have been targeted by Russian gangs who want to remove them as the perceived “top dogs” of football hooliganism, intelligence sources have told the Independent, as more supporters gather in Lille ahead of Roy Hodgson’s side’s match against Wales.
Around 200 England fans occupied an area outside the main square in the northern French town until after midnight on Tuesday, with chants at the L’Abbeye bar including ‘Did you ever see a German win a war?’ The night passed off with minimal trouble, despite one bar closing early because English fans seized a table to protect themselves against Russians who threatened to punch them. The clashes of the past six days have been a result of English fans responding to provocation, rather than initiating trouble. But they have a higher profile on their travels than other nations competing in Euro 2016. Trained, well equipped Russians thugs have seen as a challenge, with the English as a force to be toppled, sources say.
Russian journalists showed British counterparts footage of English fans stamping on the Russia flag in the town on Tuesday night and anti-Russia songs were being sung at a pub near the main Lille Flanders railway station. The Russian journalists also claimed that their compatriots had been told that they would be arrested if they wore Russian flags in the centre of Lille, where English and Slovakians were freely wearing theirs.
Russians who attacked English fans in Marseille at the weekend mustered and struck rapidly from streets surrounding the old port, yet there was no evidence of the French police operation in Lille last night encompassing surveillance of outlying streets. Instead, officers gathered in groups watching the several large groups.
The Independent understands that Russian groups linked to four leading clubs – CSKA Moscow, Spartak Moscow, Lokomotiv Moscow and Zenit St Petersburg – have been identified as forming the core threat. The intelligence operation is understood to have been impeded by the lack of Russian ‘spotters’ on the ground. There are only six – far fewer than the number provided by UK Football Policing Unit, who have the biggest presence of all visiting nations. But sources on the ground suggest that the Russian spotters have been immensely impressive, knowing exactly where the threat resides and determined to defeat it.
Though today’s French papers are dominated by images of violence accompanying protests in Paris against the proposed new labour laws, there is a substantial police operation in Lille to prevent clashes between Russians, here for Wednesday’s match against Slovakia, and English, directed here by organisers because of an alcohol ban in Lens where England play Wales on Thursday. Two companies of the armed CRS Police Nationale riot police have been deployed, as well as 150 officers from the local police department and two gendarmerie divisions.
There is a strong sense among Russians that they are being treated inequitably amid the crackdown on violence. Russia were given a suspended disqualification ahead of the team’s match against Slovakia on Wednesday afternoon and one of the team’s players accused the British media of attempting to get the nation’s 2018 World Cup withdrawn.
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