The World Cup can get the best and worst out of teams. Sometimes, even from the fans. Every four years, passionate supporters from around the world flock to venues to watch their countrymen take the field. While some fans sing their lungs out before and during the matches, others get embroiled in arguments with opposition fans, leading to a massive brawl.
During the 1998 World Cup, precisely 20 years ago, a total of 32 people were injured during three days of rioting and violence ahead of England’s clash with Tunisia in Marseille.
The fixture list was such that the impatient English fans had to wait five days after the start of the tournament to see their side in action. Fans back home had booked time off work to watch Glenn Hoddle's men in action on their television sets, while thousands flew to the Mediterranean port to catch the action.
Trouble between the fans began with isolated incidents on Saturday night as drunk Englishmen crowded the streets of Marseille in groups to chant and warm themselves up ahead of the tie. But, things got out of control on Sunday as 400 English supporters were involved in pitched battles with Tunisian fans, local youths and police during seven hours of violence.
Hooligans scrapped on the streets of Marseille as riot police attempted to intervene. But it was a little too late as the English and Tunisian fans had already turned the streets of Marseille into a battlefield armed with bottle bombs and missiles.
The French police fired tear gas to break up groups of several hundred England and Tunisia supporters, but the fans threw bottles bombs to destroy shops and premises.
Two Britons required operations for serious injuries, one for a slashed throat and the other for a knife wound to the stomach. There were nearly 50 arrests.
UK home secretary Jack Straw said the country had been betrayed by their fans and it became a seminal moment in how England’s travelling fans have been monitored.
Former Prime Minister Tony Blair said the fight was a total disgrace. "It may be a small number of fans, there may be other fans that have been involved, but that is no excuse, there aren't any excuses for it. We have to put a stop to it. These people have the absolute condemnation of everyone in the country," Blair was quoted as saying by the BBC.
The English fans were in serious trouble ahead of The Three Lions’ second group game against Romania in Toulouse as one fan was stabbed. England were beaten by Argentina on penalties in the Round of 16.
Twenty years on, English fans are still under scrutiny for their behaviour. At the 2016 European Championships, Russian and English fans clashed in France, conducting pitched battles in the port area of Marseille.
On Monday, Gareth Southgate's England take on Tunisia in their opening game of the World Cup in Russia. Already, more than 1,000 hooligans have had to hand in their passports to prevent them from attending games, diminishing fears of a repeat of the terrorising clashes.
The British government issued a statement on Wednesday saying that the Football Banning Orders Authority (FBOA) — a part of the Home Office — ordered 1,312 banned individuals who hold a passport to surrender it to police last week. The latest figures released on Wednesday show that forces in England and Wales have confiscated 1,254 passports.
But the question is: Will the Englishmen manage themselves better on and off the field this year?
With inputs from AFP.
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Updated Date: Jun 18, 2018 10:15:15 IST