Eyewitness view: English disease not driven by Marseille drunks, but by sober professional hooligans
Eurosport's Marcus Foley has spent the night in the chaotic French port of Marseille studying scenes of football hooliganism straight out of the 1980s involving some England football fans, and reveals that the main culprits were more sober than the team will be against Russia this evening. And feels most weren't English.
England fans confront riot police ahead of England's EURO 2016 match in Marseille, France, June 10, 2016.
Heavy-handed policing and provocation of local youths have been cited in mitigation. Drink also played a part, as it tends to. Bottles were thrown, punches landed and blood spilt.
There were those who had got caught up in the moment. This does not absolve any of those perpetrators of blame. Their actions are a stain on the character of English football. They may very well have been provoked but there were many on the streets of Marseille who were willing actors in the wanton violence that followed.
There was one particularly sickening incident when a French fan was caught flush on the chin. His deadweight thudded the ground as tear gas that the riot police had fired towards the bawling fans enveloped the alleyway.
The severity of what had just happened appeared to dawn on a few, who hurled obscenities at anyone filming the unfolding situation. Those with cameras were told in no uncertain terms that they were to cease filming.
Bizarrely, rival fans who moments earlier were shaping up to fight surrounded the prone body.
Individuals who had been threatening to attack each other called an unofficial, subconscious ceasefire.
Perhaps because for all the gesturing, all the lobbing of missiles, all the punches being thrown to many this was, for want to a better term, a game. To some, perhaps, it was a bit of fun. And the fun stops when someone actually gets hurt. It is no longer a laugh that can be recounted down the pub; all of a sudden it could become genuine jail time.
French police personnel deploy amongst England fans as they gather in Marseille, southern France, on June 10, 2016, ahead of England's Euro 2016 football match against Russia on June 11, 2016.
Image credit: Getty Images
One isolated incident could be dismissed as an anomaly. However, when the same happened again an hour later, the theory started to look like more than a theory.
Most menacing of all was the sinister sight in amongst the mayhem of lurking about looking and finding the next skirmish. It appeared that in amongst the, erm, happy-go-lucky punch throwers, there were sober men who sought genuine violence and wanted to test their wares against their European brothers.
The possible re-emergence of organised violence ahead of international football matches must be of a serious concern to football authorities in England. It is a sight English football had thought it had seen the last of.
The English game has done exceptionally well to rehabilitate its reputation for hooliganism. In fact, it looks as though it has outstripped its European cousins. Hoolignism has been made socially unacceptable in modern Britain but that does not seem to be the case in parts of Europe.
Violent clashes in Marseille overshadowed the build-up to England's Euro 2016 opener
Image credit: PA Sport
The undercurrent of casual football violence that still runs through some parts of British culture feels a little more comfortable in its skin in some parts of Europe.
Throw into the mix a little provocation and the scenes that were witnessed in Marseille begin to have an inevitable feel to them.
Anyway, the recriminations over who was or was not at fault will continue long into the tournament.
However, what there is no doubt over is the complete and utterly selfish nature of the on goings over the last few days. France is still in a state of national emergency after November’s attacks and the battles that raged in Marseille undoubtedly drew resources away from the very real threat of terrorism.
The consequences of a few could have had far reaching ramifications for the security of others.