England fans baton-charged as violence erupts in Porto
Trouble returns a year after England fans had been applauded for behaviour in Russia
Screengrab from a video taken with permission from the Twitter feed of @_MattBrown of police and England fans clashing in the Portuguese city of Porto on Wednesday evening. Photo: Matt Brown/PA Wire
English football lurched back to the bad old days on Wednesday night when hundreds of supporters were baton-charged by riot police after hurling bottles and goading officers at a fan zone in Porto.
Police condemned what they called “completely unacceptable” behaviour from fans which included smashing a car window, forcing roads to be closed to traffic and singing songs such as “F*** the Pope and the IRA” and “10 German bombers”. Three England fans were reportedly arrested.
The most serious incident occurred in the large fan zone in Liberdade Square in central Porto after Cristiano Ronaldo had put Portugal one-up in their Nations League semi-final against Switzerland.
A Portugal supporter threw a drink in the air to celebrate after which several drunken England fans retaliated by hurling bottles at the locals and then the police. As dozens of panicked locals – including many parents with children – ran to take cover in the nearby McDonald’s, riot police armed with shields and batons moved in. Shortly afterwards they charged at the England fans, causing them to flee.
An uneasy peace existed for much of the second half, with the Polícia de Segurança Pública appearing determined not to get involved unless they had no option. However, troubled flared again after Ronaldo scored his late goals and continued sporadically until the early hours.
A worker at an ice cream shop near the incident said later she had seen England fans being arrested and taken away in police trucks.
By the end of the night Liberdade Square had broken bottles everywhere and hundreds of armed police watched on as England fans sang songs about the second world war on what was also the 75th anniversary of D-day.
British police condemned the “completely unacceptable” clashes. Deputy chief constable Mark Roberts, the National Police Chiefs’ Council football policing lead, said: “This is the second evening in a row where disorder has occurred in Porto. Last night there were issues outside a bar, where bottles were thrown and minor damage was caused. It is completely unacceptable.
“The behaviour of a small number of the England fans out here continues to tarnish the reputation of the genuine fans who are simply trying to enjoy the football.”
However, several England fans said they had been unfairly targeted by police. One supporter showed the Guardian a large welt on his back, which he said had been caused by a police baton. “I was just watching the match with my mates when it all kicked off,” he said. “Someone came at me from the side and whacked me. It’s going to be sore tomorrow.”
Another England fan in his early 20s had a different view of the police charges. “That was great,” he said.
The trouble followed several minor incidents of antisocial behaviour on Monday and Tuesday as thousands of fans England gathered in Portugal before the semi-final against the Netherlands on Thursday. The Guardian witnessed one Portuguese driver protest to police after a bottle was thrown at his car, smashing his front window.
Shortly afterwards dozens of England fans blocked traffic, causing police to close one side of the road to traffic. The trouble will be hugely frustrating for the Football Association, which only last week warned that England’s reputation was being damaged by a new generation of fans who adopt a “stag-do culture where young guys get together and suddenly anything goes”.
The FA also launched an advertising campaign with the slogan ‘Don’t Be That Idiot’ and which acts out extreme examples of unacceptable behaviour before ending with the England manager, Gareth Southgate, saying: ‘You’re part of our team, make the country proud.”
Fans were also warned to behave by Tony Conniford, the FA’s head of security, who told them: “A lot of it is alcohol-fuelled and there almost becomes an acceptance that because you are at football, anything goes. I find that difficult to buy into and people need to have a look at themselves and start to think: ‘If my relatives, wife or children were here with me, would it be an enjoyable experience?’ And the answer is no.”
The FA will also be frustrated that the trouble comes less than a year after the reputation of English fans was applauded during the World Cup in Russia.
Some warned at the time that the England fans had only behaved because they were worried about the fearsome reputation of the Russian police. And so it has proved.
With around 18,000 England fans expected to travel to Guimarães to see the Netherlands match, there is clearly a likelihood of further trouble. – Guardian