Are we going to see a repeat of Euro 2016 and the violence of the Russian Ultras at the 2018 World Cup in Russia?
With the biggest ‘footballing’ tournament on earth now less than a year away, there have been concerns raised about the safety of fans who are planning to attend the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Are these concerns warranted? Have Russia actually done anything to ensure the safety of fans?
First of all we have to look at Euro 2016 when Russian ‘Ultra’ hooligans ran riot in France, routinely coming face to face with England fans who didn’t come off particularly well out of it. What had been a peaceful yet noisy afternoon of drinking in the picturesque Old Port of Marseilles soon turned for the worse when a group of black T-shirt clad marching Ultras appeared out of no where. England fans who were just arriving into the square described the scenes like something out of war zone although no one really knew who was attacking them.
Planned like a full scale military operation to cause as much damage in a short space of time, the England fans had never seen football violence orchestrated in such a fashion. Some England fans were left fighting for their lives after the ambush, asking the question is this new breed of football hooligan intent on causing serious bodily harm just to gain a worldwide rep?
When England played Russia in a tournament group game in Marseilles Orange Velodrome, there were also ugly scenes after the final whistle with Russian hooligans storming the England fans looking to cause some serious damage. Running battles punctuated both countries stay in France with both teams nearly being kicked out of the tournament altogether.
It’s fair to say that both England and Russia have a history of hooliganism albeit with very different approaches. Russian hooligans are well trained and well drilled. They train in gyms and participate in training camps in woods and forests and they take it extremely seriously. England fans on the other hand have a habit of having a few pints and then think they can take on the world. In France we saw the beer bellied, loudmouthed fellas from England get routed by the well organised and frankly dangerous Russian ultras with their bumbags and go pros so they can upload their latest battles onto Youtube and hooligan websites. It was a total mismatch.
English football should take part of the blame for the rise in hooliganism in Russia and a lot of Eastern Europe. Throughout the late 70s, 80s and 90s, English football hooligans were some of the most violent and most feared in Europe. Making their name in tournaments as well as friendlies, they inspired other countries who also wanted to be feared and respected and Russia was at the forefront of this. Even today England fans still like to try and provoke a reaction, sometimes singing offensive songs about Gibraltar and World War II playing Spain and Germany respectively, so it is little wonder they find themselves in a lot of trouble.
The Police officer who co-ordinated England’s policing operation at Euro 2016 will do so again for Russia 2018 and has raised concerns of serious risk to England fans when they visit Russia. There is still a debate regarding advice to England fans wearing football shirts if they do decide to go over.
At the moment, nobody is quite sure just what will happen over in Russia and the majority of fans that will arrive from all over the world to cheer their team on will be peacefully doing just that and causing no harm to anyone whatsoever. Unfortunately however, recent history has shown us that not all people are interested in just supporting their team and the 2018 World Cup may well not be any different. If the England fans who contributed to the trouble in France turn up in Russia and try and provoke a similar reaction, the chances are they probably going to get more than they can handle, again. Unless the British firms have spent the last 6 months training in dojo’s, drinking less lager, and conditioning their bodies into the ultimate fighting machines, then the Russian Ultras have already won.
In other Ultras related features you can check out our article exploring how British terrace culture has inspired the Russian Ultras.