Thousands of Russia and England fans arrived in Lille on Wednesday as the French government said it was flooding the city with police ahead of their teams’ next Euro 2016 matches.
France is desperate to avoid a repeat of the violence that marred the England-Russia match in Marseille on Saturday, and authorities in Lille have banned the sale and public consumption of alcohol and stepped up security in the northern city.
Although the teams will not meet again in the group stage, they play their next matches just a few miles apart. Rival supporters are sure to meet in Lille, where trains from England arrive and fan zones have set up for those without tickets.
After minor scuffles near the train station on Tuesday evening, Lille was calm at lunchtime on Wednesday ahead of Russia’s match against Slovakia there later in the day and the England-Wales clash in nearby Lens on Thursday.
Both Russia and England have been threatened with expulsion from the competition after hundreds of fans clashed for three days in Marseille, drawing volleys of teargas from riot police who struggled to contain the skirmishes.
“Today, the measure is very simple: flood the public space with police so that there is no room for any form of hooliganism,” Sports Minister Patrick Kanner told RTL radio.
Unlike in Marseille, where fans were able to drink for hours on end, they struggled to do so in Lille and Lens due to a blanket liquor ban imposed until Friday, closing bars and cafes and stopping shops and petrol stations selling alcohol.
Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko said he did “not have any certainty that disorder involving Russian fans will not be repeated,” and blamed England fans for provoking the trouble.
Mutko called UEFA’s decision to fine his side and give it an official warning over violence inside the stadium in Marseille “excessive”.
About 4,000 police officers have also been drafted in for the Russia-Slovakia match, which is the first that has not been sold out at the tournament. Some 40,000 English fans are expected in Lens for Thursday’s match.
“It’s a party, and our job is to make a good party. But if you have violence, we are ready to fight against this violence,” local police chief Olivier Dimpre told Reuters outside Flandres train station, where about a dozen riot police vans were parked.
“The prefect has forbidden drinking alcohol in the streets, carrying alcohol, bottles and cans. Today and tomorrow it’s forbidden.”
Security has also been tightened inside the stadium after Russian supporters charged their English rivals in Marseille’s Stade Velodrome at the end of Saturday’s 1-1 draw.
Football body UEFA has acknowledged that stewarding was not up to scratch and it said on Wednesday that the number of stewards in the stadium would be increased by about 10 to 20 per cent.
High-risk matches have on average about 1,000 stewards. UEFA said they would be deployed differently to ensure supporters from both sides are properly segregated.