Euro 2016 football violence: How the Russian media reacted

'Cowardly' English accused of starting trouble and then fleeing the battleground after 'awakening the Russian bear'

England Russia Fans
Fans clash after the Uefa Euro 2016 group stage match between England and Russia 
(Image credit: Lars Baron/Getty Images Sport)

The off-the-field image of Russian sport has taken a battering recently, with allegations of state-sponsored doping of athletes and questions over the bidding process for football's 2018 World Cup. So the last thing the country needs is the threat of a Uefa ban from Euro 2016 if its fans are involved in any further violence.

The focus in the run-up to Saturday's group stage match between England and Russia had been on English supporters as they confronted police and locals in the Vieux Port area of Marseille. That changed on the day of the game, when Russian fans inside the Stade Velodrome reportedly crossed the cordon separating both sets of spectators and fighting broke out.

The next day, European football's governing body expressed "utter disgust" at the clashes in the centre of Marseille and "serious concern" over what had happened in the stadium. Uefa says it will consider banning the Russian or English team if there is more trouble.

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The response in the Russian media has been a mixture of incomprehension and contrition, combined with a large dose of self-justification and a pinch of what could be mistaken for national pride.

Komsomolskaya Pravda's Vera Kon writes that "even British journalists who witnessed the fighting (in the stadium) admitted that English fans had incited the Russians by insulting their national flag".

The website is running an "exclusive" report under the gleeful headline: "Drama in the port of Marseille, or what it means to awaken the Russian bear." It revels in the "cowardly flight" of England fans from the "field of battle" after accusing them of provoking a mass brawl in the centre of the city.

The accompanying video, without commentary, shows the English milling with apparently aggressive intent down at the Vieux Port, then cuts to Russian supporters as they descend on the harbour from a side street.

Novaya Gazeta's special correspondent Roman Anin was also at the Vieux Port on Saturday. He said the place turned into a "living hell" as English fans fought with French police in a confrontation that resembled an "artillery duel". He witnessed a punch-up between a Russian and Englishman directly in front of him, he reported, with the English fan knocked out with two blows to the head.

Blogger Alex Durnovo offers a different perspective on the violence. "It's tempting to think that it was drunken young lads who attacked the English supporters' peace and quiet," he wrote for Ekho Moskvy. "I hate to disappoint you (or cheer you up) but that's not how it was." The Russians fighting in Marseille were, in fact, men aged 35-40 who were taking on "hard, working-class types" from England, he adds.

Durnovo, though, has little time for the English: "I saw them four years ago in Donetsk [at Euro 2012] – although, believe me, I wish I'd never seen them at all."

The last word on the clashes should go to Dmitri Ponomarenko, writing on the Sovetsky Sport website. He predicts – with tongue in cheek, one presumes – that the French will refrain from punishing Russian fans. Why? Because they're helping the French police in their work of nipping yet more English vandalism in the bud.

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