How the reporting of the British media changed during the Marseille cashes

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Subject: How the reporting of the British media changed during the Marseille cashes
Date: Tue, 14 Jun 2016 )
From: Antony Penaud <>

Being French, having lived in England for half of my life, and being Russophile, I followed the Marseille streetfight events and the way they were reported in the British press with a special interest.

In the France 1998 world cup, there were 2 days of violence when England played Tunisia in Marseille. They involved English “fans” and local Tunisia “fans”, about 50 persons were injured.

So, when England was drawn to play in Marseille for the Euro 2016, there was a risk of a “rematch”. The fact that they played Russia, which has a hooligan subculture, added to the risk of violence..

1. Friday and Saturday Guardian articles

Both on Thursday and Friday (the game took place Saturday evening), English “fans” were involved in fights with “locals” and police. This was reported by papers like the Guardian (1):

After Thursday night, “At least one England football fan has been arrested and another is being treated in hospital after French police used teargas and batons to break up a fight with 70 locals in Marseille (…) The fight broke out after 70 locals confronted England fans outside a pub in the southern port city at around midnight on Thursday (…) Police said one of the fans was arrested for assaulting a barman and another for violent disorder.”

After Friday night, the Guardian’s headline was: “England fans in fresh clashes with riot police in Marseille”.

It continued with “Supporters outside Queen Victoria pub throw bottles at police (…) French riot police made nine arrests and were involved in a series of pitched battles with England football fans in Marseille (…) One man was seen being punched to the ground by a man wearing an England football top, seemingly without any provocation (…) Between clashes with the police, fans sang: “Fuck off Europe, we’re all voting out.” They also sang anti-IRA and anti-German songs before singing: “Sit down if you hate the French.””

On the Saturday, some Russian “fans” arrived, determined to fight with the English “fans” (apparently, because of the notoriety of English hooliganism past, they are deemed worthy “opponents” to the current generation of hooligans).

2. Sunday morning Guardian article

Following violent street fights on the Saturday (the stadium events were much less violent than the street fights, and it was clearly the Russian “fans” at fault), the Sunday morning Guardian article (2) blamed all sides (locals, English, Russians). Its headline didn’t involve locals but attributed equal responsibility to English and Russian “fans”: “Euro 2016: England and Russia fans clash before and after match”.

“The violent scenes, in which hundreds of English fans were willing participants”, it said.

The Guardian then explained how the initial violence involved locals and English “fans”, and also police: “Some said that passing French hooligans had started some trouble and had thrown bottles. They said the English had then thrown some back. Whatever the provocation may have been, the result was that the French riot police then started to march towards the congregated English fans carrying teargas around 3pm. And the English responded as they so often have in the past – with violence.”

Then “thuggery escalated” with the involvement of Russian “fans”.

English “fans” “blamed more than 200 Russian and French hooligans for attacking them. Several said the French riot police, engaged in a running battle with English fans for the third day in a row, escalated the problem through heavy-handed tactics.”

“We were in the old port town and the Russian ultras ganged up with the Marseille ultras and attacked the English supporters that were sitting there drinking beers,” [an English “fan”] said.”

3. The Sunday afternoon Guardian article

A few hours later, in a new Guardian article, the headline ceased to be neutral: “Russian hooligans were savage and organised, say England fans”(3).
In this new article, the locals were almost absent of the reporting (they only get mentioned with “Later, on the way to the game, a group of locals starting spitting at us. We told them to stop and they took out knives on us.”), and the 3 days battle between the police, English fans and locals was described as “incidents of British visitors to the town chanting loudly and throwing bottles when confronted by the authorities” (violence and locals were removed of the incidents).

The Russians got blamed for almost all of the violence, while the English were now generally presented as the innocent victims.

The Saturday afternoon old port fights that only a few hours earlier had been described as an attack of “Russian and French hooligans” following violence involving locals and English “fans” was now described as an unprovocated attack of sole Russian “fans” against English “fans”.

With this new angle, the British media killed two birds with one stone: the Russians resumed their default role of pantomine villains, while there was no need to be ashamed of the English “fans” anymore, quite the contrary: we should feel empathy for them. Interestingly, the French were almost completely removed from the picture, probably to make the message more simple (good guys vs bad guys), and to make the Russians sole responsible (I can’t think of other reasons).

4. French articles

This removal of the involvement of the locals in Saturday’s streetfights contradicted early Guardian reports (see morning Guardian article quoted earlier) but also french media: the local paper La Provence (4) reported more Saturday fights – including violent ones – between English “fans” and locals than between English “fans” and Russian “fans”: “F***ing Africans !” could we hear from some English, at wars with Marseillais. Until the Russians got involved, shouting “Russian ! Russian !””

After the game (i.e. after 11pm), La Provence reported “an event of a rare violence. Some Marseillais were beating up an sole English “fan”, and they then proceeded beating up a homeless person who had the bad luck to be at the wrong place at the wrong time”.

La Provence continued: “shortly before 1am, new incidents took place on the old port. About 50 Marseillais provoked some English and the police had to use teargas”.

Unlike the British media, La Provence also reported positive scenes between English and Russians, walking “arm in arm”. These scenes didn’t happen in what came to be called the “fight zone” (the old port area) though, but they did happen.

Following the change in the reporting of the British media, the French sports daily L’Equipe noted that the British press was “indulging” with the English “fans” (5).

5. Monday articles (Guardian and BBC)

The Guardian headline (6) was “Russian hooligans behind Marseille violence were ‘trained to fight'”, even though the prosecutor didn’t use such words.
The Guardian, instead of reporting that the prosecutor blamed all sides, reported that the English fans were only responsible for “some of the violence”, and didn’t even mention the responsibility of the locals – the locals had now totally disappeared of the reporting.

The Monday BBC article (7) made things more simple. Its headline was “Euro 2016: 150 Russians ‘behind’ violence”, and it continued with “A group of “well-trained” Russian hooligans were behind the violence in Marseille when Russia played England in a Euro 2016 match, prosecutors say.”
But there was no back up of such accusations in the article. In fact, the prosecutors blamed all of them: the English, the French, and the Russians (8).
As the Guardian article, the BBC article didn’t mention locals.

That same BBC article reported the comments of the far right MP Igor Lebedev (he said there was nothing wrong with fans fighting and congratulated the Russian hooligans) without specifying that he belonged to the far right party. He was just presented as a “Russian MP”. Why did the BBC choose to not specify his political party? The only reason I can think of is that the BBC wanted readers to believe that his comments are those of an average MP, in other words they wanted readers to believe that the Russian politic classes endorse far right views.


The 1998 Marseille England Tunisia street fights had more injured than the recent ones (about 50 versus about 35), but at the time the media refrained to pick a side. The 2016 streetfights started 2 days before the arrival of the Russian “fans”, yet it is only after they arrived that the British media picked a side. And, given how much blame they put on them, most readers were led to think that the 2016 violence was much higher than the 1998 one, even though the number of injured people indicated that it was not the case.

I first thought that the British journalists who picked a side, who on the Sunday had already forgotten the Thursday and Friday violence (which involved no Russian), who refused to criticise their own “fans”, and who lied about what the French prosecutor said so that it fitted their nationalistic, were simply no different from Igor Lebedev: nationalists.

But then I realised that many of these media normally criticise such behaviour of English “fans”, and that the turning point in the reporting was the arrival of the Russian “fans”. And that they then proceeded to remove the locals from their reporting of the violence. Nationalism did not explain this, and I could think of only one explanation: it was – again – russophobia, one of the few acceptable xenophobias in the West nowadays.

All the people involved in those streetfights are bad guys, regardless of their nationalities – there are no good guys here.

But the British media – when the Russian “fans” got involved – were not able to resist the irresistible appeal of russophobia.

So, this story is more than just a hooligans story, precisely because of the British media’s dramatic change in their reporting.

My point is that similar impulses are at work when journalists write on international news. And the stakes are then much higher.

In a recent interview (9), the British historian Richard Sakwa, referring to the recent NATO exercises near the Russian border, warned: “At the moment the situation is feeding upon itself and it’s in danger of getting into such a dangerous, self-eating loop if you like that I actually, and not only me, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists are warning that we are in danger of sleepwalking into a major confrontation. Unfortunately, the language at the moment is endless escalation.”

If journalists (and politicians) don’t do something to stop their systematic demonisation of Russia, if they don’t try to understand the other point of view (as Richard Sakwa does), if they don’t look at their own faults, I don’t see how the endless escalation can stop.

Most people are like the English and Russian people described by La Provence, willing to walk arm in arm. They are not full of hate, want to live in peace, and be open to others. Journalists (and politicians) have the enormous power to fuel up hate, and demonisation. They have also the enormous to not do it. It is not too late for them to change, and contribute to the end of the escalation.