Euro 2016 blog: Violence shows the ugly side of the beautiful game

David Lee

David Lee

Express reporter David Lee is out in France as he follows England on their footballing quest for Euro glory.

But following the violent clashes between fans in Marseilles over the weekend all the focus is on the ugly side of the beautiful game.

For three hours, life at the Old Port of Marseille was perfect.

Thousands of English fans stood side by side, basking in the French sunshine and belting out the nation's treasured footballing anthems.

Then people started running. 

At first glance, it seemed to be nothing more than a few fans fooling around.

But then we heard them, the roar of scores of balaclava-clad Russians, and they were coming straight for us.

From that moment on, life for thousands of English fans, including myself, was transformed into a world of utter chaos. 

As we escaped down the Old Port's side streets, the sound of smashing bottles and tear gas filled the air.

For now, we were safe. 

But as we stood on the Marseille harbour, it was clear others had not been so lucky.

Ambulance crews attended to English fans who had been caught up in the Russian ambush at almost every corner.

Some of the blood-stained supporters bore injuries that surely could only have been inflicted on a battlefield. 

Much has been made of the supposed return of England's hooligan culture at the start of Euro 2016.

But this was indiscriminate violence, targeting anyone and everyone with Three Lions on their chest.

A holiday that was supposed to be the pinnacle of my life following football had been plunged into a merciless game of cat and mouse.

As we sat in a quieter bar closer to the Stade Velodrome, which was due to host England's group game against Russia, the hooligans pounced again. 

This time, one of my friends wasn't so lucky and was knocked to the floor and repeatedly kicked and punched. 

But after a toxic few hours, the last thing on any of our minds was football. 

Our decision to travel to France was seemingly vindicated as Eric Dier crashed in what should have been a glorious 73rd minute winner.

The celebrations which followed will live long in the memory.

But in a cruel twist, we had to witness a sickening injury-time equaliser.

Football, by that point though, just seemed insignificant.

And as Russian fans breached the flimsy segregation and continued to attack English fans at the full-time whistle, it was clear this would go down as one of football's darkest days.

Many questions remain in the minds of English fans out here in France.

Where were the French police? How did Russian fans manage to smuggle flare guns into the stadium in this age of heightened security? Why had English fans been left as sitting ducks in the Old Port square?

But for now, we can only hope that we don't see a repeat of the sickening scenes as English fans prepare to share the city of Lille with their Russians counterparts later on this week. 

I for one won't be getting my hopes up.

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