England’s first qualification for the World Cup semifinals in 24 years has coincided with peak season in Benidorm, one of Spain’s most notorious cheap holiday package hotspots.
This cocktail of booze, sun and World Cup euphoria erupted into a frenzy last Saturday as the Three Lions swept Sweden aside with a 2-0 win.
An estimated 12,000 English tourists had gathered poolside and at the many pubs of the coastal Valencian town to watch the game.
When the final whistle blew, hoards of fans, many largely inebriated by that stage, took over Benidorm’s tourist area to celebrate.
What happened next is very much open to interpretation, with British tabloids and Spanish media disagreeing over who the real culprits are, as has been the case with many of the countless cases involving British tourists behaving badly in Spain.
Spanish riot police were deployed to stop what several local news sources are calling vandalism and disorderly behaviour by the England fans.
Rubber bullets were shot in the air to disperse the crowd and batons were used against anyone who was uncooperative.
The Sun, Daily Mail and The Express have all criticised Spanish police for excessive force after a video emerged showing an officer beating a man with a child on his shoulders, as the victim egged him on to continue while pointing at the boy.
Spanish media have reported on the coverage given to the controversial video by the British tabloids, highlighting the newspapers’ reluctance to blame the England fans for any wrongdoing.
“I’m still waiting to read about Brits behaving like this in their home country,” one Telecinco reporter stated after watching the footage of Saturday’s disturbances.
The Spanish broadcaster also quotes Benidorm locals as saying that they can’t cope with “boozy tourism” anymore and that “this year there’s been more violence than previously”.
“They don’t know how to have fun, they just get drunk and throw glasses and bottles around,” one Benidorm resident said.
Ahead of Wednesday’s England game against Croatia, the British foreign office has issued a warning to English tourists to be on their best behaviour.
Violent incidents between British tourists and Benidorm police also broke out after England’s 6-1 win over Panama in the group stages.
A greater number of riot police are expected to be deployed on Wednesday to prevent violence and disorderly behaviour from getting out of hand.
The World Cup-fuelled violence comes five days after three men were shot in a Benidorm nightclub in a case police believe is linked to drug dealing.
Benidorm, a Valencian town of roughly 70,000 inhabitants, sees its population triple during the summer months with the arrival of mainly British tourists.