Trouble flared before Tuesday night’s Poland and Russia match, as organized gangs of “ultras” met and confronted their Russian counterparts on the river bridge to the stadium.
Police confirmed to FOX Soccer that several dozen arrests had been made and that there were several injured in running clashes outside the grounds. Water cannons and tear gas were deployed on the ultras in clashes that flared for nearly two hours.
Several men could be seen on the ground, bleeding heavily, and bottles and stones were being thrown between the rioting groups. It was the worst outbreak of violence at the Euros and is a black eye for both Poland and the city of Warsaw.
The incident was sparked by a Russian fan march to the grounds, which had been granted permission by local security forces. Despite a heavy police presence, ultras quickly surrounded the Russian fans and riot-gear clad police were soon engaged in running battles.
Representatives from the ultras identified themselves to FOX Soccer and confirmed that the action was planned.
“This is unusual for Polish fans to get together like this,” said Jacob, who said he was the “press officer” for the ultras. “Fans from Wisla and Legia [two of Poland’s larger teams] usually hate each other but tonight they have got together to blockade the Russian fans.”
While Jacob’s identity could not be independently verified, he confirmed his account by sharing text messages and other planning information to FOX Soccer used by the Polish ultras to co-ordinate their mob actions. He also steered to and away from flashpoints and identified several leaders of the groups. Most provocatively, he asserted that the police supported the actions of the ultras, though that was not borne out by the evidence.
The trouble began with a march by Russian fans to the stadium. It was a provocative act: it is “Russia Day” here in Poland but the history between the two nations is anything but cozy. Poland was occupied by the former Soviet Union and there are contemporary concerns about Kremlin political activity in the former socialist country.
When the march was announced, immediate concerns were raised and tensions were running high before the match. The center of the city was cordoned off and police had occupied the streets, halted public transport and stopped all automotive traffic.
Russian fans have been involved in other violent incidents at this tournament, with four stewards attacked in Wroclaw after Russia’s win over the Czech Republic. Russian fans also displayed fascist banners at the grounds. Since then, UEFA opened an investigation into the incidents.
Poland’s fans, however, may be just as bad. Legia Warsaw fans infamously called for “jihad” during a Europa League match against Hapoel Tel Aviv last September and many of the teams’ fans are known for violence.
But Tuesday’s activity was far worse than feared and threatens to stain the Euros badly. Security had been a concern coming into Eastern Europe and it seems that concern was justified with Tuesday’s actions.