MARSEILLE, France, June 18- The Pizzeria du Sud was selling record amounts of beer to England fans when a group of Russians in near-military formation burst into square near the Marseille seafront.
The beatings, broken bottles, tear gas, court cases and diplomatic shouting that followed came as a stark warning ahead of Russia’s third Euro 2016 match on Monday against Wales.
French authorities have declared the game in Toulouse at high risk of hooligan trouble.
Marseille meanwhile has still not recovered from its battle with thugs.
“We’ve never sold so much beer,” said Karim Ledun, who was waiting tables at the pizzeria when the Russian fans targeted English fans in what prosecutors called an orchestrated “hunt”.
“To start with there were just English fans in the square,” said Ledun, 24, who was working at the pizza restaurant in the Vieux Port area. Suddenly around 150 Russians arrived. “When they saw they were outnumbered by the English fans they went round the edge of the square and grouped together. Then we saw chairs flying…”
Tear gas was flying and baton-wielding police lost control.
The difference between the two groups of fans was striking, Ledun told AFP.
“The Russians were in free fight clothes and were wearing cage-fighting t-shirts, gloves and masks.
“Unlike the English they hadn’t been drinking because they were running around and fighting.
“The English took a battering! Later on we found four English men hidden in our kitchen.”
– ‘Military operation’ –
Steve, a former British Marine in his forties, told how he got “a smack in the back of the head”.
He was adamant that the Russians had prepared for a fight. “I’ve never seen anything like it. It was like a military operation,” he told AFP.
Another English fan, who gave his name as Rob, said: “I’m 53, fat and slow and I’d had too much to drink, which is why they targeted me.
“But I got a few (punches) in myself,” he said.
Brice Bretones, a waiter at Le Pointu bar in Marseille’s Place d’Estienne d’Orves, said “the Russians were going around in groups of 10 and attacking 50-strong groups of English.
“The English had had a lot to drink but the Russians were in urban guerrilla mode and had come for a fight.”
England supporter, Andrew Bache, 51, remains in a serious state in hospital with brain injuries after apparently being beaten with an iron bar. He has regained consciousness.
The vast majority of the 35 people injured were English fans.
When French police rounded up 43 Russian supporters in a bus near Marseille three days later, Alexei Yerunov, 29, was identified from security camera footage as being at the scene of that attack.
Yerunov, who is supporters’ liaison officer at the Lokomotiv Moscow club, was jailed for two years, but denied he had used violence.
Six England fans were also given prison sentences for their role in the fighting.
– Extraordinary video –
French prosecutors say they could still launch an attempted murder investigation over the iron-bar attack and another on an English man who also remains in serious condition.
An extraordinary video posted online and filmed by one of the Russians shows him running through the streets with a group, pausing to beat and kick English fans.
English football authorities had warned for months about the potentially explosive combination of a summer’s day on France’s south coast, beer flowing all day before a 9:00 pm kickoff and both countries’ reputation for football hooliganism.
What took many people by surprise though was the highly organised operation by Russians apparently hellbent on inflicting severe injury.
The British police coordinator for the championships, Mark Roberts, described the attacks as “prolonged and well orchestrated”.
Marseille prosecutor Brice Robin said the Russians were “prepared for hyper-fast and hyper-violent acts”.
The violence spilled over into the match at the Stade Velodrome when Russian fans charged into an English section and began throwing punches, sending English fans fleeing.
That earned Russia a warning from UEFA that they will be thrown out of the tournament if their fans cause more stadium violence.
Twenty of the Russian fans rounded up were expelled from France on Saturday. Alexander Shprygin, a far-right agitator who heads Russia’s national football supporters association tweeted “Good-bye amphibians”.
Russia protested the treatment of its supporters by summoning the French ambassador in Moscow.
And to cheers and applause at a Saint Petersburg conference, President Vladimir Putin said: “I truly don’t understand how 200 of our fans could beat up several thousand English.”
In two years’ time Russia will welcome the 2018 World Cup.
The World Cup is a prestige project for Putin however and John Williams, a senior lecturer in sociology at Leicester University in England, predicted Russian authorities would “come down very hard at home on domestic hooligans, both before and, if necessary, during the finals.”