Fanning the flames
As hooliganism rears its ugly head, French officials are accused of ineptitude
The last time France hosted a major football tournament, German hooligans injured a policeman so badly that he was in a coma for six weeks and has not been able to work since then. He remains permanently disabled.
That was in 1998. Since then, the hooliganism problem has – by and large – vanished and subsequent tournaments were not tarnished by numerous incidents involving football hooligans.
That is, until Euro 2016 in France, when football hooliganism again reared its ugly head.
Russian and English hooligans kicked off proceedings – so to speak – on the second day of the competition last Saturday, when they were involved in violent confrontations around the Group B match between the two sides in Marseille.
Since then, there have been further clashes involving hooligans from those two countries, with Germans also becoming involved.
Europe’s governing football body Uefa has been quick to respond, threatening to throw England out of the competition. They went a step further with Russia, disqualifying the team but suspending the penalty, thereby giving the 2018 World Cup hosts a last chance.
The fighting will not have gone unnoticed by football’s world governing body Fifa, which must be looking towards the next World Cup with some concern. Astonishingly, the deputy chairperson of the Russian parliament, Igor Lebedev, came out in support of the fighting fans.
“I don’t understand those politicians and officials who are criticising our fans. We should defend them, and then we can sort it out when they come home,” he said.
It was only when talk of the World Cup being taken away emerged that the Russian sports minister, Vitaly Mutko, slammed the hooligans.
For host country France, the incidents of hooliganism have added even more pressure – pressure that some hooligan experts, as well as hooligans themselves, say French authorities are not able to handle. Following the deadly terrorist attacks in Paris last year, security officials throughout France are already on high alert, but the rise in hooliganism has meant that officials have had to shift some of their attention from a terrorist threat to that of fighting fans.
According to German officials, they offered to help their French counterparts ahead of the tournament, as they know who the German troublemakers are. Their offers were turned down, they say.
Hooligan expert and academic Geoff Pearson, who lectures in law at Manchester University, is in France to study fans’ behaviour during the Euros. He is one of many who has been critical of the response from French security officials.
“They seemed unable to do anything against a group of about 150 Russian hooligans who were running through the streets of Marseille and attacking English fans. The police then started shooting tear gas. It seems they were doing this randomly at all football fans, and this resulted in an escalation of the problem.
“There is no suggestion the French police are going to change either their inept strategy or their tactics, which were shown up by the Russian group, who outfought and outmanoeuvred them on match day.”
The violence in Marseille and other French cities has seen a new aspect being introduced to football hooliganism: The use of social media.
Like the terror organisation Islamic State, which was behind the attacks in Paris last year, violent fans are using social media to spread fear.
A Russian hooligan even went so far as to strap a camera to his body as he went on the rampage before posting the video on YouTube, where it has been watched half a million times.
Russian hooligans are open about the fact that they came to France not to enjoy the football but to partake in violence with – and against – hooligans from other countries.
“We want to fight and it helps us that the police make it so easy for us.”
NABBED week Russian supporters are detained by police in Lille, France, this
INJURED An England fan is arrested after clashing with police ahead of the game against Russia
RIOT England fans gather amid clashes with police ahead of the game against Russia in Marseille, France
FORTHRIGHT Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko has slammed soccer hooligans