‘Russian thugs won’t put us off’

Fleetwood Town chairman and owner Andy Pilley (left), with fans in Marseille on Saturday (Pic: Andy Pilley/Twitter)
Fleetwood Town chairman and owner Andy Pilley (left), with fans in Marseille on Saturday (Pic: Andy Pilley/Twitter)

Fleetwood football fans say they won’t let fears over “hyper-violent” Russian thugs stop them from following the England team in France tomorrow.

A group of Fleetwood Town fans were caught up in the Euro 2016 mayhem in Marseille at the weekend when English supporters came under fire from tear-gas spraying French riot police before England’s game with Russia.

After the 1-1 draw, England fans were then attacked by Russian “ultras”, a group of armed and masked hooligans who seemed to have prepared for trouble in advance.

Yesterday it was announced Russia will be disqualified from Euro 2016 if there is further crowd trouble at their remaining tournament matches.

UEFA, European football’s governing body, has given Russia a suspended disqualification and a 150,000 euro (£119,000) fine for disorder at the game against England in Marseille.

Cod Army fan Mark Ratcliffe, 50, described the group’s time in Marseille as frightening but says they will not let it spoil their time at the tournament.

England play Wales tomorrow in a key match in Lens, and Mark and his pals will be watching the match on a big screen at nearby Lille.

The so-called ultras, whose Russian team are playing Slovakia in Lille today, have vowed to follow up with more attacks on England fans in Lille and Lens

But Mr Ratcliffe said: “We have heard there may be more trouble with the Russians but you can’t let that stop you.

“If you let it affect you there is no point in being here, is there?

“We haven’t got tickets for the match in Lens but there is a fan zone in Lille which can accommodate up to 50,000 England fans.

“We just want to enjoy the match and have a good time.”

And Fleetwood Town chairman Andy Pilley has defended English fans and insists they weren’t to blame for trouble in Marseille’s Stade Velodrome.

Mr Ratcliffe, a businessman, of Hollywood Grove, Fleetwood, is out in France with son Sam, pal Kevin Morris and another fan, who did not wish to be named.

The proud Fleetwood Town season ticket holder drove to France in a motor home and plans to see all three of England’s group games, including the final game against Slovakia at Toulouse on Monday.

He said: “We were in the stadium for the Russia match and we saw the Russians attack after the match.

“We were sitting in the middle, in the main stand just above where the media were sat, when we saw it kick off to our right.

“What I can’t understand is that there didn’t seem to be any police in the stadium, after all that had happened before, and the only thing separating the fans was a bit of canvas.

“It was shocking to see what was happening, and there just a few stewards trying to deal with it.

“We managed to get out without being attacked.

“The whole atmosphere in Marseille was terrible and it was a bad idea to staged the England game there.

“The police behaviour before the match was unacceptable.

“They came towards us with the tear gas and people were running away.

“It was hard to tell what made them act like that. The tear gas was horrible. It does exactly what it says on the tin.”

Town boss Mr Pilley said: “I was in the stadium with my son Jamie, who is 19, and I was worried for his welfare. I saw Russians with iron bars and knuckle dusters.

“What happened in the stadium was a disgrace and we could have had another Heysel disaster. Security was virtually nonexistent and there were women and children in there.

“The England fans were in no way to blame and the criticism of them is unfair.”

But Mr Ratcliffe said it had not been all bad in France.

One highlight was bumping into Mr Pilley before the Russia match, and posing for a picture with him.

And Mr Ratcliffe added that since leaving Marseilles, their experience has been much better.

He added: “We mingled with Italian and Belgian fans after their match in Lyon and had a great time.

“The authorities there were absolutely brilliant and couldn’t have been more helpful.”

After the trouble in Marseille, fears have been expressed that England and Russia could both be kicked out of the tournament if there is further violence.

Russia has now been handed a suspended disqualification by Euro football body Uefa, fined £119,000 and a number of thugs deported.

Four England fan have been seriously injured but the behaviour of some Three Lions fans has also been criticised.

However, Greg Dyke, the English FA Chairman, has also defended the actions of England fans in the Stade Velodrome and called for greater security in Lens.