POMPEY fans are bracing themselves for the World Cup this summer amid a toxic backdrop of tensions between Britain and Russia that have plummeted to levels not seen since the Cold War.
The 2018 World Cup has been besieged with problems ever since it was controversially awarded to Russia at England’s expense in 2010.
Accusations of Russian bribery and a dark alliance with world governing body FIFA swirled across the globe before fears over the host country’s rife hooliganism took hold after clashes with England fans at the European Championships in France two years ago.
Reports of an escalating bitter rivalry between the nations circulated following that tournament. Furthermore, Russian hooligans are said to have been mobilised and trained to military standards as they sought to bring down the prized asset of the English at their own tournament.
As if all this was not enough, diplomatic strife between the two countries has reached new depths after the recent poisoning of a former Russian spy in Salisbury – resulting in the unprecedented expulsion of Russia diplomats from the UK and subsequently embassies across the world.
‘I am slightly petrified to be honest’
The increasing menacing rhetoric is further damaging relations and according to one Pompey fan is perhaps the biggest catalyst for potential trouble between Russian and English fans during the World Cup.
‘The poison scandal and all the fallout is the biggest thing that is most likely to get us into trouble out there,’ London-based James Robbins, who is going to his first World Cup, said.
‘You hear (Foreign Secretary) Boris Johnson comparing this World Cup to the Olympics in 1936 held in Nazi Germany – with Vladimir Putin using the tournament for his own ends like Adolf Hitler did.
‘Those sort of comments are just going to wind-up the Russians against us, especially as they lost 20 million people during the Second World War. I am slightly petrified to be honest with all that’s been going on but Putin and the hooligans know the eyes of the world will be on them. We plan to be sensible, not drink too much and stay away from large groups of England fans as there’s no doubt that some of them do wind it up and behave like idiots.
‘During the Euros in France the Russians said “let’s have the English” because they thought we were behaving like idiots. There’s stories the Russians and Argentinians are uniting to take on the English as they will be in Nizhny around the same time as us when we play Panama.
‘You can’t let it ruin your life and stop you doing things. We will just get on with it and show respect to their country. The first thing we’ll do when we go to a pub, though, is find out where the fire exit is so we can run out if it kicks off.’
‘We will be on our guard’
Those sentiments were echoed by Pompey season-ticket holder Liam O’Keefe, of London, who is attending the second group match against Panama after winning tickets. He said: ‘We are not making any special preparations but will be on our guard and will act sensibly. We will take in the culture and avoid hanging around in the busy pubs with England fans as these are most likely to be targeted.
‘We were in Nice when there were running street battles in Marseille a couple of years ago. We will keep a low profile and keep our wits about us. But there’s no doubt the ill feeling between the two countries has been ramped up recently with all that’s gone on which doesn’t help.’
‘It won’t change much for the normal fan’
Mark Docherty, 18, of Chichester, attending the World Cup after completing his A-Levels, thinks recent tensions between the countries will only incite violence between fans who want to find trouble. ‘I don’t think it will change much for the normal fan. Those looking to get into fights will probably use it as an extra motivation to attack one another,’ he said.
‘I find it hard to believe the Russians weren’t provoked in some way before when it kicked off with English fans. I think if you don’t go looking for trouble you will be ok. I will be staying away from large groups of England fans taunting others.’
‘They will want to bring the English down’
Pompey fan Matthew Barnes, 28, of Waterlooville, told The News he is so concerned about trouble that he has decided to sell his ticket for England’s first game against Tunisia in Volgograd and will now only be going to the second match versus Panama.
‘There’s going to be a lot of trouble out there with the worst of it going to be in Volgograd from what we’ve heard, so I’ve decided not to go to that game. We will only be going to the second game now so we’ll only be in the country for the shortest period of time from the Saturday to the Monday,’ he said. ‘The English fans are definitely going to be targets for the Russians. They will want to bring the English down because they see us as being cocky.’
Matthew said the incident involving Pompey fan Andrew Bache at Euro 2016 in France – who suffered a cardiac arrest and was put in a coma after he was attacked by Russian hooligans before the match between the two countries – serves as a reminder of what could be in store for England fans.
‘You can understand it more if it was just a normal scrap between Russian and English yobs but the fact they have been training to military standards for a year is a real worry – just look at what happened to the Pompey fan in France,’ he said. ‘The political unrest between the two countries is also a concern as it makes you wonder if the police will help English fans if they are getting attacked. I plan on staying away from large groups of England fans and not drinking too much.’
‘I’m really looking forward to it’
On the opposite end of the spectrum is Macer Corcoran who has attended several tournaments before and believes there has been a lot of ‘scaremongering’. He told The News there were also a lot of stories in the build up to the Brazil and Ukraine tournaments but he saw no trouble at all.
‘I’m really looking forward to it – it’s going to be a great experience,’ he said. ‘There’s been a lot of scaremongering about what’s going to happen out there but I think most of it is just media hype. You can get attacked walking around Portsmouth.
‘We had the same in Brazil and Ukraine but I saw no trouble at all and was just walking around carefree.
‘Putin won’t really want a World Cup with problems will he? He will want everyone to see how great Russia is and that it’s all lies about how bad the country is. The police presence is bound to be huge but if there are English wallies out there I’m sure the Russian police will be quite happy to stick the boot in to them. I can’t see it being as bad as it has been made out though. I’m looking forward to going to the fan zones and having a good time as well as doing some tourist bits and pieces like going to the Kremlin.’
‘You would be a fool not to be alert’
Chris Watson, 30, of Eastleigh, is a seasoned tournament attendee of England games who thinks the hype around Russian hooliganism will not live up to the reality, especially with the host nation not having a history of problems within their own country.
‘It is only when the Russians are abroad that they seem to have any problems – like in Marseille two years ago,’ he said.
‘I’ve been to several tournaments before and it’s always the same scare stories about there being problems here and there. It was the same for the South Africa, Ukraine and Brazil tournaments but there was little trouble out there. If there is trouble you can see it coming and just duck out before it gets hairy.
‘I don’t think the general Russian public will be that bothered about having a go at the English after the recent problems between the two countries.
‘You would be a fool not to be alert especially for the second game in Volgograd which is more remote and will not have the heavy police presence of Moscow.’