Why England fans will be safe at the World Cup in Russia (if they keep themselves to themselves)

  A sign for the Entrance to the 2018 World Cup Final draw in Red Square, Moscow.

A sign for the Entrance to the 2018 World Cup Final draw in Red Square, Moscow.

I drive to and from work every day and I can spend up to 15 hours in the car every week. Of course, life behind the wheel can be a bit mundane at times, and it’s why I listen to my station of choice, talkSPORT, so much.

One of the hot topics on the radio over the past few days has concerned the safety of the England national football team and its attending fans at the World Cup finals in Russia following the poisoning of an ex-Russian spy and his daughter in Salisbury more than two weeks ago.

The British government believe the Russian government hold some responsibility or knowledge in connection with the attack, while the Russians have denied such accusations. In retaliation, the United Kingdom expelled 23 Russian diplomats and Prime Minister Theresa May confirmed that neither the Royal Family nor any government ministers will be attending the summer football tournament.

  The 2018 FIFA World Cup countdown clock outside the Kremlin in Moscow.

The 2018 FIFA World Cup countdown clock outside the Kremlin in Moscow.

The media has already carved out a reputation for Russian football fans, creating documentaries and publishing reports about the country’s hooligans and their ‘preparations’ for incoming foreign football fans. And who can forget clashes between the English and Russians in Marseille before their teams’ showdown at Euro 2016?

Add that all together and things seem bleak for any England supporter wanting to experience the thrill of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in person.

Yet all isn’t as bad as it seems…

While the press may like to cause a stir and paint a picture of the English faithful being greeted by a pitchfork-and-torch-laden mob as soon as they touch down in Russia, it’s probably going to be pretty safe for England fans.

  I had an amazing time in Russia and not once felt unsafe. My advice if you want to attend the World Cup is simply to go, and act as you would if you went a normal city break or holiday.

I had an amazing time in Russia and not once felt unsafe. My advice if you want to attend the World Cup is simply to go, and act as you would if you went a normal city break or holiday.

I recently went to Russia, and people were pretty apprehensive about that when I told them of my travel plans. We headed to Moscow in December for six days and, ironically, were there at the same time as the World Cup group stage draw, enjoying one of the best trips I’ve ever been on.

Despite being warned about Russians’ aversion to Westerners, we had a great time and the break went without a hitch. On the Friday night, we even ventured out to VEB Arena, home to local club side CSKA Moscow, and watched a game of football alongside the home fans. It’s not like we even tried to hide that we were foreigners as we had to ask for help from about three stewards – all of whom were extremely friendly and helpful.

  Going to a football game in Russia was a great experience - despite being a foreigner.

Going to a football game in Russia was a great experience - despite being a foreigner.

We didn’t attract any horrible looks, nor did we feel threatened or intimidated. The only shock of the night was seeing the CSKA fans behind the goal go topless in sub-zero conditions. But at the same time, we didn’t make a nuisance of ourselves and we didn’t make a conscious effort to stand out. We went to enjoy a game of football and a fantastic city and didn’t encounter anything sinister.

VEB Arena Approach.jpeg

Russia is a wonderful country occasionally tainted by the actions of the few. But that shouldn’t get in the way of football fans exploring places like Saint Petersburg, Nizhny Novgorod and Kazan – cities that are less travelled but hold so much potential value to those who dare visit.

If England fans can keep themselves in check and are well behaved, then the chances of anything bad happening to them, other than the result of the games, is very slim to none. And fans that are well behaved but unsure whether to actually make the trip - don't be put off by what you see on the television - just go for it, in my opinion.

Let’s face it, Russia won’t care about the everyday people which will make up the majority of the England fan base. Do you think it’s worth starting a war over Terry, 54, from Basildon? Me neither.

However…

Good behaviour and England fans don’t exactly go hand-in-hand – just look at the past couple of days. A large contingent of English football supporters headed across the North Sea this week to cheer on the Three Lions in Amsterdam. Despite having just over 5,000 tickets allocated to England for the pre-World Cup friendly, the English representation far exceeded the number of seats available.

Alcohol and England fans don’t mix very well, and that potent cocktail delivered yesterday as a band of chavs and gobshites thought throwing beer over boat-tripping tourists was some sort of noble feat, while another jumped into a canal half-naked and someone else threw a bike into the waterways. If only Britain First was still on Facebook, they could share these achievements with their fellow Brexiteers.

If similar behaviour occurs in Russia, where tolerance levels won’t be as high as those in Amsterdam, then there are probably a few England fans in for a hiding.

But if these people can show some restraint, people who don’t represent the entire country, may I add, then they are likely to have a good time over World Cup month, rather than proving talkSPORT right.