Bilbao is currently living in a state of panic. The security forces have called for calm, but the panic is due to the arrival of 800 Russian ultras who travelled from Moscow as the their side, Spartak Moscow, play in the San Mames on Thursday night in the Europa League round of 32 second leg.
Since the Euros in 2016, which saw a battle with the Marseille ultras that lasted for three days, the Russian ultras have become some of the most feared in Europe. This battle went with a string of incidents including clashes against Juventus, Sevilla and Maribor. "They are ultra-nationalist, racists and experts in martial arts. They are not skinheads but paramilitaries," said a member of the police for, Ertzaintza. Many of those coming to Bilbao are ready for a fight. There are two groups: Gladiators Firm'96 and Fratria. They are not into the over-consumption of alcohol or drugs, they are more into the creating as much fear as possible.
Security forces in place to avoid fighting in Bilbao
Vitoria registered the first signs of violence on Tuesday and clashes could continue in Bilbao if things are not handled correctly. The 800 ultras will join another 1,700 followers, who are peaceful fans, who have come to support their team. 2,500 will have entrance to the game but many more will travel without tickets and with that 500 police officers from the Basque police force have been put in place to combat potentially nasty outbreaks, along with 100 municipal police and 200 members of private security from Athletic Club Bilbao plus a surveillance helicopter. They will also have three member of the Moscow police with them. All of this is done to protect a city that is in a state of fear aking to that of pre-war.
"There have been Russians here before and they impressed us," said Jose, who is in charge of the bar Amorebieta, a classic fixture of the old San Mames and the current one. "And now where do I put all the tables and chairs so that these dangerous people don't destory them?" asks Txema from Zuloa. Some schools have suspended outdoor activities and have sent letters to parents recommending that they don't even send their kids to school for fear of incidents occuring.
Spartak arrived in the mid-afternoon in Bilbao, after training in Estepona, where they were based ahead of the game. The Russian club have pleaded with fans not to get caught up in potential attacks: "Provocations are possible from some Spanish fans. Be alert and exact in Bilbao and in other cities in Spain along your routes. Don't succumb to provocations."
The Ertzaintza intervened on Tuesday in the Casco Viejo de Bilbao to avoid an incident involving four Spartak fans. On Wednesday, there was an incident on the Metro at 20:00 with different groups, including Herri Norte, who organised a gathering under the name "Against Fascism, we defend our city". 250 people came through Bilbao and in the end they formed a wall between the two groups to avoid any unsavoury behaviour. The Russian radicals will meet two and a half hours before the game and the police will take them, grouped together, to the stadium. This will be a critical moment to ensure nothing goes awry.