I Saw Innocent Fans Picked Off By Local Thugs
I was in the Stade Velodrome last night and saw first-hand a new level of football hooliganism that should send a shiver down the spine of any football fan.
Thanks to the incredible ineptitude of UEFA, flimsy tarpaulin separating groups of England, Russia and neutral fans, the whole world witnessed a return to the bad old days.
Most people would peddle a lazy narrative about England fans and wherever they are, trouble seems to follow, but I’m afraid it’s really not that simple. And if a few more journalists and broadcasters left their 5-star hotels and went to look for themselves as to why we are back in this position, there are some very strong pointers as to why the spectre of hooliganism reared its ugly head again in Marseille.
Let’s start with England fans. Are there complete f***wits who revel in goading locals wherever they go, singing xenophobic songs, being generally nauseous and intimidating? Yes. Is this based on the belief amongst some England followers that being British is somehow more special than being French, German or any other nationality? Yes. It’s called right wing triumphalism.
It’s a cancer that has riddled a small but very visible section of England fans for an age.
The problem is, I saw the next generation, the 20-somethings with their slick haircuts, pastel polo shirts and shorts just copying what they’ve seen on films. Romanticising the English hooligan and the perception that as our nation’s global powers have diminished, one thing is for sure, the English can drink and the English can fight. It’s really that simple.
35,000 England fans were in the stadium last night, maybe 50 at best were involved in the kind of loutish behaviour in bars and pubs which, thanks to TV and Social Media, yet again gave the impression that every England fan is a c***, a hooligan, drinks too much and is a disgrace.
Having travelled in Germany 2006 and Portugal 2004 with my own flag and tickets, I can tell you straight:
99% of England fans know our reputation and try to be whiter than white when it comes to being friendly…
…and adhering to local customs. It just isn’t as sexy as an image as a fat sunburnt bald guy with 3 lions on his beer belly singing Rule Britannia. Therefore you never see it.
Secondly, for fans from countries where fan violence is at the levels of 1980s England, particularly Russia, Ukraine and Poland and ironically the city of Marseille (I’ll go onto this shortly), England are seen as the benchmark, the Grandfather of hooliganism, who you earn your stripes against.
So England fans congregating in say a group of a thousand, where only 50 or 100 are intent on trouble are seen as fair game. In other words, you wear an England shirt, take a flag and mix with other England fans, you are going to be paying for the sins of our hooligan forefathers. Payback for the 80s.
The problem now though, in post-Soviet Eastern Europe in particular, is that football violence runs parallel with political violence. Many hooligan groups are closely aligned with far-right political organisations, which in itself is nothing new. But when those hooligans are going off to boot camp, have paramilitary style training, do steroids for fun and only pick the biggest, strongest and best fighters to go on tour, you can see the problem for England fans.
The old Dads from the 80s giving it large with their skinny sons getting lairy alongside them simply are cannon fodder. Add England’s traditional huge following abroad into the mix and all of a sudden, Vieux Port came into real focus.
Motivated Russian hooligans, organised on a different level, attacking not only the pissed-up goading few, but picking off anyone, anywhere in an England shirt.
Two wrongs don’t make a right but I’ve seen many, many England fans terrified around Marseille, congregating in groups of other England fans just to feel safe. They then are seen as a mob, and get attacked. And on it goes.
Marseille was a disaster of a city for this game to be played. An alcohol ban was impossible in such a huge city with a history of being a violent place where racial tensions between the Magreb (Tunisians, Algerians, Moroccans) who make up such a huge part of Marseille society, added to a state of emergency due to Islamic terror.
Adding the factional disputes between local gangs made this city as unsuitable for a game of this nature as it’s possible to get. UEFA acknowledged this today yet knew the fixture since the draw in December. So that’s not England fans’ fault, that’s UEFA for putting 35,000 England fans (including the 100 or so who are pure scum) into a toxic mix.
As my Periscope video last night showed, local youths (mostly from the Magreb community, I can only say what I see) congregated in the old port next to the large Ferris wheel. One of my videos clearly shows people just milling around and on the face of it none seemed to be connected in any way other than their curiosity as to what may happen next between the heavy-handed Police and groups of England fans up late, pissed-up and probably with no accommodation.
— Stan Collymore (@StanCollymore) June 11, 2016
What I saw next was a wake-up call. Four whistles were blown and 300 locals sprinted up an alleyway dishing out punches to anyone in their way, including a small group of England fans at the base of the alleyway.
Now bear in mind this trouble moved from where the Police were into the dark alleyways, yet AFTER the gang disappeared, Police only then started firing tear gas rounds into the square, only scaring locals going about their business and several groups of fans with nowhere to go. Those are only the facts as I saw and recorded them.
In summary, do the UK Police need to do more to identify the hard core of England fans who goad and intimidate others? Yes. Do these people need banning orders? Yes. If you’re an England fan and want to congregate with them, is that a recipe for disaster? Yes.
It’s time the FA, England supporters Federation and the football federation started to open up the fan embassies again for fans to be able to congregate in a safe place, sing songs and self-Police as I’ve seen on England trips as a fan.
All that happened yesterday was a few motivated idiots planted their flags at a pub which became an unofficial England fans’ embassy.
Yet these idiots haven’t earned the right or respect of other England fans to decide where England fans pitch up. So let’s take it out of their hands and have the organisations get more involved to give info, protection and intelligence to Police when the wrong ones infiltrate.