AN England supporter caught up in the Euro 2016 violence in France believes UEFA threats to kick the team out of the tournament have fallen on deaf ears.
Leeds United fan Steve Riding has been following England since the 1970s and been to three World Cups and four European Championships, but he ranks the hooliganism witnessed in France over the last week as some of the worst he has experienced.
Images of bloodied supporters clashing in the streets dominated the headlines on Saturday and Sunday as Russian, French and English supporters rampaged through the streets of Marseille.
Russian supporters then attacked England fans inside the stadium shortly after the two teams had drawn 1-1, leaving an extremely bad taste in the mouth of all true football followers.
Euro 2016 chiefs have since imposed a suspended disqualification on Russia and also threatened to disqualify Roy Hodgson’s men if there is any escalation ahead of today’s match against Wales in Lens.
Hodgson and team captain Wayne Rooney responded to UEFA by issuing a video message to supporters, appealing for them to behave.
Mr Riding, from Harrogate, who first attended a World Cup in Spain 1982, does not believe the threat of disqualification will be carried through, but accepted the trouble had been among the worst he had seen.
“There is no fear among the supporters here that we will be kicked out,” he said. “I think people believe it would cause UEFA too many problems. I don’t think anyone really thinks the threat will be carried out.”
Back in France for today’s match against Wales, Mr Riding admitted he was pleased to get out of Marseille at the weekend.
“I was in Marseille last week and it was the worst atmosphere I’ve ever experienced,” he said. “We were in Marseille for the 1998 World Cup, and that was pretty bad, but I was really glad to get out of the place this time.
“The Russians were to blame in Marseille, you were always nervous about random attacks. You never knew where was going to be safe.
“The Russians could attack you anywhere at anytime... it was chaos. Normally, you know how to avoid the trouble and you can find somewhere out of the way, but this was different.”
Staying in Lille last night, Mr Riding said there were similar clashes between supporters and the French police, but said much of the trouble stemmed from a minority of fans travelling without tickets... and a French police force intent on keeping control by using force.
“Things have been a little bit giddy in the centre of town,” he said. “It was a bit hairy last night. Marseille was bad enough at the weekend and to be honest last night was probably just as bad in small doses.
“The French riot police kept the English supporters in the one area of town and when things started to get a bit boistrous, they stepped in with their tear gas and had a run at them.
“That is the way the French police work, their tactics are to send in the tear gas and make a statement... as if to say, don’t forget we are here guys. The tear gas is not nice stuff, but it works... it does the job. When the tear gas goes in it stops any trouble from getting worse.
“To be fair it is the minority who go too far. There are thousands of football fans over here. It is easy to get to, not very far from home and most just want to enjoy the atmosphere and have a good time. Many fans do not have tickets and it is those without tickets who seem to cause most of the problems.
“You know where the trouble is going to come from. You can see the large groups and hear the singing. The police are watching them and it only takes a small thing to set them off.”
Unlike Marseille, Mr Riding and his fellow members of the official FA supporters club, were able to find a quiet area of the town to enjoy a drink before the big game.
“It is generally easy to find a quieter place away from the trouble if you want to,” he said. “Marseille was different, but last night our bar was closed early due to the trouble but one guy told us to go upstairs and he shut the door behind us. He welcomed us in and we had a good night.
“I just hope that things can calm down a bit now that the Russians are out of the way and we can all enjoy a good tournament.”