Russian official ‘praises’ football hooligans - reports

Tempers flare between Russia and England fans in the stands at the Stade Velodrome, Marseille. Picture: PA

Tempers flare between Russia and England fans in the stands at the Stade Velodrome, Marseille. Picture: PA

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A senior Russian football official and politician has apparently praised his country’s hooligans for defending Russia’s honour and said it was “normal” for fans to fight at matches.

“I don’t see anything wrong with the fans fighting,” read a post on Twitter on an account in the name of Igor Lebedev.

“Quite the opposite, well done lads, keep it up!”

In two further tweets, Lebedev seemingly blamed the French authorities for the trouble that marred the Euro 2016 game between England and Russia, and criticised other Russian officials for speaking out against their fans.

The Press Association has been unable to confirm the account is genuine but Lebedev, a member of the Russian Football Union’s executive committee and an MP for the Liberal Democrat party, has subsequently repeated these sentiments to the Russian LifeNews agency.

Lebedev, who is also the deputy chairman of the Russian parliament, said: “In nine out of 10 cases, football fans go to games to fight, and that’s normal.

“The lads defended the honour of their country and did not let English fans desecrate our motherland.

“We should forgive and understand our fans.”

Lebedev’s Liberal Democrat party is known for its far-right, nationalist views, while LifeNews is considered to be close to the Russian establishment.

With Russia set to host the next World Cup, many football officials are deeply concerned about what appears to be a thriving hooligan culture in the world’s largest country, something the numerous pictures and videos posted by Russians on social media sites would appear to suggest.

But most Russian politicians are taking a much more conciliatory line, with Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko admitting on Sunday that some of his compatriots had clearly come to Marseille to fight and their actions had “shamed” Russia.

This view was confirmed by the French authorities on Monday when Marseille prosecutor Brice Robin laid most of the blame for Saturday’s violence at the hands of 150 “extremely well-trained” Russian “ultras”.

European football’s governing body UEFA has already warned both England and Russia that any repeat of the mayhem in Marseille could result in them being thrown out of the competition, and Russia faces three charges for crowd trouble at the Stade Velodrome.

A decision on those three charges - for setting off fireworks and flares, fighting and racist chanting - is expected on Tuesday.

Both sets of fans are now heading to northern France for their next matches - Russia play Slovakia in Lille on Wednesday and England meet Wales in Lens on Thursday - and there are fears of more trouble between them, particularly as many England fans will pass through Lille, which also has a much bigger fan zone than Lens.

England manager Roy Hodgson and captain Wayne Rooney have released a video via social media urging England fans to behave, and some Russian have also voiced calls for calm and good conduct.

The Russian Fans’ Embassy team have expressed “regret” for this weekend’s riots via the Football Supporters Europe website.

“We strongly believe that such behaviour is not the norm for our citizens who are travelling to support the Russian national team in France,” it said.

“We are very sorry for those English people who have been injured and are now in hospital. We wish them the fastest recovery.

“We would like to emphasise the friendly communication and mutual respect that we have witnessed between the fans of Russia and England during their stay in Marseille.

“From our side, we are working to help all football supporters from both countries and to foster mutual respect together with a festive atmosphere at the tournament.”

French police have said that 20 people were arrested in Marseille and 10 face immediate trials. There were also 35 injuries, four serious.

Almost forgotten among all this is that the game finished 1-1.

READ MORE - Alan Pattullo: Why Uefa should be in dock with England and Russia

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