Fans Felt Welcome, If a Bit Lost

APManchester United goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar making the winning save against Nicolas Anelka in the Champions League final at Luzhniki stadium on Wednesday night. United beat Chelsea 6-5 on penalties, after the match was tied 1-1 at the end of extra time.
Almost three hours after the opening whistle sounded, United goalkeeper Edwin Van der Sar dove to his right to push Nicolas Anelka's penalty wide, and the Manchester United squad erupted into celebration.

In the stands, the United fans went wild, their 2,000-kilometer trip across Europe to Moscow having been rewarded with a victory in the Champions League final.

Despite the expense of the flights from Britain, sky-high hotel rates and more than just the occasional difficulty in finding their way around, most of the fans at Wednesday's game had good things to say about the handling of the event.

The buildup in the few days preceding the match had been friendly, and not even the rainstorm on game-day afternoon could dampen fans' spirits.

Tens of thousands of supporters congregated in Red Square, dancing, singing and providing a huge boost to the local tourist industry.

The ban on alcohol consumption in and around the stadium had clearly not stopped many fans from enjoying themselves in other parts of the city.

"I arrived today and everything's gone great, even though the bar we were at ran out of beer," Manchester United fan Richard Patterson said after posing for photos with a group of Russians in front of an English flag.

Other fans seemed to have drunk Moscow's bars dry, too. In the walkways outside Luzhniki stadium, English supporters overcome either by emotion or alcohol stumbled and relieved themselves against the nearby fences.

The scene might have sent nearby Muscovites searching for the day's edition of Izvestia, which carried a brief English-language primer for dealing with the visitors in its sports section, including the request: "Sir, don't piss on the grass, please. Pushkin and Dostoevsky used to walk here," complete with a phonetic transliteration.

Less comprehensible, perhaps, was the suggestion that noisy fans could be brought to bay with the warning: "Calm down, sir! Russian bear goes hunting at night."

Bleary-eyed Chelsea fan Nick Anderton was enjoying his second day in Moscow. Friends had arrived via Warsaw and Kiev, and he was tucking into shashlik and vodka at a local Georgian restaurant.

"I'm really impressed by Moscow," Anderton said. "The final impression all depends on the results tonight."

As match time drew near, all of the scare stories and hype faded into the background.

Following the violent clashes between police and fans last week at the UEFA Cup final match between Zenit St. Petersburg and Glasgow Rangers in Manchester, England, there had been concerns that British fans might be reverting to their hooligan ways of past decades.

One Zenit fan was stabbed in Manchester, and there was concern that some of the more violent supporters of Russian clubs might go looking for revenge.

There were a few reports of fights between visiting fans and locals in the city center, but a friendly atmosphere seemed to prevail.

Vitaly Mutko, the new sports minister, had met with Russian fan organizations earlier this week in an attempt to ensure that there was no unrest.

The 9,000 additional police stationed around the city, not to mention another 6,000 at the stadium itself, seemed prepared to deal with the situation and were handling disputes with a light touch.

"The situation is under control," said OMON riot police officer Anton, 25, without giving his surname.

He then turned to pose for photos with a host of smiling Manchester United fans.

As game time approached, metro cars echoed with the two teams' chants, escalators shook with jumping team supporters and tens of thousands of football fans headed for Luzhniki.

"Follow, follow, follow, Man United have come to Moscow," fans sang as they streamed around the stadium.

The Manchester fans seemed to be in the noisy majority as anticipation reached fever pitch ahead of the opening whistle.

Other fans seemed to share the sense of jubilation and anticipation ahead of the match.

"It's great. I just hope we win," said another Manchester United fan before heading into the stadium, without giving his name.

As for the locals, they seemed unconcerned with the flood of English fans. "They seemed like good lads," said pensioner Ina Nemtsova as she sold sunflower seeds outside the stadium. "Of course, they're emotional. So are Russian fans at events like these."

Street vendor Irina Detsenko, 16, was equally charmed by fans nearing the stadium.

"I thought they'd be more aggressive," Detsenko said, adding, "They are good singers."

Judging from the number of Manchester United fans sporting traditional Russian fur hats as they streamed into Luzhniki, local souvenir sellers had a bonanza.

Among the scalpers offering tickets on the streets ahead of the match were some counterfeiters.

One fan from New Zealand said he had purchased a ticket on the street for 200 euros (or $315), only to discover that it was a fake when showing it to the ticket taker at the gate.

Inside the stadium, Peter from Manchester, who refused to give his last name, said getting around Moscow had been easier than he had expected. While it had been difficult getting into town from Sheremetyevo, he had no real problems in Moscow, and the police had been easy to deal with.

John, a United fan from outside London, was even more positive, saying he had a great time in Moscow and found Russians very friendly, if not always able to provide directions or help.

But Van der Sar's save would be the sweetest memory of all for the United faithful.

While Chelsea fans were given a 30-minute head start to filter out of the stadium, United supporters remained behind, singing, crying and dancing in the stands.