Gas and glass: Rowdy soccer fans cause havoc in Marseille

AP News
Posted: Jun 10, 2016 6:58 PM
Gas and glass: Rowdy soccer fans cause havoc in Marseille

MARSEILLE, France (AP) — Tear gas drifted through the air and broken bottles crunched under foot as French police struggled to control rowdy, drunken soccer fans causing havoc in the southern port city of Marseille on the opening day of the European Championship on Friday.

As France and Romania were getting the tournament underway in Paris, a second night of violence and hooliganism raged in Marseille's Old Port district as police repeatedly clashed with fans from France, Russia and England flared deep into the night. England and Russia were meeting in a Euro 2016 game at the city's Stade Velodrome on Saturday.

Troublemakers were seen throwing bottles and chairs from a roadside brasserie, and bare-chested, flag-waving England fans taunted baton-wielding policemen in scenes that will again mar the reputation of the country's soccer supporters that had recovered since the dark days of hooliganism in the 1970s and '80s.

There were no immediate reports of serious injuries and it was unclear how many people were detained during the skirmishes, which broke out at about 6 p.m. local time despite a massive police presence.

Families, women and elderly couples picked their way around the broken glass strewn across the cobbled streets of the historic quay side, a renowned tourist site, as the sirens of police vans and fire engines mingled with the constant chanting of England fans. People sat on terraces outside restaurants eating, as tear gas spread through the streets.

Shortly after the final whistle of the France-Romania game, which France won 2-1, hundreds of England fans were surrounded by dozens of riot police in one of a series of tense standoffs.

Friday began with cleaners hosing down sidewalks and sweeping up broken glass left over from Thursday's incidents, apparently provoked local youths from the city's gritty suburbs as England fans drank and sang outside an Irish bar.

"They are looking for (a fight), provocation ... It's not the English," Anthony Heraud, the 34-year-old manager of Irish pub O'Malley's, told The Associated Press.

"There were some small exchanges but nothing too nasty," Heraud added. "Englishmen are cool. They were just partying, singing a lot. But no problem."

The brief clashes have revived bitter memories of days of bloody fighting in this Mediterranean port city between England hooligans, Tunisia fans and locals of North African origin during the World Cup in 1998. Then, hundreds of England fans were involved in violent beach-front clashes with locals in Marseille over two days around England's match against Tunisia match, prompting a headline in a local paper: "Go home hooligans!"

One fan had his throat slashed, cafe windows were smashed, and bottles, glasses and chairs were thrown.

French Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet said four police officers were lightly hurt in Thursday's violence and police detained two people, one from France and one from England.

"UEFA regrets the skirmishes that occurred in Marseille yesterday," the governing body of European soccer said Friday in a statement. "We are confident that the safety of travelling fans will be ensured by the local authorities which are responsible for order in the city. We make an appeal to all fans to behave respectfully throughout the tournament."

Following deadly attacks in Paris by Islamic extremists and fears Euro 2016 is also a target, security already is at an unprecedented high for the month-long tournament that kicks off Friday in Paris when host France takes on Romania.

Mark Roberts, head of soccer policing in Britain, said England fans had been in the city "without issue" on Thursday until locals arrived.

"At around midnight, there was a short confrontation where a group of approximately 70 local youths approached a pub where England fans had congregated," Roberts said. "This was quickly dealt with by French police and one English supporter was arrested. We are aware of no further incidents overnight."

English soccer fans have been largely praised for their behavior during recent tournaments.


AP Sports Writer Rob Harris in Paris contributed to this report.