Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Police braced for army of 500 Serbian hooligans to target England fans at Euro 2024

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English fans have been targeted during recent Champions League games and other European ties there, including when FK Crvena Zvezda – formally Red Star Belgrade – thugs attacked Manchester City supporters with sticks before a fixture between the clubs in December.

Serbia matches also have a history of rioting, which has forced the abandonment of two of their previous Euro qualifiers.

As revealed by Telegraph Sport, the Football Association failed in a bid to get the serving of alcohol banned close to the venue for Sunday night’s game over fears an entire weekend’s binge drinking could fuel fan disorder.

The match also takes place amid support from ultra-nationalist Serbs for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which Britain has been supplying weapons to help repel, as well as ongoing ill-feeling over the UK’s role in the Nato bombing of Belgrade a quarter of a century ago.

Although England and Serbia have never met at senior level since the latter became a fully independent nation in 2006, previous encounters between their Under-21 teams have been marred by clashes on and off the field, including the throwing of missiles and racist abuse of rival players by the latter’s supporters.

‘Ivan the Terrible’ and ‘The Gravediggers’: Serbia’s hooligan history that is fuelling England fears

By Ben Rumsby

They are the most savage hooligans England fans could face since being brutally ambushed by Russian thugs at the European Championship eight years ago.

And when it comes to meting out extreme violence, Serbia’s vicious armies of ultras are more than a match for the combat-trained thugs Vladimir Putin allegedly unleashed at Euro 2016.

Just ask the fans set upon by stick-wielding yobs in a bar when Manchester City played FK Crvena Zvezda, formerly Red Star Belgrade, in the Champions League in December, or those attacked outside their hotel when Rangers were there in the Europa League the previous year.

Or those who witnessed the beating to death of a supporter with iron bars and bicycle chains before a previous Europa League meeting between Toulouse and Partizan Belgrade in the Serbian capital.

With hooligan firms with names such as ‘The Gravediggers’ and ‘Head Hunters’, is it any wonder a fan is murdered in the country “every month”, according to an expert in fan culture there.

This toxic mix of factors has helped make England’s Euro 2024 opener against Serbia one of the tournament’s most “high-risk” fixtures, with police in Gelsenkirchen ready for the Balkan state’s worst ultras to be among the tens of thousands of supporters to descend on the city.

That these thugs tend to have closer ties to Belgrade’s biggest clubs, Red Star and Partizan, than to the national team is the only thing that could spare England fans having to face them in Germany.

The same could be said of the allegiances of the Russian yobs who left England supporters fighting for their lives ahead of the country’s Euro 2016 opener against Russia.

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