A drunken chorus of "God Save the Queen" rings out on the streets of Marseille, France, as English football supporters congregate by the thousands to soak in the sun and beer at Euro 2016. But the jubilation is cut short by small groups of Russian hooligans that infiltrate their party. Bottles and patio chairs start to fly across the city center, and bystanders are tossed to the cobblestone to get their heads kicked in by a trained, organized force of Russians set on making a nationalistic demonstration on soccer's biggest stage.
The World Cup is set to take place in Russia this summer, and many fear that what happened in Marseille in 2016 may have provided a glimpse of what’s to come.
There are many reasons to be skeptical about the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Many believe the nation was able to secure its bid through corrupt means, which has brought scrutiny to FIFA. The organization is facing similar allegations over the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, where an estimated 4,000 workers will lose their lives in preparation for the event.
There was also a report that surfaced a few weeks ago indicating fans are going to be able to bring marijuana, heroin, and cocaine, the choice drug of football hooligans, to the World Cup in Russia if they have the proper prescriptions for them. This has led some people to suggest the World Cup is going to be one massive Love In—a Coachella for football supporters who want to travel to Eastern Europe and partake in bliss as they cheer on their home nation.
But it's the safety concerns surrounding the Russian World Cup that have most people worried.
Russia is reportedly bracing for some level of chaos to hit. Reports have already come out about how there will be "Soviet style" drunk tanks where English fans who have had too much to drink will be stripped down and forced to sober up. It appears as though that's how the Russian government—the same government some suspect sponsored the violence that took place in Marseille—plans on dealing with the potential drama.
If you are there with your male friend, you should calculate getting your ass kicked.
But as for the Russian hooligans themselves, they might have other plans in mind. In February 2017, BBC ran a report on a group of hooligans from Orel, Russia who call themselves the "Orel Butchers." In that report, several members of the group said something big—meaning violent—is going to take place during the World Cup this summer. When asked to give others advice on staying safe at the World Cup, one member went as far as to say: "Have a family and children around you. If you are there with your male friend, you should calculate getting your ass kicked." He also said Russia 2018 will be a "festival of violence."
Others reports have seemingly backed up that man's claim. One circulated this past February pointed out that some Russian hooligans have flown 10,000 miles to Argentina to meet with leaders of Barra Brava groups (Argentina's version of hooligans) to learn how to orchestrate sophisticated attacks on English supporters at the World Cup. It could lead to unprecedented levels of violence during the tournament.
Violence at major soccer events like the World Cup is, of course, nothing new, and English supporters have taken part in plenty of it themselves over the years. England has earned a reputation for creating mob chaos and destruction at international events. For example, 39 people were killed during a 1985 match between Liverpool and Juventus at Heysel Stadium in Belgium. A few years later, Italian police forced England to play isolated matches at the island of Sardinia at the 1990 World Cup, where a full-fledged assault broke out between England supporters and police. It was documented in Bill Buford’s 1990 book, Among the Thugs.
But there is a true conflict that exists between England and Russia that could make the 2018 World Cup especially dangerous, and it doesn't have anything to do with politics or East vs. West. The root of the rivalry is actually quite simple.
Football hooliganism as we know it now started in England in the late 1970s by a displaced segment of working-class youth who wanted to turn up to a match in Fred Perry and Adidas, kick the fuck out of boys just like them from another town or city, and display their tribal energy. It became so synonymous with England that the media dubbed it "The English Disease." As the years went on, other European nations started to emulate the English, and the hooligan behavior eventually found its way to Russia, where its supporters warped football hooliganism—or casual culture as it's called—into something that looked like it should be sanctioned by the UFC.
Today, if you type in "Russian hooligans" on YouTube, you’ll see groups of Russian men (and women) strapped up looking like they’re ready to compete in an MMA fight, charging at one another in the middle of the woods. They kick and punch each other until the other side can no longer fight, and it's that approach that has people worried about what might take place at the 2018 World Cup. Couple that with the fact that there are Russian hooligans who have been spotted wearing shirts that read, "Welcome to hell, 2018 World Cup," as recently as this week, and it's not hard to see why many believe the World Cup could end up being a bloodbath.
Fortunately, there's a good chance Russian authorities will over-police the World Cup because of some of fears surrounding it to make it as safe as possible for everyone traveling to the country for the event. There's also a feeling in Russia, as reported by popular football YouTube page Copa90, that an anti-Russian sentiment being propagated by the West is to blame for the fears and that everything is going to be just fine at the World Cup. Russia has actually resorted to releasing state-sponsored videos designed to put people's minds at ease with regards to safety.
But it's going to be just about impossible to sell everyone on the idea that this year's World Cup will be safe when you consider the close connection between Russian hooligans and violence. It's a tough sell when the Internet is littered with stories about a Spanish police officer getting killed in a fight between Spartak Moscow and Athletic Bilbao supporters, and English supporters getting put into comas after brutal encounters with Russian fans.
On top of all this, there is also a general feeling of distrust surrounding Russia right now that isn't helping matters. That feeling of distrust is nothing new. If you pick up a newspaper today and scan through the headlines, you'll no doubt find at least one or two involving President Vladimir Putin and Russia's alleged role in the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. But the negative sentiments some people have for Russia travel all the way back to the Cold War and Red Scare in America (I distinctly remember my Russian grandmother being deathly afraid that someone would falsely accuse her of being a communist).
And as if all of that wasn't enough, Russian hooligans might not be the only thing people have to worry about when the World Cup starts in June. There are real geopolitical tensions that could cause issues as well since Croatia and Serbia—two countries that have had conflict for years—have both qualified for the tournament. There is a fear that the tensions between the two sides could be rekindled.
For what it's worth, there are fears of violence at every World Cup. If you're looking to find trouble at a football match, especially after loading yourself up with alcohol and other substances, it's not hard to find. If that's your thing, go for it. But just be warned that this year's World Cup could end up being more dangerous than anything we've ever seen before.