A shocking look at Russian football firms, from the thugs who terrorised Marseille to the next generation preparing for the 2018 World Cup by arranging brutal forest fights.
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This programme contains some violent scenes from the start and some strong language
2018 Fifa World Cup, ladies and gentlemen,
-will be organised in Russia.
In 2018, Russia will host the Fifa World Cup.
One of the biggest sporting events on the planet.
We are eager to do our best to secure the comfort
and safety of our guests.
President Putin has promised peace, love and harmony.
But at the European Championships in France,
we saw a different side of Russian football.
So what can fans expect of the host country if they travel to Russia in 2018?
I'm going to Russia to meet the hooligans who hold the fate of
England fans in their hands.
Men who reject the negative image of the past to embrace a new identity.
A football culture where violence is celebrated.
I track down the men who terrorised Marseille.
And meet the next generation of hooligans as they train for the World Cup.
Marseille, June 2016,
and the ugly face of English football is rearing its head again.
Drunken England fans throwing bottles and trashing a foreign city.
Making it clear that Britannia still rules the waves.
I follow England away every time, yeah.
Sometimes we get people come with England and they throw bottles.
They're not the best supporters.
Euro 2016 is becoming a depressing throwback to a hooliganism that many
people thought was a thing of the past.
But England fans, even those who weren't causing trouble,
were about to have much bigger problems than the French police.
After a couple of hours of drinking in the morning,
I'm just relaxing outside, my feet are up on the table in front of me,
I've got about four beers around me.
Then the Russians sort of appeared.
First thing I noticed was the noise.
They chanted together and they moved together.
It was like a military operation.
The brutality of them.
It wasn't just, you knock someone over and they're down, that's it,
..kicking and stamping.
What's me problem? We've just been attacked.
'There was crowds of people just shouting,
'trying to get away from it, really.
'They were attacking in little groups, like they'd been given
'numbers, or teams had been picked.'
I remember one guy that I seen in fairly close proximity,
missing a tooth, and his head was about the size of my shoulder width.
Ten of us made it into this cafe.
And we could just see the...
The devastation that they were causing.
-Look at them, they've all got masks on.
-Look at that outside, there.
'It was terrifying. You just didn't know what to do.
'You could see groups running and charging, people running for their lives.'
-These are Russians, these ones.
-Oh, yeah, yeah.
Look at him! They're kicking the shit out of that old boy.
That's when I knew that there was a chance that people could die,
because when you've got 10, 12 people onto one person,
you've got no chance.
There was people lying unconscious everywhere.
There was people staggering about with blood.
And that's when I noticed that there was a big guy.
You know, I could see that
He was in a mess. He was completely on his back.
I could see that his life was ticking away from him.
It was just an awful thing to see.
England fans Andrew Bache and Stewart Gray were beaten into a coma
and left for dead.
It was like a war scene.
The six that I went with, there was a guy who had served in Iraq.
He said he was more scared there than he ever was in war.
It was like they wanted to kill people.
They didn't just want to beat them up, they wanted to kill people.
They wanted to
inflict as much injury on these people as they possibly could.
I was going there to enjoy the sunshine,
and the bad beer and the beautiful French girls.
And the Russians were there to enjoy the England fans,
and to attack the England fans.
And it was as simple as that.
I think the most striking thing about the Russian hooligan groups
was that they were clearly very well organised, very sober.
It was a hard core of Russians who clearly spent a lot of time in
the gym working out, were very well built.
Suddenly, the antics of England fans seemed like small beer in the face
of the worst football violence ever witnessed at
an international tournament.
When the tear gas cleared, more than 100 England fans were injured.
30 ended up in hospital.
The lives of five hung in the balance for several days.
I've been observing football disorder since 1998,
involving English fans abroad,
and this was by far and away the worst I've ever seen in terms of the
numbers involved, in terms of the injuries.
It was a complete and utter breakdown of law and order
For a while, the British press didn't know who to blame -
the England fans or the French police.
But the most lurid headlines were reserved for the Russians.
On Twitter, the deputy chairman of the Russian parliament, Igor Lebedev,
congratulated the hooligans for defending their country's honour.
Vladimir Markin, a media spokesman for the police,
claimed that the French authorities failed to stop the fighting because
they were more used to policing Gay Pride.
It even fuelled rumours that the government of Vladimir Putin was
somehow linked to the hooligans.
Here, tabloid interest focused on one man in particular,
the alleged leader of the Russian hooligans in Marseille,
Vasily the Killer.
The star of online videos,
Vasily is a hero for Russian football hooligans.
With Russia hosting the World Cup in 2018,
what will men like him have in store for English fans heading to the
It's four months since the violence in Marseille.
I've come to Moscow to track down some of the men responsible for the
trouble at Euro 2016,
and find out just what's behind this upsurge in Russian football violence.
After the events in Marseille,
the Russian organisers and the public know they have a problem to
I'm heading to one of the stadiums that will be used for the World Cup,
the home of Spartak Moscow.
When Russia controversially won the competition to host world football's
premier event, President Putin promised a trouble-free tournament.
You can take my word for it, the 2018 World Cup in Russia will be up
to the highest standards.
The official bid presented an image of peaceful, multiracial harmony.
A vote for Russia is a vote for the future.
But on the ground, it doesn't feel that way.
It's derby day between Spartak and CSKA,
the two most successful Moscow teams.
Mobile phone footage taken by a fan shows that fights have already
broken out on the Moscow underground.
Outside the stadium, I ask what the fans here thought about an influx
of England supporters for the World Cup.
There's a heavy police presence.
Both clubs have extremely active hooligan firms.
It's time to head in.
Posing as a tourist, I manage to get a camera inside.
The Spartak hooligans are based in the north tribune.
One of their leaders, the head of the Gladiators firm,
is the legendary Vasily the Killer,
the alleged mastermind of the hooligans in Marseille.
Someone I want to talk to.
I'm clearly in the right place.
In front of me, throwing Nazi salutes,
are the Spartak firm the Mad Butchers.
But so far, no sign of Vasily the Killer.
In Russian football grounds, the firms often have their own security,
and they're not overly keen on me filming.
One of them's busy, he's fine.
Finally, I spot the Killer himself.
The next challenge is to see if he'll speak to me.
We arrange to meet at a bar near the stadium.
For one of Russia's most notorious hooligans,
Vasily seems surprisingly willing to share his life story with me.
'I gently move the conversation to the events in Marseille.'
'So, who were the hooligans in Marseille?'
Don't ask about that?
'It seems this line of questioning is not so welcome.'
'Perhaps, not surprisingly,
'Vasily isn't willing to reveal the names of anyone who was in Marseille.'
'The interview is over.'
Vasily belongs to a generation that emerged in the 1990s after the
collapse of the Soviet Union.
New freedoms meant they looked West for their cultural inspiration,
in food, music, fashion and, of course, in football.
On the outskirts of Moscow,
I meet up with a group of former Russian hooligans.
They grew up idolising the English firms they saw on TV.
English hooligan culture grew out of the 1970s and '80s,
when football stadiums were the scene of infamous riots.
'The worst violence erupted with the final whistle.
'Millwall fans invaded the pitch,
'ripping up seats and throwing them around.'
This culture revolved around casual fashion,
and organised fights away from stadiums.
Coming together to support the national team,
English firms spread terror around the world,
culminating in the mass brawls of Euro 2000 in Belgium.
The Russians looked on and were inspired,
causing violence to erupt in stadiums across the country.
Police versus fans,
it was the main battle.
Battle in the real meaning of this, of this word.
Going in '90s to the football stadium in Russia,
it was closely connected with some trouble,
because police didn't understand the problem.
With violence spreading throughout the game,
the Russian authorities decided enough was enough.
In 2000, they attempted to bring the hooligans under control.
Supporter groups were brought together under the umbrella of a state backed body.
It was called the All-Russian Fans Association, the ARFA.
The head of the organisation, Alexander Shprygin,
has been linked to Vladimir Putin's government.
He's also been accused of being a far-right activist.
I tracked him down to his office on the outskirts of Moscow to find out
about his organisation's involvement in the violence in Marseille.
Unfortunately for Shprygin,
it turned out many of the hooligans involved in the violence were flown
to France on his officially chartered flight.
Three board members of the ARFA were jailed in France for the Marseille
violence. One of them is serving two years.
Shprygin himself was deported,
and even now he can't conceal a certain pride in the prowess of his countrymen.
On his return, Shprygin was arrested and his offices raided.
His apparent connections to the government haven't helped him.
The ARFA has been shut down.
With the World Cup on the horizon,
the Russian authorities have realised that their officially connected
hooligans need to be dealt with.
I followed Dynamo Moscow to Yaroslavl, a small city north-east of Moscow.
You can see the signs of the new crackdown everywhere,
including leaflets handed out to fans promising dire consequences for
anyone stepping out of line.
It looks like Putin's government has now decided they've had enough of
But has the Russian man now developed such a taste for violence that they
can't be stopped?
Russian men have never had the best reputation.
They have some of the highest rates of alcohol consumption in the world.
Following the fall of the Soviet Union, the situation got worse,
with drinking and drink related violence becoming something of a
Life expectancy for men fell from 65 to 57 in just five years.
But something has begun to change.
President Vladimir Putin has encouraged the new image of Russian
masculinity, based around health, combat sports and patriotism.
Maxim Tatarinov is a professional boxer.
He's also a football hooligan,
picked out by one of Dynamo Moscow's main firms to fight with them.
Hooligans have begun training like Maxim,
embracing their new identity as a fighter.
Across Russia, young men are engaging in combat sports like boxing.
Maxim's new protege is 23-year-old Danila.
He's currently preparing for his third professional fight.
Danila's wife, Dasha, is grateful for his fighting skills.
Football hooligans like Maxim have become an inspiration for many young people.
And what happened in Marseille is a source of pride.
Online videos celebrate the hooligans' achievements in France
as a symbol of a resurgent Russian manhood.
The Russian government crackdown may be more difficult than they think.
I need to speak to some of those hooligans involved in Marseille to
find out if the same violent scenes will be repeated at the World Cup.
A few days after our meeting, I get a call from Vasily.
He's invited me to a five-a-side tournament, but with a difference.
All the teams represent hooligan firms from across Russia.
But with the police crackdown starting to bite,
people are nervous about appearing on camera.
When the active hooligans appear, Vasily is quick to warn me off.
No, no, no.
But he does have a suggestion to find some of the Marseille hooligans.
This is the city of Oryol.
It's a pretty bleak place,
mostly flattened during the Second World War.
It's also the home town of one of Russia's celebrated leaders and heroes,
a feared murderer and rapist - Ivan the Terrible.
Oryol hasn't got much going for it.
Certainly not the football.
The local team is in the lower half of the Russian third division.
But their fans consider themselves very much in the Premier League.
The hooligan firm are known as the Orel Butchers.
It's hard to believe this lowly team can be the home of some of Russia's
most violent fans.
But they are.
After the game, they agree to talk,
but only on the condition their identities are disguised.
Who are the Orel Butchers? What do you stand for?
It turns out the Butchers were at the centre of the violence in
Marseille, dressed in black T-shirts.
The Orel Butchers showed me a memento from their time in Marseille.
A souvenir from Euro 2016.
I ask if I can take the flag home with me.
I'm not sure I'll be taking them up on their offer,
but I wondered if they'd be looking to attack England fans again at the
I was told to speak to the man who led them in France,
a hooligan and semi-professional mixed martial arts fighter who asked
to be called Dennis.
I would say a lot of British guys went over to France, you know,
to have some fun, to shout around, to throw some glasses.
To chant the wonderful songs, and that's it.
And we were quite determined to go there and mess up with the British
guys, to see where our level is and what they are capable of.
There is some street fight tactics that we obviously exercised a lot of
times fighting in cities.
There's things you do, there's things you don't do.
And it's important, if you are engaged in a massive fight,
it's very important that you stick together as a group.
You go forward as a group, you go backward as a group,
you only move as a group. So this was, like,
a mistake that the British fans didn't realise they were doing.
They were always stranded.
It's like 200 professionals fighting 2,000 amateurs.
Even though they were heavily outnumbered,
by grouping together and attacking and retreating as a unit,
they inflicted devastating damage on any England fans unwise enough to
fight them, or unable to escape.
I can't say that they lacked the heart,
but obviously they lacked the skill.
We always were moving in and out as a group,
and this is what makes the difference.
And obviously the personal skill.
There is that video where that fat guy gets kicked in the face from two
sides. His guys left him.
We were coming from the market into the smaller street,
and these guys left him.
Let him down, you know? He was kind of getting in,
and they were supposed to push us backwards as well.
They were too afraid and they started running backwards, you know?
Many of the victims in Marseille were viciously attacked again after
they were knocked down. Something Dennis feels no remorse for.
I hit the guy in the head.
Like, if you can imagine a penalty kick.
I shot a good penalty.
Did he, did he get back up after that?
I hope so!
Yeah. I must say, he was definitely knocked out, like,
badly. I must admit,
there's the first sad, there is, like, one British hooligan,
he was in coma.
I was thinking to myself, like, "Shit, I bet that's my guy."
Because I really, like, hit him properly on his head.
Are you proud of what you did?
What I like is that people don't think,
"Russians, oh, they're drinkers, they're wankers, they're whatever,
"they're like lazy bums, they are nothing, they are stupid".
Obviously, I like the fact that I'm Russian and people think, "Oh,
"these are like the tough guys." Why did we fight?
Why did we fight the English guys?
We were seeking honour, seeking pride in the fight.
What about 2018?
-Are you looking forward to the World Cup?
Absolutely not. What most likely will happen,
they will just take down all leaders,
all people who are capable of organising anything,
and just lock them down.
Now if you speak about the guys from the older generation,
we all realise that for us, this will be, like,
a very, very hard year.
So British fans won't have anything to fear?
-I don't know.
They can come over and we'll see.
I mean, somebody will obviously try to do something.
That is, like, 100%.
How would you not get beaten up?
How would you not get beaten up?
That's a good question.
Well, I don't know. Have family and children around you or, like,
something. I mean, if you are there with your friend, your male friend,
you should calculate with getting your ass kicked.
Dennis was adamant that someone would look to fight at the World Cup
Welcome on board.
If it wasn't going to be the older generation,
I wanted to see if a younger firm, off the police radar, would look to
make a statement.
This is Rostov-on-Don, 600 miles from Moscow.
It's a host city for the World Cup,
with a new stadium being built on the banks of the River Don.
Nearby in a local gym,
a young firm are also preparing for the tournament to begin.
They're often involved in prearranged brawls against rival firms.
They tell me they're auditioning for new members in a uniquely Russian way.
The wannabe hooligans have to head out of town into the woods and take
on a rival firm in no holds barred hand-to-hand combat.
They are known as forest fights.
Due to the police crackdown,
the location is kept on a strictly need-to-know basis.
Are there any rules to these forest fights?
It's a far cry from the images of drunken English football hooligans
singing Rule Britannia and throwing plastic chairs at the police.
It's the night before the forest fight,
and I've been invited along to spend some time with the firm.
At a sauna.
Over fruit, tea and freshly caught crayfish from the River Don,
the firm bond.
It's the day of the fight.
The firm are worried about security.
On the outskirts of town, we pick up the group of hopefuls.
All of them are young, aged between 19 and 20.
19-year-old Artyom is one of those auditioning for the firm.
Are you scared of getting hurt?
Are all your friends fighters?
20 minutes outside of Rostov,
we arrive at a dead end leading to a muddy field.
Some of the older members of the firm I met in the sauna are here.
They will both coach and judge the newcomers.
I'm nervous, and unsure what to expect.
But I'm not the only one.
There's a mix of fear and excitement in the air as the new recruits go through their preparations.
For extra motivation, the leaders give them some advice.
If Artyom and the other fighters impress today,
they'll be presented with a pin badge or a T-shirt.
If they become a long-standing member,
they'll be allowed to get the firm's tattoo.
We've no clear idea who or what awaits at the end of the path.
In a clearing, I see the opposition.
Seven young men from a town an hour away from Rostov.
Artyom gets thrown to the ground, but he doesn't give up.
Looking round, I can understand why the authorities want to stop these fights.
In front of me, one of the opposition is being repeatedly kicked in the head.
Someone could be seriously hurt.
Stop! Stop! Stop! Stop! Stop!
I'm in shock at what I've witnessed.
And surprised and relieved there are no serious injuries.
Are these guys OK? I just want to check that they're OK.
-You all right?
-OK, OK, OK.
Walking back to the Rostov firm,
I wonder if they will have escaped unharmed.
Let me look at your hand.
'Despite being thrown to the ground early on,
'Artyom has escaped relatively untouched.
'But having been unable to showcase his skills, he's disappointed.'
The leaders are matter-of-fact in their analysis.
He'll have to go through it all again if he's to become a member of the firm.
Having seen what it takes to become a member of their hooligan firm,
I wonder why anyone would want to do it.
But these forest fights aren't just restricted to Rostov.
They take place all across Russia.
And aren't just for new members hoping to audition.
Police crackdowns mean fights that used to happen in town centres
now happen in the countryside...
..involving sickening levels of violence,
with groups of up to 200 or more.
The young Russian men I've met seem desensitised to the casual brutality
of these fights.
The 2018 World Cup in Russia will attract fans from around the world.
But there's a question as to whether Russia will get the happy and
harmonious tournament they hope for...
-Welcome to Russia!
..and whether the police can contain the hooligans.
One thing's for sure -
the reverence held for England fans will always make them a target.
Here on the banks of the River Don,
in sight of the new 45,000-seater Rostov Arena,
the locals are patiently waiting for the tournament to begin.
At the 2016 European Championships, violent clashes between Russian and English supporters in Marseille put the spotlight on Russian hooliganism. Russian hooligans injured over 100 English supporters, beating two into a coma, and it raised serious concerns ahead of Russia hosting the 2018 World Cup. Filmmaker Alex Stockley von Statzer travels to Russia to experience the country's football fan culture first hand. Featuring footage filmed in Marseille in 2016, rare interviews with members of some of the most feared firms like the Spartak Gladiators and Orel Butchers, and new footage of an organised fight for wannabe recruits, this show uncovers a world where brutal violence has become a mark of honour and a symbol of newly resurgent Russian masculinity.
Most Russian hooligans have moved away from the English movement that inspired them in the 70s and 80s. Today they are organised in firms that are teetotal, physically fit and trained in mixed martial arts. Police have enacted new laws promising bans and jail for any fans that cause trouble and are heavily policing stadiums. Alex travels to Oryol to speak to the Orel Butchers who violently attacked English fans in Marseille. We hear one hooligan taking relish in describing a merciless attack by a number of Russians who kicked an England fan in the head - an attack that was also caught on camera.
Alex also travels to Rostov, which will host five games at the World Cup, to film an organised fight in the woods. Here he meets with a local firm getting ready to audition for new members. Young men fight in a no-holds-barred brawl against young fighters from another local firm. It's a vicious clash similar to what was witnessed in Marseille and is one of the hundreds of fights that firms arrange all across Russia.