England in Marseille sparks memories of soccer's dark days

Thu Jun 9, 2016 6:12pm EDT
Email This Article |
Share This Article
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
| Print This Article | Single Page
[-] Text [+]

By Mitch Phillips

MARSEILLE, France (Reuters) - The first wave of an expected 70,000 England fans descended on Marseille on Thursday and wasted no time establishing a foothold in Vieux Port to start three days of drinking and singing ahead of Saturday's Euro 2016 match against Russia.

Noisy and boisterous, bare-chested and full of lager and bravado, they draped the flags around the Queen Victoria "British pub" and roared out their songs of defiance in the time-honored manner of "England Away", just as they had in the same port-side bars 18 years ago.

Then, building up to their team's opening game of the 1998 World Cup, a similarly good-natured scene quickly turned into what became some of the worst and most sustained violence ever seen at a major soccer tournament.

Of course, the vast majority of England fans had nothing to do with the trouble, though many still enjoyed the thrill of being part of an "invading army", bussed in huge convoys, flags waving to the ever-present backing track chant of "Ingerland".

The early exchanges were between England supporters and a handful of Tunisia fans, swiftly followed by the involvement of French riot police as tear gas and batons took on flying bottles and chairs.

As dusk fell those few locals had grown into a massive mob as thousands of youths from the city's less glamorous quarters decided they would not take the invasion lying down and proceeded to hunt for and attack isolated England fans, one of whom was lucky to survive after having his throat cut.

Windows were smashed, cars wrecked, paving ripped up for missiles and terrified diners forced to flee as running battles careered down the narrow streets and walkways with tables and chairs flying in their wake and the sting and stench of tear gas hovering over the entire port area for hours.

The next day England beat Tunisia 2-0 but the violence continued, both around the ground and at the beach fan zone, where again running battles continued into the night.   Continued...

A group of British fans clash with local youths in the streets near the old port of Marseille in the early hours of the morning, June 15. REUTERS