David Lee in Russia: Euphoric England fans in a state of disbelief


England fans celebrate after the match between Colombia and England in Spartak Stadium, Moscow, Russia, on July 3, 2018.
England fans celebrate after the match between Colombia and England in Spartak Stadium, Moscow, Russia, on July 3, 2018.PHOTO: REUTERS

MOSCOW - England fans who have been "brave" enough to travel to Russia have been subjected to one shock after another.

First, they have had no encounters with local hooligans.

And now, their team have won their first penalty shoot-out in a major tournament in 22 years!

Ian Mason from Southport exclaimed as he was exiting the stadium following the Three Lions' win over Colombia in the last 16 on Tuesday: "What has the world come to?"

The 45-year-old graphic designer, who will be taking an 18-hour train ride to Samara to try his luck at getting a ticket for Saturday's quarter-final against Sweden, then added with a laugh: "Imagine how my mates back home are feeling, not being able to be part if this wonderful party? Especially if England's going all the way!"

He added: "Russia and Russians have been great. We have had such a good time here in Moscow drinking and partying with local strangers, who I think are more welcoming of us than we are of them.

"Now I feel stupid for being worried by all the scaremongering."

 
 
 

So far in this World Cup, the England faithful have been visible but outnumbered at every match they have been to, no thanks to the British media's demonisation of Russia. Headlines such as The Sun's "Russian football hooligans warn England fans 'prepare to DIE' ahead of the World Cup 2018" have succeeded in keeping many of them at home.

There were just 5,000 English fans - compared to about 40,000 Colombians - at the Spartak Stadium in Moscow on Tuesday when England beat Colombia 4-3 on penalties following a 1-1 draw after 120 minutes.

But they made themselves - and their support for their beloved Three Lions - heard.

"England's going all the way," sung to the tune of Earth, Wind And Fire's September, was a crowd favourite, and who can be immune to the "Football's coming home" earworm?

After the match, they and their joyous chorus took to the streets of Moscow to celebrate their team's first win in the knockout stages of the World Cup since 2006.

England coach Gareth Southgate is a man haunted by his own penalty shoot-out failure. He had missed the decisive kick at Wembley to send hosts England tumbling out of the semi-finals of Euro '96 at the hands of Germany.

But on this night, the fans serenaded their coach to the tune of Atomic Kitten's Whole Again along Nikolskaya Street, singing: "Southgate you're the one, you still turn me on, football's coming home again."

In their delirium, even hosts Russia were not forgotten, with the fans erupting into a chorus of "Rossiya! Rossiya!" every now and then at this de facto World Cup fan centre, much to the amusement of the locals.

While Southgate hailed his men for their belief after the game, it seems their fans are not quite prepared to abandon their lack of faith.

Andrew Richardson, who stumbled into the Lubyanka metro station looking the worse for wear, muttered: "Don't say it, don't say it. We want to keep dis-believing and self-deprecating because so far it's been working!"