“IT was like being in a war zone” – the words of an England football fan caught up in the violence in France.
BBC Coventry and Warwickshire radio reporter Dave Deakin had travelled as a supporter to Marseille to watch Roy Hodgson’s men’s opening match in the European Championship against Russia last Saturday.
But the 27 year-old soon found himself at the centre of the news when England supporters became the target of so-called Russian and French ‘ultras’ – highly organised groups of hooligans – in the French port city.
Dave was enjoying a pre-match pizza in the old port area when the violence erupted.
“I poked my head into the alleyway to take a quick photo and it became apparent I was in the middle of something very sinister,” he said.
“At the end of the alleyway there was around 200 Russian supporters all wearing black t-shirts with some form of slogan on them – some had balaclavas, others with scarves round their faces.
“When you see a Russian guy putting in a gum shield you know you’re in the wrong place.
“I had a knife pointed at me, and saw another England fan slashed across the face.
“There was one point I actually considered jumping into the sea to get away.”
As the ‘attack’ erupted, Dave was less than impressed with the response of the French police, who have come under heavy criticism for the way they have handled supporters so far during the tournament.
He continued: “Police officers were firing tear gas at English supporters when they were running away from Russian fans which gave them a choice – did they want to get tear gassed, or stand their ground and defend their territory? They simply had no choice.
“The police stood by and watched this running battle continue for five minutes or so before they moved in.”
Fortunately Dave escaped unharmed but was witness to the further ugly scenes inside the stadium after the match.
“I was at the opposite end of the stadium. The final whistle went and you see the Russian supporters tearing away the plastic meshing where there was just a line of stewards. They raced towards the English fans who tried to get away as quickly as possible.
“The Russians were indiscriminately attacking them.”
Dave, who had travelled with friends to Marseille, had the chance of a ticket to return for England’s second match with Wales in Lens today (Thursday).
But with Russia playing in nearby Lille on Wednesday, fears have been raised of Russian ultras again targeting England fans, with trouble brewing between the two sets of fans earlier in the week and Dave said he had no intention of risking getting caught up in any further violence.
Both England and Russia have been warned by UEFA that any further violence will result in both nations being kicked out of the tournament.
Fellow England fan Dan Elliott was quick to stress the handful of English hooligans involved were not representative of the majority.
Now back home, he said: “There were 100,000 English in Marseille- 99,950 fans were brilliant, 50 let themselves down.
“It was a very small minority involved in the appalling scenes, which was very much over-hyped by the British media.
Dan added the media had not reported the fact many English supporters had actually helped locals in Marseille clean-up the glass-strewn streets in the wake of the weekend’s violence.