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Marseille UEFA Euro 2016 Russian fan
Image: picture-alliance/sputnik/V. Belousov

Brawling for the fatherland

Roman Goncharenko / db
June 14, 2016

UEFA has threatened to disqualify Russia and England from Euro 2016 in the wake of fan violence from both squads. Another incident in Wednesday's match against Slovakia could see Russia booted from the tournament.


The alleged witness's report posted on the Russian soccer hooligan portal Fanstyle.ru is anonymous. "We met at a park three hours before the game, about 250 to 300 people," as how he described Saturday's events in the French city of Marseille. Everyone was there, he added: "homeless", "meat", "steam engine" and "bull" - fanspeak for supporters of the St Petersburg Zenit soccer team and Moscow's three leading clubs, Spartak, Lokomotiv and Dinamo. Then, he wrote, the group moved on to "a place with a few Irish pubs and lots of Brits."

What happened next ahead of the England match sparked worldwide outrage. Wielding chairs and bottles, supporters of both teams clashed in bloody street fights. The anonymous Russian witness wrote that 100 to 150 hooligans took part in the "main battle" near the port. French police also reported that many participants.

After the game, a few Russians literally hunted down English fans in the stadium. The European Soccer Federation (UEFA) has threatened to disqualify Russia and England from the championship should there be any more rioting, already handing Russia a "suspended disqualification." English fans also beat each other up and brawled with French fans.

Frankreich Marseille UEFA Euro 2016 Stadion Fans Ausschreitungen
Russian hooligans at the soccer stadium in MarseilleImage: picture-alliance/empics/PA Wire/N, Potts

English traditions, Russian-style

The hooligan battle ended in a standoff, the witness wrote, but the Russian side managed to collect lots of "trophies", he added: British flags. A photo shows what could be young Russians in Marseille, proudly displaying upside down British flags. The caption identifies the men as hooligans from Moscow and St Petersburg.

It's a historical irony that the Russian hooligans' opponents were English; after all, the Russian hooligan scene has its roots in England.

A general soccer fan movement emerged in the Soviet Union in the 1970s, blossoming after the East-West conflict died down.

English fans in particular were regarded as models.

The Russian scene also adopted the hooligan sub culture, with Russian hooligan groups emerging in the 1990s, often choosing English names like "Red-Blue Warriors."

Nationalist mood

Initially, the movement was focused on major cities. Today, most Russian clubs find there's at least one hooligan group that pledges its allegiance.

There are no detailed numbers, but experts estimate a group to have 20 to 50 members who meet on a regular basis to fight. Such fistfights usually take place on the outskirts of a town, or in a forest.

Just like in the West, there are neo-Nazis among Russian soccer fans, too. An initiative for tolerance lists about 100 racist incidents in Russian soccer in 2014/2015. Some observers say the Russian hooligan scene is even more nationalist than the English scene.

How Russian cartoonist Sergey Elkin sees the Euro 2016
How Russian cartoonist Sergey Elkin sees the Euro 2016

Politician defends rioters

Several Russian politicians from the left and the right fringes have tried to take advantage of the mood. The Brits "should feel the Russian fist", leftwing extremist politician Eduard Limonov wrote in the aftermath of the Marseille riots. Igor Lebedev, a member of the Russian soccer federation's executive committee, praised the Russian fans, tweeting "Well done, lads!" and placed the blame for the violence on the French police. The 43-year-old son of Russian rightwing populist Vladimir Zhirinovsky is deputy chairman in the Russian parliament. Over the past years, his nationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) tried more than once to win the votes of soccer hooligans.

Concern ahead of World Cup 2018

The riots at the European Soccer Championships in France are raising serious concerns about the behavior of Russian hooligans when the 2018 World Cup is held in Russia. There are some indications that Russian authorities will take a harsher stance on fans prone to violence. Earlier this year, criminal proceedings followed a fight in Moscow, several fans were arrested and their homes were searched. That's a novelty, Gazeta.ru wrote. According to the Russian online newspaper, several hooligan groups might even be banned ahead of the World Cup.

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