Moscow braces for English invasion

The Champions League final, a 100% English affair, is proving troublesome for security officials in the host city of Moscow. UEFA, Russian and British authorities are preparing for any signs of trouble. (Report: R.Goguelin)


It’s an unprecedented final, requiring previously unheard of levels of organisation. A security plan has been established to avoid any problems when the expected 50 000 English fans descend on Moscow for the Champion’s League final between Manchester United and Chelsea, May 21.

Nearly 7,000 police officers have been brought in. Security services can also rely on the 65,000 security cameras present in the Russian capital.

For UEFA, European football’s governing body, organising the final match has been a test that pushed it to its limits. Any incidents would be disastrous at a time when diplomatic relations between London and Moscow are at their worst since the end of the Cold War.

To avoid any diplomatic incidents, UEFA has assured that the 21,000 tickets earmarked for fans of each club will be automatically given visas for entry into Russia. Under normal circumstances, Russia issues an average of only 60,000 visas to Britons each year.

The threat of those who come empty handed

“Moscow will not be the most pleasant place on the night of May 21st,” said Kevin Miles of the Federation of Football fans (FSF), a group that brings together British football fans.

Nearly 10,000 fans without tickets are anticipated in Moscow. These ‘ticketless fans’ are those most likely to set off the powder keg the night of the final.

If they aren’t able to get a ticket – which run between 2,000 and 7,500 euros on the black market – they’ll watch the match in local bars.

UEFA spokesperson William Gaillard, however, remains optimistic and “doesn’t see any security problems arising in Moscow.” He does say that fans without tickets should stay away.

Problems getting a hotel room will also push many to pass the night in the streets. In the city which, according to a recent study, has the most expensive hotels in the world, Olga Petrova, from the BSI travel agency, tells France 24 that “the hotels are almost all full and the prices have risen fivefold.”

The FSF reserved its hotel long ago, but its members will still have to pay twice the going rate.

Banned from English stadiums, but not from Russian ones

The final is a golden opportunity for the most dangerous English fans to go to a match. Having been banned from stadiums in their own country, they will try to get into Luzhniki stadium – formerly Lenin stadium – the night of May 21.

Eighteen plain-clothed English policemen, who are familiar with each of the 200 to 250 red-flagged fans, will patrol the stadium grounds before the match to prevent any party crashers.

Muscovite hooligans ready to spring forth

The troublemakers could also be Russian. Several incidents occurred in October 2007 during a Russia – England Euro 2008 qualifying match. But then, there were 10 times fewer English fans on hand.

“Culturally,” the Russian hooligans learned everything from their English brothers. One fan of Spartak Moscow, one of the five clubs in the capital, explained to the British daily The Independent, that “some people are waiting to test themselves against the most violent fans in football.”


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