French police have arrested 36 people and 16 were treated for injuries in hospital after violence erupted in the streets of Lille on Wednesday night ahead of Thursday’s Euro 2016 match between England and Wales in nearby Lens.
Flares and bangers were lit as officers charged at chanting fans, spraying tear gas in an attempt to disperse the crowds. Police used pepper spray against an England fan who ran towards them, as fights appeared to break out among Three Lions supporters.
Authorities said 16 people have been treated in hospital but gave no details about their injuries.
“UEFA regrets the skirmishes which occurred in Lille last night,” European football’s governing body said in a statement on Thursday morning. “Police forces made several arrests and were quick to restore order and keep the situation under control.”
England and Wales will face each other at the Stade Bollaert-Delelis in the nearby city of Lens at 3 p.m, with Wales above England in Group B following their 2-1 win over Slovakia on Saturday. England are looking for their first win of the tournament after they were held to a 1-1 draw by Russia later that same day.
Late in the evening, two groups of about 250 English fans each merged just as thousands of French fans were streaming out of the fan zone where they had been watching the host nation beat Albania 2-0 in Marseille.
Several hundred riot police formed a human barrier between the two groups. Some fireworks were fired from the French side and a few bottles were thrown from the English side. The police then charged in the direction of the English, spraying tear gas and causing a stampede, with people sprinting into side streets.
Supporters of Slovakia and Russia were also in the city after their game in the city on Wednesday, which Slovakia won 2-1. Earlier in the evening, a small group of people wearing Russian “ultra” T-shirts threw a flare at a large group of England fans who then surged towards them. The Russians left the scene and the remaining British fans were tear-gassed, prompting them to hold their shirts over their mouths as they left the scene rubbing their eyes and spitting.
In footage posted online by ex-England footballer Stan Collymore, one man wearing a green hat was seen smashing wing mirrors off cars parked on the street. Collymore said: “Somebody threw a, not a grenade, something that went bang, towards some England fans and the England fans have just run.”
He later pointed to a man who was pinned down in the road by police, and said: “You were throwing bottles. Yes.”
French authorities said the arrests on Wednesday included six Russians involved in violence last Saturday in Marseille. Another five people were arrested for public drunkenness on a train from London that was stopped before it got to Lille and then allowed to continue.
Away from the main square a group of England fans, who were comparatively quiet, were surrounded by police as they drank outside Cafe Oz. The officers parked more than 10 vans and a police bus in the square around them.
A large number of fans congregated outside one of the bars near the Lille Flandres station, with dozens of police officers carrying riot shields standing guard. The crowd chanted “God Save The Queen” and “England Till I Die,” as well as singing “Where were you in Marseille?” towards the assembled police.
Elsewhere a group of England fans outside the railway station in Lille were penned in by police when one of them lit a flare and began to wave it as they chanted.