England fans arriving in Moscow on Monday ahead of the World Cup knockout match between England and Colombia said the tournament had so far proved those raising concerns over hooliganism wrong and that Russian people were “fantastic”.
Worries about violence and other security problems, compounded by a diplomatic crisis between the Kremlin and Westminster, had meant many England fans chose to stay home at the start of the tournament, with just 2,500 visiting Volgograd for England’s first game, against Tunisia.
But fans arriving at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport for Tuesday’s match said none of the fears had been realised.
“There was a fair amount of press back home saying that hooliganism could be a problem, and security,” said Richard Westwood, managing director of a beer company.
“But I’ve had two children who have already been. They came (to Russia) two weeks ago and when they came back home they said there was no trouble at all and they thought the Russian people were fantastic,” Westwood said.
Waiting at the airport’s arrivals gate to welcome two friends from London, Darren Height, a British owner of a finance company in Moscow, said he had been calling people back home to reassure them.
“You speak to people on the phone and they’re saying, is it safe over there?” Height said.
“I’ve been speaking to them, telling them about the atmosphere, the environment. They want to come over and be a part of it now,” he said, adding that his mother was also coming for a semi-final match.
Relations between the two countries have hit a low after the attempted assassination of a former Russian spy in Britain in March.
Memories of clashes between Russian and England supporters at the 2016 European Championship in France had also led many to expect the same from this year’s World Cup.
But there have been few incidents of violence so far and fans said they were keen to support their side.
“If we can make sure we defend well, I think we’ve got a chance. We’re definitely in the semi-finals,” said Jamie McDiarmid, operations manager for a pub company, who had arrived in Moscow after being offered a ticket just two weeks ago.
He had also shrugged off the negative press.
“You’ve to give everywhere a chance. Plus I’m from Manchester,” McDiarmid joked. “It can’t be as bad as that.”