Uefa’s executive board has warned both England and Russia that they could be thrown out of the tournament if there are repeats of the violence in Marseille, where a small group of England fans clashed with police and locals before 150 highly organised Russians caused several serious injuries and left one fan in a critical condition.
Wednesday’s clashes, which were quickly clamped down on by scores of military and plain clothes police who fired teargas to clear the streets, were the first serious incidents since thousands of England, Wales, Slovakia and Russia supporters flooded into the northern French city. England play Wales in the nearby city of Lens on Thursday, but ticketless fans had been advised to head for Lille because Lens has too few facilities to cope with large numbers.
A small group of England fans in their late teens said that their Russian counterparts had started the trouble by charging at a larger knot of around 200 England fans drinking outside Le Prize pub, 100 metres from the main square.
Hundreds of England fans had spent the day drinking outside bars near Lille’s domestic train station. For the most part it was good natured, involving little more than songs and impromptu games of football, but as the afternoon wore on the songs and chants became more specifically anti-Russian, especially with news of Russia’s loss to Slovakia.
“We’re England and Wales, fuck off Russia, we’re England and Wales!” went one chant, along with another of “Russia’s going home”. As Russia fans began arriving in the centre of Lille after the game, they mainly hung back and watched the songs, some smiling, though one could be seen carefully folding a large Russia flag to put away in a pocket.
As more Russia fans arrived, however, the chants from their English and Welsh counterparts got louder and were accompanied by finger pointing and some evident tension.
A loud bang from a flare or firework appeared to be the signal for a small group of Russians to charge at England fans, some of whom had mounted a parked car. England and Wales fans then chased the Russians through the streets, with large numbers of police in hot pursuit.
The opposing sets of fans scattered through the back streets of Lille’s old city, pursued by CRS riot police. In chaotic scenes there were a few skirmishes, but some fans were clearly trying to escape. One father in an England shirt was seen leading away his two young sons, one of them aged about six who was weeping in his arms.
The skirmishes soon died down and police used teargas to break up one big group on a street dotted with cafes and apartment buildings. A French family was seen coughing and wiping their eyes as they struggled with the lock to their apartment block.
French police used CS gas to disperse England and Wales fans again later in the evening. This time there was no violence or even any Russian supporters visible, just a roaming group of singing, drunk young men, mainly English.
They were gathered outside a bar near Lille’s station before police seemed to send them off on a march towards the official fan zone. But as they got near the group turned back and walked into Lille centre again. Here police unleashed some gas, seemingly to stop the group heading en masse into the narrow streets of the old town.
The incidents had echoes of a smaller scale episode on Tuesday afternoon, when a small number of Russians charged at England fans singing anti-Russia songs, leading to two arrests. There were further small scale brawls overnight.
Relations had earlier been good-natured between Russia and Slovakia fans at the stadium. A single flare was lit when Russia scored, but otherwise the atmosphere was benign.
A ban on alcohol sales from shops and supermarkets in Lille began on Tuesday at 6pm and will run until 6am on Friday, partly aimed at reducing the potential for glass bottles to be used as missiles. About 350 bars in the city are required to close at midnight. Shops and cafes began to close early after the incident on Tuesday, but others remained open.
The England manager, Roy Hodgson, and the team’s captain, Wayne Rooney, had appealed for calm earlier in the week, and the FA’s chief executive, Martin Glenn, wrote to fans to tell them not to react to provocation.
“We recognise that some of you were subjected to acts of violence from rival supporters in the stadium last weekend. It is something we take very seriously and while tens of thousands of you acted impeccably, there was a minority that did not,” Glenn wrote.
“Like the England team, you represent the badge and I urge you to act in a positive and respectful way.”