PARIS/MARSEILLE (Reuters) – French police stepped in to break up small groups of English and Russian soccer fans who squared up and hurled taunts at one another in Marseille on Friday, ahead of the opening match of the Euro 2016 soccer tournament.
Reuters TV footage showed one bare-chested supporter in the back of a police van and a handcuffed English supporter being frogmarched by two officers along the edge of Marseille’s old harbor.
“Officers separated groups of English and Russian supporters,” one police source said, adding that at least two arrests had been made. “They fired tear gas to disperse some drunk Englishmen.”
In the 1998 World Cup, England fans were involved in serious disorder over several days in Marseille before and after a match against Tunisia.
About 1,000 police will be deployed in the Mediterranean city as up to 70,000 England fans and 20,000 Russians arrive throughout Friday and Saturday ahead of the match between the two countries.
Late on Thursday night, about 100 England fans and 50 local residents were involved in another fracas in the streets around the Vieux Port (Old Port) area, where several English and Irish bars are located. Chairs were hurled around and windows smashed before police gained control.
The tournament kicks off with France still under a state of emergency after Islamist militants launched simultaneous assaults on entertainment venues in Paris in November, killing 130 people.
Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre-Henri Brandet said Friday night’s trouble amounted to a scuffle between fans that did not call security measures into question.
British police would work closely with their French counterparts in Marseille and would seek banning orders for any England fans causing trouble, Assistant Chief Constable Mark Roberts said.
The English Football Association condemned the fans’ behavior.
(Reporting by Myriam Rivet and Brian Love, Writing by Brian Love and Richard Lough, Editing by John Irish and Hugh Lawson)