Euro 2012: Polish and Russian fans hurt in violent clashes
UEFA’S worst nightmare became a violent reality as supporters from Poland and Russia were involved in a series of sickening clashes before last night’s Group A game.
At least 15 fans — Polish, Russians and Germans — were badly injured as fighting broke out in skirmishes around Warsaw in the hours leading up to kick-off, although the police were just about able to prevent the trouble from turning into a full-scale riot.
Water cannon, tear gas and rubber bullets were used to disperse a mob, while fireworks, bottles and other makeshift missiles were thrown by fans of both sides.
There were reports that during the game police fired rubber bullets and tear gas at a group of young Poles who attacked them with bottles in a fan zone in the city centre where thousands of people were watching the game on huge screens.
Police announced they had made at least 140 arrests, although there were fears that that number would grow as supporters dispersed across the city after the game.
In some of the worst scenes of football violence seen at a major tournament since England fans clashed with local youths in Marseilles at the 1998 World Cup, dozens of men were involved in running battles, punching and kicking each other.
More alarmingly, there were also unprovoked attacks on bystanders as they made their way to the stadium.
A Warsaw police spokesman said: “There are more than 140 hooligans caught by the police because of disorders in Warsaw – firstly during the march to National Stadion, secondly in the Fanzone in Plac Defilad Square. The police officers are checking the surveillance system, police cameras and still [plan to] identify the hooligans who took part in the disorders.”
The extent of the injuries was not immediately clear, although some eyewitness reports suggested at least one of those involved in a brawl between fans was in a serious condition. Police denied a report emanating from Russia that one fan had died as a result of his injuries.
The main source of the trouble was a march by Russian supporters from the city centre to the national stadium to mark Russia Day, with those at the front, most wearing hoodies, breaking ranks to confront Polish hooligans who had lined the route in order to launch an ambush.
One eye witness told The Daily Telegraph: “As the march came across the bridge, the Polish hooligans ran towards them. They had been waiting for them.
“It was very violent, with a lot of people involved, although the police managed to regain control pretty quickly. It was horrible to watch.”
Despite claims that only 15 supporters were injured, it is thought there were more who did not require the help of emergency services.
Tensions were running high all day as thousands of Russians descended on the city, while Polish hooligans urged each other to mobilise against them during a volatile build-up to the game after Russian fans had attacked stewards in Wroclaw last Friday.
Despite a huge police operation involving 6,000 officers, as well as support from Polish special forces, the vast security operation was unable to keep hooligans from both countries apart.
Dozens of men were involved in the running battles, although there were also unprovoked attacks witnessed where Russian fans draped in flags were punched as they made their way to the stadium.
Bystanders were also caught up in the violence, with Russians wading into groups of young Polish men with fists and feet.
Police estimated hundreds of fans from both countries had been involved but that their “sudden and decisive” reaction had prevented the trouble from escalating.
The march across the Poniatowski Bridge was organised to celebrate National Russia Day, which commemorates the fall of the Soviet Union in 1990, although it was bound to be provocative to Poles who endured decades of hardship under Soviet rule.
The march had been heavily criticised when it was announced. ‘March or street war?’ said a headline in the conservative Polish daily Rzeczpospolita.
Wojciech Wisniewski, a member of the Polish Union of Football Fans, added: “Somebody really wants to make Polish football fans attack the Russians.”
There were also outbreaks of pre-planned violence across the city on Tuesday morning. The worst appears to have been an attack by a group of 50 Polish supporters on a cafe in which Russian fans were gathered.
Polish Premier Donald Tusk had urged his countrymen not to react to the provocation and show “maximum cordiality” before the game. Although many fans mixed happily inside and outside of the stadium, a hard core of troublemakers will ensure there are plenty of difficult questions for Uefa to answer.
European football’s governing body has been criticised for allowing the game between the two nations to take place on Russia Day because of the special tension it would cause.