England and Wales fans team up against Russians as 65,000 invasion puts northern France on Euro 2016 alert
Scuffles have already begun in Lille ahead of potential powderkeg games
Russian and English football fans taunted each other in Lille on Tuesday as the French city and nearby Lens braced for an invasion of up to 65,000 supporters ahead of the latest high-risk Euro 2016 matches.
French authorities expect between 40,000 and 50,000 England and Wales fans and 15,000 Russians to invade the neighbouring northern cities.
With the European Championship host country on alert after Russian and English fans fought pitched battles in Marseille on Saturday, authorities have vowed to “flood” the streets with police.
The tension was evident in Lille as rival groups gathered.
A near perfect storm of hooliganism is feared with Russia playing Slovakia in Lille on Wednesday, one day before England play Wales in Lens, 35 kilometers (22 miles) away, on Thursday.
About 150 English supporters were in one Lille cafe chanting, when half a dozen Russians dressed in black walked in.
Chairs and glasses were thrown before police quickly moved in.
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Some of the Russians had black face masks. On the back of their improvised “Tour de France” t-shirts was written “Orel Butchers”, the name of hardcore supporters who follow the Lokomotiv Moscow club.
The “Orel Butchers” were in the front row of Russian fans accused of causing trouble at the England-Russia game in Marseille on Saturday.
One Russian supporter in Lille said: “We’re going to beat them. If the English are brave enough to come, we’ll crush them. We hate the English.”
European governing body Uefa warned Russia on Tuesday that they will be kicked out of the tournament if their fans are involved in more trouble inside a stadium.
French authorities are boosting security outside the Lille and Lens stadiums where Uefa is not responsible.
About 4,000 police, riot police and gendarmes will be on duty, the French government official in the region, Michel Lalande, said.
Authorities planned to “flood the urban area with a police presence,” the government prefect said.
Lille supermarkets were banned from selling alcohol from Tuesday evening until after the two games are finished. Bars in the centre of Lille will have to close at midnight on Wednesday and Thursday, Lalande added.
The official said authorities had asked British counterparts “to advise their citizens not to go to Lille.”
But the regional authorities are still expecting huge numbers of England and Wales fans to ignore the call.
Another regional prefect, Fabienne Buccio said the 40,000-50,000 figure was based on reservations made on cross-Channel tunnel, train and ferry operators.
The Lens stadium where Thursday’s match is to be played holds only 35,000 fans.
The match, a sellout for months, is one of five at the European Championships classed as high-risk by French authorities for potential hooligan troubles.