LILLE, France June 15 – The beer spilled from plastic cups on the packed terraces of Lille cafes on Wednesday as a nationalist tone took over the buildup to two high-risk Euro 2016 games.
A “God Save The Queen” banner hung from the balcony of one city centre hotel. English fans sang expletive-laced songs against Europe ahead of Britain’s looming referendum on whether to stay in the European Union.
Watched by hundreds of police, groups of fans roamed the streets of Lille and neighbouring Lens with Russian, English, Welsh and Slovakian flags draped around their shoulders.
Amid fears of a repeat of football violence that rocked Marseille at the weekend, French authorities said the influx could total more than 70,000 in a hope to see either Russia play Slovakia on Wednesday or England take on Wales on Thursday.
– Beers from 8:00 am –
The authorities ordered a clampdown on alcohol sales.
Some cafes refused to serve alcohol until lunchtime. But if you could not get a drink in Lille then you were not really thirsty.
Guillaume, a barman at Le Khedive, a brasserie in the centre of the city, said he served his first beer at 8:00 am “and I haven’t stopped since.”
The Lille fan zone, where only lower strength beer was available, was only doing slow business however. A guard at the entrance told AFP he had turned away some Russian fans for being too drunk.
“I told them to come back when they sobered up. They didn’t take it badly,” the guard said.
Yuril Shabanov, 14, from the Russian city of Perm, headed to the fan zone with his father and two friends. They flew from Nice and all had Russian flags around their shoulders.
“I support the Russian team but not what happened in Marseille,” he said of the events that led UEFA to warn Russia that they would be thrown out of the European Championship if there was more trouble in a stadium.
Yuril said he and his father took selfies with England fans in Marseille. “They were really good guys,” he said.
England fans had similar hopes. “It should be a lot safer here because there are lots of British police. They’re very pre-emptive. French police intervene too late and are then too heavy-handed,” said Jamie Robson, 25, who travelled to Lille with the official supporters club.
French authorities said 4,000 police and gendarmes would be on duty over the two days. They seemed to watch over every cafe terrace.
On Tuesday night they speedily stopped the start of one ugly incident.
England fans were chanting in a cafe in the Place de la Gare when Russian fans were passing.
According to witnesses, five Russians walked into the cafe and chairs and bottles started flying. Two of the Russians were among seven people arrested during the night.
“If the English are brave enough to come, we’ll crush them. We hate the English,” one Russian supporter told AFP.