Hooliganism rears its ugly head at Euro '16

England supporters (above) throwing glass bottles as they clash with French riot police in Marseille yesterday before their country's match against Russia in Euro 2016. An England fan (below) being detained by security personnel.
England supporters (above) throwing glass bottles as they clash with French riot police in Marseille yesterday before their country's match against Russia in Euro 2016. An England fan being detained by security personnel.PHOTOS: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
England supporters (above) throwing glass bottles as they clash with French riot police in Marseille yesterday before their country's match against Russia in Euro 2016. An England fan (below) being detained by security personnel.
England supporters throwing glass bottles as they clash with French riot police in Marseille yesterday before their country's match against Russia in Euro 2016. An England fan (above) being detained by security personnel.PHOTOS: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

French security forces tested by brawls ahead of England-Russia match; strikes may yet play havoc

PARIS • After a triumphant start to Euro 2016, the French authorities worked to control hooligan violence as England faced Russia in the early hours this morning, while a pilots' strike threatened fans' travel plans.

A tense France was finally able to party a little yesterday after winning the opening match against Romania and avoiding major hiccups as industrial unrest failed to disrupt transport to the Stade de France.

However, the strike by a quarter of Air France's pilots meant travellers risked delays and cancellations, and train services continued to be disrupted on the 11th day of a rail strike.

While the country is on high alert for terror attacks, it is old-fashioned hooliganism which has proved to be the first test for security forces, with two nights of clashes in Marseille.

Even before England and Russia hit the field, fresh clashes erupted yesterday between football fans gathered in Marseille, police said.

Security forces fired tear gas to disperse fighting fans for a third day in a row, just hours before the match which is one of five games in the month-long football tournament classed as high-risk for hooliganism.

Marseille is determined to avoid a repeat of the violence during the 1998 World Cup when English hooligans clashed with Tunisia supporters in the Mediterranean city.

The European football championship arrived in a glum France desperate for some good news after last year's terror attacks were followed by months of industrial unrest, political turmoil and floods.

A much-needed 2-1 win against Romania, which came when Dimitri Payet fired in a long-range effort in the final minutes of the match, broke the tension, with supporters in the stadium and bars around the French capital erupting into cheers.

Le Parisien newspaper said more success for the French team could brighten the country's mood.

"Even if France is breathing easier this morning, it is still holding its breath, hoping for victory in this Euro, to ward off the threat of attacks, for a stop to the social conflicts. Finally," it said in an editorial.

Euro 2016 comes seven months after the November attacks by Islamic State in Iraq and Syria gunmen and suicide bombers in Paris left 130 people dead.

While 80,000 football fans cheerfully submitted to heavy security to enter the Stade de France, fears of an attack have dampened enthusiasm, and a massive Paris fan zone under the Eiffel Tower was only half-full, according to police.

However, those who did go out were unperturbed.

"There is a lot of security here, but it's OK," said 20-year-old Ruairi Scott from Belfast, as he downed pints of beer. "I was a little worried before we came here, but not anymore. I feel safe."

But German student Julia Settgast, 28, said she was too jittery to go out and watch the match.

"In Germany I would watch the matches in bars or at a public viewing, but in France... I am afraid of terrorism," she said.

Some 90,000 police and private security guards have been deployed to protect players and around two million foreign visitors expected for the matches at 10 venues around the country.

President Francois Hollande hailed the "smooth" start to the tournament despite the numerous strikes over pay, conditions and government reforms to labour law.

However, the industrial action is far from over, with the Air France pilots having planned a four-day stoppage. While the carrier's chief executive Frederic Gagey has promised that more than 80 per cent of flights would operate, he has not ruled out "cancellations and last- minute delays".

To maintain service, Air France has turned to part-time pilots, for instance managers and trainers who are entitled to fly, and chartered out "a few" flights that could not be rescheduled.

Meanwhile, rail operator SNCF voted to continue its walkout throughout the weekend as negotiations over pay, among other issues, remain blocked, and rubbish collectors and incineration plants would remain on strike until Tuesday.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 12, 2016, with the headline 'Hooliganism rears its ugly head at Euro '16'. Print Edition | Subscribe