Not coming home – yet: England fans stunned to still be in Russia

first_imgThe atmosphere in the Samara Arena for most of Saturday’s quarter-final was strangely flat: this did not feel like a historic moment, at stake for both teams a place in the first semi-final for more than two decades.After the pulsating ambience of the last-16 game against Colombia on Tuesday, where the Spartak stadium in Moscow was packed with Colombian fans and tickets were hard to come by, Samara by contrast saw several thousand empty seats and just a tiny pocket of a couple of thousand fans from Sweden and England.But at the final whistle the section of England fans was jubilant, filling the stadium with song for a good half-hour as the largely neutral crowd filed home. “It’s coming home. What else do you want to know? It’s coming home and that’s it,” said Dave, a 52-year-old Newcastle United fan, leaving the ground elated and already plotting how to get a semi-final ticket for Wednesday.It’s all about Moscow now. After a journey through Russia that has taken in five different cities, thousands of travel miles, and thousands of pounds in costs as well, the small band of England fans who have made it out to Russia will now have their eyes fixed on the country’s capital: Wednesday’s semi-final and next Sunday’s final will both be held at the Luzhniki stadium in southern Moscow, although a semi-final defeat would send England to St Petersburg for the third-placed match on Saturday. Russian authorities were instructed to take a relaxed approach to visitors during the period, with police turning a blind eye to public drinking and other infringements of Russian laws that would usually be met with a firmer hand, and the tournament has proved a soft-power boon for the Russian government.On Friday, Vladimir Putin received retired football players, including former Manchester United stars Peter Schmeichel and Rio Ferdinand, in the Kremlin, together with the Fifa president, Gianni Infantino. The players presented the president with a “Putin” football jersey.“Many stereotypes about the country have been broken down. People see that. Russia is a hospitable country and friendly to those who come to us,” Putin told the footballers.The UK government announced a boycott of the World Cup after the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury earlier this year, and has so far refused to relent, particularly since two more people are now in hospital in the Wiltshire city having also been exposed to the nerve agent novichok. Sweden football fans in London: sweaty optimism gives way to a sad silence After the game, fans headed on to shuttle buses for the long drive back to the centre of Samara, a sprawling city with sandy beaches along the banks of the Volga in the central park, to soak up a last night of atmosphere in the Russian provinces.For some, it is now time to go back home. Jed Smith from Leicester has been to all the England games up to and including the quarter-final, but has now run out of both money and days off work and is flying home on Sunday.“To be honest, when I planned a trip up to the quarters, that seemed optimistic. I thought we’d get Germany or Brazil in the quarters and lose. Instead it’s our best chance since 1966 to win the whole thing. I’m gutted I’ll miss it.” For the semi-final, there is likely to be much higher demand than for Saturday’s game. The Observer Share on Facebook 1:35 Tom Blackwell, a Moscow-based England fan, had purchased two top-category tickets for the game in the days before for the face value of 22,000 roubles (£260) but due to the cost of flights ended up travelling alone, and sold the ticket for £75 shortly before the game to a local Russian.Many with the financial means to do so will now surely plan last-minute trips to Russia, as England have booked their first semi-final appearance since Italia 90. Russia has waived its visa regulations for the month for anyone in possession of a Fan ID, which can be obtained without a ticket, leading to the prospect of many fans travelling and hoping to pick up a ticket in Moscow.The tournament, which now enters its final week, has passed off in a spirit of good humour, and many of those fans who travelled are leaving with a more positive picture of Russia than the grey, humourless country they had imagined they would find.Smaller than usual numbers of European fans have travelled to the tournament, partly due to fears of hooliganism and the current political situation, although tens of thousands of fans from South and Central American countries made the trip, creating a carnival atmosphere across the stadium cities. Share on LinkedIn Share on Pinterest A nation hungry for joy finds new heroes in England’s World Cup stars Share on Twitter Share on WhatsApp Read more World Cup Play Video Europe Read more Russia features Share on Messenger ‘It’s coming home’: Fans and ex-players celebrate England’s World Cup semi-final spot – video Share via Email Topics Gareth Southgate World Cup 2018 Reuse this contentlast_img