In last week’s blog I mentioned my determination to not be cowed by terrorists as my sons and I headed off to France to watch England play Russia in the Euro 2016 tournament.
I didn’t for a moment think that the ‘terror’ would come from rampaging fans hell bent on causing as much trouble, damage and fear as possible.
You’ve probably read plenty of accounts in the media, especially before Saturday’s match, of English football hooligans clashing with police. The press quickly jumped to conclusions and many of them were totally inaccurate.
I was in Marseille, and although some of the English fans behaviour left a lot to be desired and was loutish and idiotic, the main troublemakers were Russian fans followed closely by French hooligans.
My sons and I along with two friends made the conscious decision to avoid the port area where a lot of English supporters were drinking. Instead we spent a pleasant couple of days in the fan zones and mixed enjoyably and peacefully with other supporters from across Europe.
We drank, sang and had a great time without a hint of trouble as did thousands of others of all nationalities.
In 1998 when there was trouble in Marseille between English fans and French locals it was centred on the port area. History repeated itself but this time round the Russian thugs brought a chilling and almost military aspect to the violence and chaos.
We saw no trouble before the match as we headed from the fan zone to the stadium. However, as soon as we got to the station we saw English fans who had been tear gassed by police and they began telling us the stories of the Russians attacking the with batons, chairs, and equipped with fighting gloves and even mouth guards.
They were in no doubt that these attacks had been carefully planned.
In the stadium a disappointing result was overshadowed by the disgraceful invasion of an English fans’ section by Russian thugs at the end of the game. There was no grey area here. It was clearly Russian hooligans attacking fans who were trying to get away from the violence.
We were at the other end of the ground but the scenes reminded me of the Heysel tragedy which saw 39 Juventus fans die when a section of Liverpool fans attacked where they were standing.
I saw with my own eyes the charge from the Russian section when a loud bang went off towards the end of the match. This was the signal for the Russians attacking the English fans and showed the level of planning which had gone into the attacks and mindless violence.
Getting out of and away from the stadium was a nightmare. No taxis, trains or buses. No signs to tell people where to go. You were left to fend for yourself and this added to the constant wail of sirens and earlier reports of unprovoked attacks made for a very uncomfortable five mile walk back to the safety of our hotel.
Not for one minute am I condoning the behaviour of some of the unruly and violent England followers. But the media got the initial reports very wrong. French prosecutors have even officially laid the main focus of the blame on 150 hard core Russian hooligans who stormed through the port area.
The French Police were heavy handed and unhelpful from what I saw and heard. UEFA made huge mistakes with their scheduling of the match and the stadium security and the organisation left a hell of a lot to be desired.
Then the day after the match we took a train from Marseille to Nice which was delayed, then had mechanical problems before limping into its destination.
To top it all off our flight was cancelled due to a constantly changing excuse and following a four hour delay we had to search frantically for a hotel room in Nice. We managed to get one – right above where what seemed like a thousand drunk and noisy Polish fans were celebrating their team’s win against Northern Ireland.
Having had the chance to chat with some Northern Irish fans at the airport they told us how French thugs had attacked them and Poles on the Friday night before the game. Totally unprovoked and I’ll be interested to see what UEFA has to say about the French aspect of this troubled weekend.
I’m heading back for the Slovakia game and really hope for the sake of football that there are no more scenes like those disgraceful ones we saw in Marseille and Nice.
Thanks for reading
PS: If you haven’t already follow Stan Collymore’s Twitter account. On it he has videos showing the co-ordination of French hooligans attacking innocent English fans.