For the large number of England fans who are gladly staying back on home soil to watch all of the sporting action amidst a wealth of their fellow countrymen in the pub, there is some disappointment of not seeing England live but at least some relaxation taken from the fact that they won’t be travelling to a country as reportedly hectic as Russia. As for those who are braving the supposed conditions to see England’s next attempt at glory for themselves, we’ve put together an extensive survival guide with all the information needed before taking the first step into that estimated 1,578-mile journey.
While a split in fans will see those venturing to Russia as being either heroic or somewhat unhinged, offering this starter pack to them is our own nod to those with the nerve to delve to the other side of Europe in hope of uncertain success. In this guide, we’ll be looking at all the facts and figures which surround this upcoming edition of the World Cup, as well as our own thoughts on the tournament, England’s opening games, and some useful tips which should make the endeavour substantially easier to navigate.
Off the Plane
With a whopping population of 144.3 million people, Russia is utterly overwhelming in its stature, with an overall surface of 17.2km2, which is enough land to cover all of Pluto. Russia is so gigantic that even travelling around it takes some doing, with easternmost host city Ekaterinburg sitting a massive 1,500 miles from westernmost host city Kaliningrad, amounting to the same distance between Moscow and London. The country itself sits in between fourteen neighbouring countries and is a favourable destination to Brits, facilitating 10,000 each year and 90% of those travellers either visiting Moscow or St Petersburg.
Flying from Heathrow to Moscow takes around three hours and forty-five minutes, and any citizen of the UK must hold a passport, visa, tourist voucher and OVIR registration stamp at all times. The only exception to having a visa comes during this World Cup competition, where it isn’t directly needed as long as you have your match ticket and proof of purchase.
The country is clearly welcoming travelling fans from across the globe, as Russian authorities have made free trains available for football fans to travel to various parts of the country. For those who are braving the journey without a ticket to any of the games, there’s an opportunity to see the games in the many fanzones that are dotted throughout Europe during the competition.
Nineteen European countries operate in euros, but Russia’s own currency is the rouble, so that’s something to remember before getting your pounds exchanged. 3.2 billion people watched the last World Cup where there was an average attendance of 53,000. This is expected to be even bigger than the previous edition through there already being a population of over 142 million people in the country before the tournament even gets underway.
There are some dangers for travelling fans such as the reported issue with fraudsters, who could be planning to buy decommissioned ATMs, install them in the city centre with the help of scamming equipment, and take the money of people attempting to withdraw. This sounds like a joke but it’s actually something that’s been announced by the Bank of Russia, who want to warn anyone who’s visiting the country.
This is a sign of the dark side to the tournament, which won’t be a surprise to those with a knowledge of Russia’s history, as even Postnik Yakovlev who built St Basil’s Cathedral came to a grizzly end, as he was said to have been blinded by Ivan The Terrible so he could never build anything as phenomenal. The price that was paid for making Russia a more pleasant place for football fans was quite unpleasant too, with Russian authorities being given over 110 million roubles to kill homeless cats and dogs in the 11 host cities where the World Cup games are being held.
England’s Football Match Guide
Game 1: Tunisia v England at Volgograd – 18/06/18
After becoming acclimatised to their new surroundings, England’s first opponent comes in the form of Tunisia, who they face at Volgograd Arena. The city of Volgograd isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Russia, it’s unlikely to come to mind at all, but there’s some interesting sights to be seen. The Motherland Calls is one of the world’s largest statues and it looks over the whole city in a remembrance of Russian war fatalities.
Known as being relatively easy to navigate, Volgograd has trams to take football fans from the city centre to the stadium, as well as a fanzone on the banks of the River Volga. The River Volga is the longest river in Europe and sits next to one of the main waterways in Russia. The only thing to watch out for in that area is the mass of bugs and midges that gather around the river, so make sure to bring insect repellent with you.
Volgograd Arena doesn’t rank inside the top five largest stadiums in Russia but will be home to four games during the World Cup and has a capacity of over forty-five-and-a-half thousand seats. This will be a game that England are expected to win, as Tunisia have very little firepower in their squad, with former Sunderland winger Wahbi Zhazri and Leicester City defender Yohan Benalouane being the only half-notable players in the starting lineup. They’ve gone unbeaten in their last seven games, winning five, but that won’t be taken lightly as a reason for England slipping up.
Game 2: England v Panama at Nizhny Novgorod – 24/06/18
Working as the heralded ‘easiest game England will have to play’, there’s even less room for error here than against Tunisia in the Three Lions’ opening game, as they take on fifty-fifth best international side Panama. The newly built riverside stadium in Nizhny Novgorod is where the second game of Group G will be played out, and it’s situated close to a central pedestrian boulevard populated by lots of bars, restaurants and shops.
For those who are travelling to Russia but didn’t manage to get a ticket, Nizhny is widely known in this tournament for holding the largest fan zone in the country, facilitating around 15,000 football fans. There’s a lot of history surrounding this city like the Old Kremlin and plenty of WW2 monuments for the history aficionado. We don’t want to come across as being disrespectful to Panama’s thin squad but unless you’re an avid fan of the Liga Panamena de Futbol, it’s unlikely you’ll have heard of any member of their starting eleven, so Gareth Southgate will surely be gearing his side up for a hefty deficit over this inexperienced international outfit.
Game 3: England v Belgium at Kaliningrad – 28/06/18
Last but most definitely not least, England will face their fiercest test against a Belgium side who possess a completely balanced starting eleven with no significant weaknesses. This will take place at the Arena Baltika in Kaliningrad, which was a stadium originally built with hopes of emulating Bayern Munich’s Allianz Arena after they were impressed with the stadium during the 2006 World Cup. Unlike some of the larger stadiums, Kaliningrad won’t host any games past the group stage, but will host a handful of games from Group D, E, B and G before becoming the permanent home of second division side FC Baltika Kaliningrad.
Taking on Belgium will be the largest challenge for England but how they fare in the opening two games of the group will dictate how they come into this tie, as two wins from two would make this far less stressful than it would have been if England somehow lost the first two games. Belgium are bursting with quality and are an outside favourite to a lot of people even with the 12/1 odds that they were handed with prior to the tournament getting underway. Each area of their starting eleven is filled with a top-class footballer from across the best leagues in Europe, and some would even see them as being distinctly more threatening than a fully fit England squad, so how this game goes will be insightful to England’s hopes of success in future stages.