Football Fans Staging English Invasion

MTLocal football fans showing off their skills on an artificial pitch set up on Red Square next to Lenin's tomb for the UEFA Champions Festival on Monday.
The ball flew off the pitch, bounced across Red Square, passed the giant inflatable football, and just missed Lenin's mausoleum — and the stony-faced guard didn't even bat an eyelid.

As the first of as many as 45,000 British fans started arriving in Moscow on Monday for Wednesday's Champions League final, it seemed that the city was finally getting caught up in football fever.

Ahead of the clash between Manchester United and Chelsea at the Luzhniki stadium, football chants rang out across the city center and Red Square turned green as an artificial pitch was rolled out and a football festival kicked off.

Meanwhile, local businesses began rubbing their hands — and crossing their fingers — at the prospect of the English invasion.

"Viva Ronaldo," sang eight middle-aged Manchester United fans as they received a rock star welcome — signing autographs and posing for photos with smiling locals.

"Its my first time in Moscow and so far, so good," said fan Dougie Wadham, who arrived Sunday night from Grimsby and is staying at the Marriott Courtyard.


Igor Tabakov / MT
A visitor to the UEFA Champions Festival on Red Square posing beside a case with the winner's trophy on Monday.
"Everyone's been kind to us, and last night we were even singing with the Russian hockey fans," Wadham said. "Moscow is expensive though. Not breaking the bank, but expensive."

As thousands of Russian fans lined up to see the Champion's League cup and showed off their skills at UEFA's Champions Festival, which runs through Wednesday with entry free of charge, Muscovites welcomed the showcase event's first appearance in their country.

"Thank God. It's about time that Europe took notice of us," said Pavel Petrov, 35, wrapped in a bewildering combination of Manchester United, Spartak Moscow and Russian national team scarves.

"It will be fun having the English fans here," Petrov said. "We're not planning to kill each other — fans all over the world are just the same."

"Welcome!" he added in accented English.

Not all the Muscovites were interested purely in the football, however.

"I'm cheering for Crisitiano Ronaldo, because I think he's very good-looking," said Olga Maksimkina, 18, who had cut classes to head for Red Square.

Meanwhile, at the sun-soaked stadium across town, it felt like the calm before the storm.

On the field, local children dressed all in red with giant plastic stars on their heads, rehearsed the traditionally unfathomable opening ceremony. Outside workers hurried to put up VIP tents and painted turnstiles.

Handy Information
  • A total of 300 English-speaking volunteers are being drafted in to help visitors, with at least one stationed in every seating section at Luzhniki stadium
  • City authorities have promised that English-speaking operators will be on hand to answer emergency calls on match day.
  • Emergency Numbers: Fire 01; Police 02; Ambulance 03; Metro Lost and Found +7 (495) 222-2085
  • Information will be available in English in metro stations
  • Further English-language city guides prepared by city authorities for fans can be found on and printed from both the Chelsea and Manchester United club web sites: www.manutd.com and www.chelseafc.com
Special fan zones, including refreshment booths and rest points, are being put up around the stadium to keep the two sets of supporters contained and, hopefully, entertained ahead of the match. There will be a ban on the sale and consumption of alcohol near the arena.

The ban is just one measure officials have taken to try to prevent any repeat of the violence that struck after the UEFA Cup final last week in Manchester, England. One St. Petersburg Zenit fan was stabbed, and a police officer had his arm broken in clashes with Glasgow Rangers fans.

Vitaly Mutko, the new sports minister, has held talks with Moscow fan organizations in an attempt to head off any attempts to retaliate against visiting British fans and ensure that violent fans don't go rampaging through Moscow's streets.

"I would not like to see this in Moscow in this way," Mutko said, The Associated Press reported. "I want it to be a celebration."

Around 6,000 police officers will be posted at the stadium and an additional 1,000 officers will be stationed around Red Square. On Monday, 18 British anti-hooliganism officers arrived to assist their Russian counterparts, Interfax reported.

Although the city government is keen to whisk fans back to the airport straight after the game, the capital's tourism industry is hoping that those who hang around will bring in as much as $50 million in business.

Hotels and flights have been sold out for months in advance, and fans have resorted to booking cabins in river cruise ships. Some said they were even considering renting cars so they would have a place to stay.

While some wily expats have rented out their apartments for hundreds of euros a night, more accommodating locals have sacrificed their floor space for visiting friends and fans.

"At the moment, I think I've got 15 of them staying with me," said Nick Rees, a long-time Moscow resident. Friends are flying in from as far afield as Wales, Nigeria and China, Rees said.


Misha Japaridze / AP
Manchester United fans cheering for their team on Red Square on Monday.
With hotel prices sky-high, flights unavailable and ticket scalpers ratcheting up rates, however, it seems like demand for the tickets isn't as outrageous as people previously thought. On expat web sites in Moscow, prices have slumped to $500 from more than $4,500.

Nevertheless, people are still bracing themselves for the rush.

"It will be a busy few days for me," said Tsar Nicholas II impersonator and Manchester United supporter, Viktor Chepkasov, after posing with some uncomprehending English fans just off Red Square.

"The Europeans like getting their photo taken with the tsar, but the Chinese prefer Lenin," Chepkasov said.

As with other expat favorites, such as Rosie O'Grady's, Tinkoff and Papa John's, Silvers Pub, just off Tverskaya, is also expecting a flood of fans. The establishment was mentioned in British newspapers as one of the city's four best Irish bars.

"We've got everyone working because when you get these fans in, then you've got to serve the beer quickly," Silvers Pub owner Steve Conway said Monday.

Conway has also decided to beef up security after some bad experiences in the past with local fans.

"We probably won't be letting people in wearing colors and will have very strict face control," he said. "But given the amount of police, there shouldn't be any problems."

Just round the corner from Silvers is the $1,000-per-night Ritz Carlton, where the Chelsea team, owned by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, will be staying. Manchester United will be at the four-star Crowne Plaza in the World Trade Center. Both teams were scheduled to arrive Monday evening.

For the fans arriving on Wednesday — Chelsea supporters at Sheremetyevo and Vnukovo and Manchester United fans at Domodedovo — the city government is laying on a fleet of 700 specially painted shuttle buses. A special lane and police escort have been set aside to make sure the fans make it to the stadium on time.

Win or lose, with thousands of wives and girlfriends left back home, many fans will be looking to test out Moscow's reputation as a city of sin, and some of the capital's less salubrious spots are keen to cash in.

Strip club Deja Vu will waive its usual 1,000 ruble entry fee and let fans in for free to watch the match, which starts at 10:45pm.

The club is giving over half of its floor space to seating under big screens showing the football and leaving the other half for its normal entertainment, said Zakhar, a manager at Deja Vu who refused to give his surname.

"It probably will be a busy period for us, but we haven't made any special plans for the British fans," a spokesman for the Violette strip club in central Moscow said. "If there are any problems, I am sure our security will deal with them."