THEY TRAIN FOR TROU­BLE IN GYMS AND RUN PRAC­TICE FIGHTS IN FORESTS

Daily Mail - - Football - IAN HERBERT @ian­herbs

AONE-HORSE town near Rus si a’ s re­mote bor­der with Latvia is an im­prob­a­ble refuge for the man seen as re­spon­si­ble for the at­tacks on Eng­land sup­port­ers in Mar­seille last sum­mer which left one of them with life- af­fect­ing brain dam­age.

Ve­likiye Luki was taken by the Ger­mans on their march to Moscow in the Sec­ond World War and al­most to­tally de­stroyed in the siege in which the Rus­sians re­claimed it. The care­worn memo­ri­als to the dead are part of the solem­nity. When the night train out of St Petersburg has de­posited you here at day­break, you find no place open for three hours.

Alexan­der Sh­pry­gin ma­te­ri­alises here at lunchtime, head­ing down Len­ina Prospekt in his Prada shades, nurs­ing bit­ter in­dig­na­tion. He is a phys­i­cally in­tim­i­dat­ing in­di­vid­ual, per­haps 15 stone, al­though it seems in­ad­vis­able to ask.

His nick­name is ‘ Co­manche’ (a Na­tive Amer­i­can tribe) and he is bran­dish­ing his 8,000 rou­ble (£105) ticket, which the au­thor­i­ties ef­fec­tively can­celled as he drove to Rus­sia’s open­ing Con­fed­erations Cup match with New Zealand. Sh­pry­gin says he was 200km south of St Petersburg when his mo­bile phone, propped on the dash­board, showed the email re­veal­ing his ‘fan ID’ had been an­nulled. Around 50 sup­port­ers re­ceived the same com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

‘What p****s me off is the wait,’ says Sh­pry­gin, through our trans­la­tor, as he shov­els three spoon­fuls of sugar into a small cof­fee. ‘Why did they wait un­til now to ban me and the oth­ers? It’s so peo­ple don’t have time to re­sist.’

He talks about a ‘le­gal chal­lenge’, with the air of a man who once stood at the heart of Rus­sia’s football es­tab­lish­ment, pho­tographed with Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin and as­sis­tant to Igor Lebe­dev, deputy chair­man of Rus­sia’s par­lia­ment. That was when football fans were con­sid­ered po­lit­i­cally valu­able and the All-Rus­sian Fans As­so­ci­a­tion [ARFA] Sh­pry­gin founded in 2007 was given a seat on the Rus­sian FA’s board. For the 2016 Euro­pean Cham­pi­onship, the Rus­sian state paid for an of­fi­cial ARFA char­ter flight from Moscow to Mar­seille and on board were many of those later in­volved in run­ning bat­tles with Eng­land fans. Two ARFA board mem­bers were jailed in France for their part in the vi­o­lence. Sh­pry­gin was twice ex­pelled from France, re­turn­ing un­de­tected when first de­posited out­side its bound­aries. The Rus­sian state have cut him and his or­gan­i­sa­tion loose.

Though he ar­tic­u­lates the bizarre fas­ci­na­tion English hooli­gans seem to hold for Rus­sia’s ex­trem­ists, this one-time football es­tab­lish­ment ap­pa­ratchik has no com­punc­tion about say­ing the English had it com­ing, when 200 Rus­sian mixed mar­tial arts ob­ses­sives showed up in the city’s old port last June.

‘If you are play­ing Bel­gium, Nether­lands, Aus­tria, no one cares,’ he says. ‘When an English team play in Europe, there are thou­sands and thou­sands of fans,’ he says. ‘They have no al­lies in Europe and are ready to fight any­one. For us it is like a derby — Manch­ester United v Manch­ester City, Liver­pool v Everton. We heard that ev­ery hour there was a flight from Manch­ester to Mar­seille,’ he says. ‘We were strong enough as a fan com­mu­nity to bring 10,000. They bring 150,000.’

Those who at­tacked the English fans will tell you that these num­bers are an ir­rel­e­vance. The reprisals were dished out by gym-trained fight­ers, loosely af­fil­i­ated to Rus­sian football clubs, who had pre­pared in gyms, weights rooms and forests. They be­long to a Rus­sian sub-cul­ture who say it is ‘ sport’ called okolo­fut­bol [out­side of football].

One fighter, a mem­ber of a Dy­namo Moscow ‘ crew’, tells

Sports­mail there had been no plan for a co-or­di­nated at­tack on the English in Mar­seille un­til reg­u­lar Rus­sian fans were taunted. ‘They were singing mak­ing jokes about how Rus­sia sucks and ‘Putin is a w*****’,’ he says, through our trans­la­tor. ‘We are not fans of Putin, but still... and that was when the crew guys came. The lead­ers of dif­fer­ent crews said ‘let’s work to­gether.’ There was a tac­ti­cal ap­proach: big guys at the cen­tre of the pack, tougher ones in the mid­dle, smaller at the side.’

HE por­trays okolo­fut­bol as hav­ing rules and codes of hon­our, in­clud­ing rais­ing arms to in­di­cate ‘clean hands’ — no weapons, signet rings or knuckle dusters. Yet 52-year-old An­drew Bache, the most se­ri­ously in­jured English­man, was hit over the head with a bar. ‘There was what we call ‘s*** rain’ – weapons be­ing thrown at us,’ says the fighter. ‘ They said ‘OK, the clean hands rule does not work.’

This sub-cul­ture’s roots lie in the post-Soviet emer­gence of fit­ness fa­nati­cism and fight­ing among a strata of Rus­sian males, 15 years ago. ‘There was a nos­tal­gia among some about the “good, old city street fights”, when scouts would comb the city for some­one to ri­val a strong fighter,’ says pho­tog­ra­pher Michail Do­mozhikov, who has gained ac­cess to okolo groups.

Some groups train and fight each other in forests, where they will go un­de­tected. Most have football club af­fil­i­a­tions: CSKA Moscow’s ‘Yaroslavka’, for ex­am­ple, and Zenit St Petersburg’s ‘ Mu­sic Hall.’ The ev­i­dence is on YouTube. ‘Mu­sic Hall’ meet a Frank­furt group on what looks like waste ground, for a fight il­lu­mi­nated by car head­lamps. Sev­eral red-shirted Ger­man fight­ers lie mo­tion­less on the floor at the end. This ac­tiv­ity is preva­lent in Balkan coun­tries, the Czech Repub­lic and in Poland — the coun­try per­ceived as ‘sec­ond’ to Rus­sia.

Other groups have in­cluded Dy­namo Moscow’s ‘Cap­i­tal’ and CSKA Moscow’s ‘ Clockwork Or­anges’. Also known as ‘Rus­sianstyle’ fight­ing it was ro­man­ti­cised in a 2013 film, Okolo­fut­bola, though

okolo par­tic­i­pants are thought to have hated the picture.

The in­ten­sity of the fights, be­tween par­tic­i­pants who are metic­u­lously se­lected, mean they gen­er­ally last no more than two min­utes, with judges de­cid­ing the out­come if there is no ob­vi­ous win­ner. ‘If a fighter is down, it is the prac­tice to kick him sev­eral times but any more and you are re­moved,’ says the Dy­namo crew mem­ber.

Sh­pry­gin does not seem to have any de­sire to re­move these groups from football and he clearly sup­ports re­tal­i­a­tion. ‘Of course if I was in a group and English fans fought me, I would fight back. But if sup­port­ers said, “let’s go and do some English fans” I would say no.’

His views on the racial make-up of the Rus­sia team also con­tra­dict the claims of World Cup head Vi­taly Mutko last week that there is no racism prob­lem, 12 months be­fore they host the World Cup. Sh­pry­gin is un­re­pen­tant about tweet­ing that there was ‘some­thing wrong’ with a team photo posted on Twitter by France player Mathieu Val­buena be­cause it con­tained ‘very many’ black faces.

‘In France they are OK with that but I don’t re­ally get why an African guy can be a French guy,’ he says. ‘For Rus­sia, I don’t think it’s good. I bet you we could walk around here un­til dusk and not see an African guy and it shows [that hav­ing one in the na­tional team] would not be nat­u­ral.’

Opin­ions are di­vided about whether there will be trou­ble next sum­mer. Sh­pry­gin says Rus­sian fans fear the jail terms trou­ble­mak­ers will face. ‘The Rus­sian spe­cial po­lice will dis­perse big Eng­land crowds,’ says the crew mem­ber. ‘But of course some clashes are in­evitable.’

Sh­pry­gin will strug­gle to play a part. He is out of work, holed up at a fam­ily villa an hour out of town, yet seems to feel a hero­ism in tak­ing the blame for Mar­seille. ‘If a po­lice of­fi­cer takes a bribe, the head of the po­lice is fired,’ he says be­fore leav­ing. ‘I am like a gen­eral who takes re­spon­si­bil­ity for the ac­tions of my of­fi­cers.’

GETTY IM­AGES

Flash­point: a chair flies as Rus­sians at­tack English fans in Mar­seille

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