Thousands of English fans arrived in Moscow on Tuesday ahead of Wednesday’s Champions League final between Chelsea and Manchester United at the Luzhniki stadium. The Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper pointed out it was the biggest invasion since the Germans besieged the city in World War II. Only Napoleon turned up with a larger force, in 1812, the paper noted.
Peter Cech, Chelsea’s goalkeeper, who on Tuesday left his hotel for a look around the Russian capital, said: ”I think the Champions League final means a lot to Moscow people.” As he walked past the Kremlin and the domes of St Basil’s Cathedral, he added: ”It’s great to see people enjoying football here.”
While most fans have come on charter flights from the UK, others have arrived via the Baltic states. Some have even flown in from Sydney. ”We’ve paid Ã‚Â£4 000 on a package,” said Paul Southgate (49) a United fan.
”We came via Dubai and Singapore. At every stop along the way more United fans got on,” he added.
”Chelsea is just a Russian plaything. They are not a real team. They haven’t got any fans,” he said, scathingly. ”The ground will be 90% United.”
At Red Square, a five-a-side football pitch had been set up next to Lenin’s pyramid-shaped mausoleum. Nearby, a huge queue of mainly Russian fans waited to have their photo taken with the Champions League trophy. Others mobbed the Manchester United and Chelsea stalls, or bought official UEFA T-shirts costing 1 000 roubles (Ã‚Â£22).
Some enterprising supporters had dropped in to see Lenin. ”He looks a bit waxed, like something out of Madame Tussauds,” said John Hart (29) a Manchester United fan from Belfast. Hart said he and his friends had flown to Moscow via Riga. ”We’re staying in a cheap hostel. We’re doing the whole trip for Ã‚Â£200.” Russia’s unprecedented decision to waive visa restrictions appears to have worked, with fans saying they had encountered few obstacles while passing through Russian immigration. Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the visa policy showed that Russia was a ”civilised country”. This follows months in which the UK and Russia have exchanged insults after the murder of the Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko.
Ordinary Russians said they welcomed their British guests. ”The British are not monsters,” said Olga Podyganova (22) a political science student. ”Relations are terrible on an official level, but among ordinary people they are good.” About 6 000 Russian police will be on duty to prevent disturbances amid fears that the all-English final could lead to violence. About 700 buses will take fans arriving today directly to the stadium, using special lanes to circumvent the city’s dismal traffic problem.
With the game not starting until 10.45pm local time, fans are expected to spend much of the day in special zones inside the stadium complex in south-west Moscow, where alcohol is banned.
”We’ll fill up before the match,” one Manchester United fan said. – guardian.co.uk Ã‚