Lille (France) (AFP) – French police repeatedly fired tear gas and baton charged England and Russia fans as Euro 2016’s hooligan protagonists took their rivalry to a fresh French city in Lille.
Tens of thousands of English, Welsh, Russian and Slovakian supporters took over the city and sporadic brawling erupted between rival groups as a day of heavy beer-drinking took its toll.
Anxious to avoid the 35 injuries caused by scuffles in Marseille on Saturday, each time serious trouble loomed a legion of riot squad, gathered behind shields, charged firing tear gas and flash bombs.
The scene was repeated across Lille into the night. One group of 200 chanting supporters was broken up just before midnight.
French fans coming out of the Lille fan zone after France’s 2-0 win over Albania then threw bottles and stones at police.
Trouble also boiled over on a French train heading to Lille from Calais. England and Wales fans fought each other and five were arrested when the train arrived, authorities said.
More than 20 arrests were reported by regional authorities over Tuesday and Wednesday. Three Russians and a Ukrainian were to be expelled from the country.
Russia lost to Slovakia 2-1 in Lille on Wednesday, ahead of England’s important clash with Wales in nearby Lens on Thursday.
The convergence of the army of fans led to French authorities putting 4,000 police and gendarmes on the streets.
Beery supporters belted out nationalist songs and kicked footballs over the heads of watching riot police through the day.
Outside some cafes lines of police made fans trying to carry their plastic goblets of beer onto the streets pour the liquid down the drain.
– Banner causes fear –
A “God Save The Queen” banner hung from the balcony of the Hotel Continental near the Lille-Flandres train station until it was removed at the demand of the manager, who feared it would trigger fisticuffs between England and Russia fans.
“I’m afraid of what happens if the Russians lose,” he said.
“They are a proud people. I’m afraid it will be the same as Marseille.”
Russian fans occasionally squared up to rivals but there was none of the mass fighting that darkened football’s reputation again in Marseille.
UEFA, Europe’s football governing body, has said Russia will be expelled from the European Championship if their fans are involved in more stadium trouble.
A flare was briefly set off in the stadium, but UEFA made no immediate announcement of an inquiry.
Michael Donelian, a 28-year-old estate agent from Reading, told AFP he and his friend who had tickets to the Russia-Slovakia game had considered at one point giving them away.
“We thought if the Russians see us and know we’re English they might beat us up,” he said outside a pub.
“But I haven’t seen any trouble,” said Donelian.
“If the Russians attack you’ve got to defend yourself,” Gary Hill, a 42-year English builder mocked up as Frenchmen with a black beret and string of fake onions around his neck, told AFP.
In the Russian camp, most supporters who spoke to AFP assured they had no truck with hooliganism.
Yuril Shabanov, 14, from the Russian city of Perm, was en route to the game with his father and two friends, all with Russian flags around their shoulders.
According to French prosecutors, about 150 well-organised Russian “ultras” were the cause of much of the unrest in Marseille.
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