Cup fever turns sour in France

Violence in Marseilles: England and Tunisia fans clash on streets as World Cup turns ugly
Click to follow
The Independent Online
AS THE sun set yesterday, the sound system at Marseilles harbour was blasting out Tom Jones. "You don't have to be beautiful to turn me on," crooned the Pride of Pontypridd.

As Tom sang, the bottles flew through the air. The bottles here in Marseilles are thick and heavy and can do a lot of damage. It was a surreal scene, as elderly couples walked past trying to ignore what was going on while others stopped to stare.

Surreal, but overwhelmingly depressing. The investigations into how a calm, peaceful day when Tunisians played football on the beach with the English, turned so ugly have already begun. What conclusions they draw is anyone's guess but last night it appeared clear that a small minority of England supporters were doing their best to let down the rest.

"What are the chances of England hosting the World Cup after this?" asked one supporter, shaken and disturbed by what he had seen. Another added: "I think they should just throw England out of the World Cup after this."

Such emotions are not easily roused in supporters who have paid their money and made the effort to travel to France, but what took place last night was not pretty.

How the violence, which ran on for more than eight hours, began was not entirely clear. It seems there was a degree of provocation from Tunisia supporters. The England supporters, at times 700 of them, reacted - initially with a hail of bottles and glasses and a display of Tunisian flag-burning.

The English first made their base outside the McDonald's restaurant in the harbour area, maybe because they could understand the menu or perhaps of the access to the toilets as the afternoon's beer took its toll. But as the evening wore on they moved around the marina, taking over an Irish bar which had been serving the fans all week.

The pub might serve the best pint of Guinness in Marseilles, but some of the fans decided they would still try and burn the Irish flag which flew outside the building. "No surrender to the IRA," they sang.

They would have set fire to it, except it was soaking wet, presumably from where one of them had emptied a glass or or their bladder on to it.

Mingling amongst the fans, there were probably only a dozen or so ringleaders, something confirmed by British intelligence sources at the scene.These ringleaders took it in turns to roar at the others, accusing them of cowardice and worse when they refused to fight with the riot police.

For their part, the police - equipped with dogs, batons, helmets and gas masks - were taking few chances. Their tactic was to fire tear gas towards the encroaching fans, followed up with charges when they wished to make an arrest.

As the evening continued, hundreds of Tunisia fans massed at the other end of the harbour, and started their own skirmishes with the police. At one point they surrounded a hotel being used by England fans and unleashed a barrage of bottles and glasses.

That there was a fair degree of provocation from Tunisians and that those English supporters involved in violence represented only a minority, was - perhaps surprisingly - recognised by many of the locals.

Anastasia Philleppene, the owner of the Corner Cafe, whose windows were smashed by a gang of supporters, recognised as much. "There are the good English, the very good English and then there are the others," she said.

Last night, it was clear which of the English had done the damage.

Comments