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Euro 2016 violence: England fans' behaviour on the edge

Football fans running after police fired tear gas Image copyright AP
Image caption Police fired tear gas at football fans in Lille

Yesterday was not about hardcore hooliganism by England fans, this wasn't a return to the dark days where English fans fought outright with the police - but it was not too far away.

The behaviour of many England fans was unpleasant and anti-social. They behaved as conquerors in a foreign city where they were guests.

French police tactics appeared proportional - the main aim seemed to be to disperse fans and send a message that misbehaviour would not be tolerated.

They used short bursts of baton charges to funnel fans down streets, breaking up the groups. They were not interested in arresting fans, instead just trying to stop them massing on the streets.

Smoke bomb

So what sparked the violence later that night? It simply felt that the French police were tired of drunk, anti-social fans disturbing the city's residents.

England fans say they did not directly provoke the police and there is little evidence to suggest they did through violence. It seems that being loud, drunk and intimidating on the streets late at night was enough.

Speaking to England fans, there does seem to be a disconnect that being intoxicated and singing songs full of swear words is unpleasant to the city's residents.

The afternoon started off as good-natured boisterous singing but slowly as people became more drunk the songs became louder and more aggressive. Filming on a balcony, a smoke bomb was thrown at me to cheers from the crowd.

Later, a fan threatened to hit me for filming an arrest - the media have become a target of constant abuse throughout the city with stories of crews being attacked filtering through.

The majority of fans were not acting threateningly or violently but equally many were cheering those that did.

Running fights

Later as news of police using tear gas on Russian fans in another part town filtered through hundreds of England fans sprinted through the main square to try to confront them.

"Come on they're coming, lets get them," one man with hooligan tattoos screamed as he sprinted past me.

They were stopped by rows of French riot police and returned to pubs to drink but this set the tone for the day. Running fights between small numbers of English and Russian fans also added to the tension.

On the other hand, the question has to be asked why little has been done to control alcohol in the city. Police have been slow to close bars, and to allow them open in the morning seems an invitation for trouble, with many fans intoxicated by early afternoon.

Many England fans will return to Lille tonight after the match in Lens, joining those without tickets who have chose to remain in Lille.

In Wednesday's flashpoints, people were already drunk by 11:00 local time but good natured. The question is what could happen this evening?

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