Chelsea fans clashed with French riot police and were teargassed while some supporters continued to show their support for owner Roman Abramovich ahead of a Champions League last 16 win over Lille on Wednesday.
Chelsea headed to the Stade Pierre-Mauroy with a 2-0 lead from the first leg and prevailed 4-1 overall thanks to goals from Christian Pulisic and captain Cesar Azpilicueta that sealed a 2-1 victory on the night.
Chelsea fans the world over will have been thrilled by the defense of their Champions League crown staying alive given the turmoil that has engulfed the Blues since owner Roman Abramovich was sanctioned.
Yet some of those that made the trip to northern France were in the headlines for clashes with local riot police before kick-off.
“We were called to the bar following complaints about the behavior of the supporters,” confirmed a local police spokesman, who said the violence started around 6.30pm near Lille-Flanders station, where a group of fans had been drinking in the Les 3 Brasseurs opposite the travel hub.
“Roads around the area have been cordoned off and there are still isolated pockets of trouble around the city,” the spokesman added, with Gendarmes in riot gear forced to fire tear gas canisters at the mob who let off flares and threw beer bottles.
Chelsea fans have also been warned against singing chants of support for Abramovich, who had his assets frozen by the UK government as a response to Russia’s military operation in Ukraine, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman calling them “completely inappropriate.”
Littering the streets of Lille, however, some traveling supporters continued to cheer Abramovich’s name and held up flags that contained some of the 21 trophies the west Londoners have won on his watch since 2003 with slogans such as: “Have a look at my frozen assets”, while also singing “obscene” songs about Johnson.
The victory in Chelsea’s first away game outside of England since the sanctions were brought in reportedly saw 2,500 fans make the trip to Lille.
They had presumably bought tickets before Chelsea were prohibited from selling them, however, and as it is expected that UEFA will deny the club the right to do so for the quarter-finals against a still-unnamed opponent due to EU sanctions on Abramovich, such scenes that were witnessed in Lille are unlikely to be repeated while Abramovich still owns the club unless some fans travel on the continent without the means to enter the ground.
Chelsea may also have to play the home leg of the tie behind closed doors owing to a UEFA ruling related to the EU sanctions, and coach Thomas Tuchel sarcastically thanked a reporter for “ruining” his evening when informed of the prospect post-match.
“I was in such a good mood, can we speak about it when it’s confirmed?” the German asked. “Let’s wait for the confirmation of the confirmation. Let’s see. Today I’m happy that we are in the last eight.
“There were a lot of things to overcome, so I’m so happy and so proud. So let’s see. It’s the first thing I hear now. In three days we play Middlesbrough in the [FA] cup, then we have the [international] break, and then I’ll think about a good answer.
“The fans are outside right now and it was brilliant to be with them,” Tuchel stressed.
Now riding a five-game winning streak, Chelsea drew criticism for trying to have the FA Cup quarter-final clash with Middlesbrough on Saturday played behind closed doors too before later withdrawing their request.
If the club has been sold before then, however, they could play the UCL quarter-final before fans in April and also travel with them.
Though Abramovich cannot benefit from a sale in anyway, the UK government are “open” to overseeing a takeover from one of the reported parties that are interested in acquiring the reigning world and European champions, with the deadline for bids reportedly being on Friday. -RT