Russian authorities warned Manchester United and Liverpool fans to behave themselves ahead of their Uefa Champions League games in Moscow the week.
Liverpool will visit Spartak Moscow on Tuesday before United take on CSKA Moscow on Wednesday.
“I warn those who plan to commit hooliganism, the law is the same for all, not just Russians,” said Vladimir Markin, head of the Russian Football Union’s security committee. “Those who break it will face suitable punishment, possibly in the form of a long stay in Russia, in conditions our guests won't like.”
Nine hundred United fans will be in Moscow, with 800 Liverpool. The trips were expensive, not helped by visa requirements and booked at short notice.
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Russian-based fans of both clubs boosting the numbers, with half of United’s tickets sold to non-UK addresses. There was no need for the warning, though. Both clubs have visited Russia several times without trouble.
Over 30,000 United fans were also in Moscow for the 2008 Uefa Champions League final and the only notable trouble came when a group of 20 Russian hooligans approached a bar looking for English hooligans.
Instead, they found United and Chelsea fans mixing and having a good time. The event was a big success, with fans enjoying Moscow and the Russian hospitality which extended to hosting games between supporters.
The type of United or Liverpool fans who would make the effort to travel to Moscow are savvy travellers who would know far better than to antagonise locals.
The reputation of English fans as hooligans is also inaccurate when applied to United or Liverpool fans. Both clubs used to have substantial hooligan elements, but not now.
The travelling fans are more concerned about obtaining visas and flights and having an enjoyable time with friends and fellow supporters when they get there.
They want fun, not fights. A group of Liverpool fans found it when they bumped into Jose Mourinho in the United team hotel and asked him for a photo.
The United manager obliged, unaware that one of the Liverpool fans has stuck a small sticker on his jacket for the Spirit of Shankly supporters’ union.
It quickly went viral and Liverpool fans loved it – as they should. It will hardly concern Mourinho; he respects all the great English clubs and likes to have time for fans who approach him.
United made the passage for their fans easier by agreeing to pay for their visas. Liverpool followed suit a day later. As was the case when United visited CSKA two years ago, Aeroflot, a United sponsor, will lay on free coaches from Red Square to the stadium.
Ahead of next year’s World Cup, Russia is keen to show the world its new and much improved stadia which are now among the best in the world.
When United fans visited Rostov in March, they were handed blankets to protect them from the cold, while visiting journalists were shown the sites of the city by a Russian model.
United did win the Europa League last season, but, like Liverpool are not expected to win this season’s Champions League. Mourinho’s side, which has recently lost midfielders Paul Pogba and Marouane Fellaini to injury, is still coming together and they have enjoyed an excellent start, albeit against teams any Premier League title chaser should be beating. Yet the gulf in class between United and Real Madrid was clear in August’s European Super Cup.
Both United and Liverpool will be expected to advance from their group stage, with United starting their campaign with a 3-0 win over Basel. CSKA, their Russian opponents, enjoyed a surprise win in Lisbon against Benfica. A draw would not be a bad result for either side – and it’s the most probable result, especially as four of United’s five games in Russia have ended in a stalemate.
United have never lost in Russia and the 2008 Champions League final also ended in a draw before being decided by penalties. Not that fans of United or Chelsea will ever forget that.