A NORTH-East football fan last night described how an army of masked, baseball bat-wielding Russian 'ultras' sent England fans fleeing for their lives just an hour before Saturday's game.

Hayley McDaid, from Darlington, was enjoying a drink with girlfriends outside Marseille's Stade Velodrome before England took on Russia when hundreds of well-organised thugs descended on fans.

As European football chiefs met in emergency session and warned England faced expulsion in the event of more trouble, Hayley told how she saw:

*Hundreds of England fans fleeing as an army of Russian ultras hardcore football hooligans advanced;

*More than 200 masked ultras, all wearing black, wielding baseball bats and sticks and throwing glass bottles;

*England fans falling to the ground, bleeding, as they were attacked;

*Tear gas filling the air as police desperately tried to stop the violence.

Violence in the French city has led to UEFA warning both sides they could face disqualification from the tournament if clashes continue as one England fan was left fighting for his life in hospital, while three others were knocked unconscious.

The "ultra supporters" are renowned for racist chanting and often carry neo-Nazi banners. They are infamous for causing violence to intimidate both rival fans and players.

Miss McDaid, who was spending a week on the south coast of France, said: "I have been to many international football games, but I've never seen anything like that. They were highly organised.

"We heard rumours that Russian fans were attacking England fans, so we stayed away from the city centre and went straight to the stadium.

"We were having a drink and there were England fans there, singing and chanting. Suddenly we saw hundreds of people running towards us.

"No-one knew what was going on. We went into a big wide avenue to see and there were hundreds of Russian fans dressed in black T-shirts, with masks and balaclavas, holding glass bottles and baseball bats.

"They were throwing glass bottles in front of them and walking in a regimented line towards us.

"We realised the police were nowhere and everybody was running. I have never seen England fans run like that.

"There were England fans falling on the floor, with blood on their faces, as they were attacked.

"Then we saw the police were bringing up the rear and eventually they let tear gas out.

"My first thought was that kick-off would be postponed but it wasn't.

"It was very organised - I think it was planned. The Russians were very regimented, really menacing. They weren't scattered and dispersed, they stayed together just like an army would."

Some England fans - including Owen Amos, from Richmond, North Yorkshire - said the violence was easy to avoid if hotspots, such as the old port area, were avoided.

He said: "We heard the police sirens going past and we knew there was trouble at the old port but we just stayed away from it."

But Miss McDaid said she and her friends had purposely tried to avoid the disturbances, and thought they would be safe outside the stadium.

She said they had also stayed away from the old port area the previous night, when gangs of Marseilles youths started targeting England fans. However, she and her friends ended up taking shelter in a French bar, where locals barricaded themselves in, as clashes started outside.

She said: "I speak fluent French which helped, and one of the French bars let us in so we weren't on the street in all the tear gas. There were locals there waiting until it was over. We just stayed there with them, barricaded in, until things had calmed down."

UEFA has begun disciplinary proceedings against Russia after fans rushed at England supporters in the stadium after the 1-1 draw on Saturday.

Miss McDaid said bags were not being searched on the way in, and there were no police in the stadium when Russian fans charged.

"My worry is that UEFA are running a major international tournament and not checking people's bags. And when Russians charged there were only stewards there to stop them, no police."

The UK Government said it had offered to send extra British police to France ahead of England's next match in Lens on Thursday.

Witnesses said trouble began in the stadium after flares were let off by Russian fans near the end of the game. Some then climbed across barriers designed to keep rival fans apart.

Johnny Grant, from Newcastle, who was at his fifth major tournament watching England, said: “Saturday was the most uncomfortable I’ve ever felt at a football game.

“Normally, you know where to avoid if you want to stay away from trouble, but on Saturday, it was going off all over town.

“There were gangs of Russians picking off anyone who tried to get away – it didn’t matter whether you were looking for trouble or not – if you were in the way, you got it.”