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Moscow braces for English fan invasion (SN)

SoccerNews in English Premier League 19 May 2008


More than 40,000 English football fans started arriving in Moscow on Monday to a major security operation welcome ahead of the Champions League final between Manchester United and Chelsea.

Police swept the city for pickpockets ahead of Wednesday's match while some 7,000 police were to patrol key locations, helped by plain clothes British police monitoring fans, Moscow police chief Vyacheslav Kozlov said.

As part of efforts to prevent trouble, special flights from England brought Manchester and Chelsea fans to separate airports. Police also monitored airports in Britain to stop known troublemakers getting on Russia-bound flights.

Despite political tensions between Britain and Russia, city authorities were trying to create a positive atmosphere for the game and promote Russia's growing international role.

Kozlov insisted that police — associated of late with heavy-handed suppression of anti-government protests — were on heightened alert but were taking “a most benevolent view of those coming to the match.

Residents were alerted to the imminent onslaught with tastefully designed posters featuring the city's ancient steeples and domes. Many said they were looking forward to the arrival of fans despite their reputation as “hooligans.”

“It's great that the fans are coming,” said 16-year-old Katya Radkevich, as she watched a football game played on a miniature artificial pitch set up for fans opposite the tomb of Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin on Red Square.

Sergei Korolyov, a Muscovite out walking with his family nearby, said: “English fans are known for being too aggressive and drinking too much. But still we're glad because it's a very rare thing to have this event.”

The “football city” set up on the hallowed cobbles of Red Square, where nuclear missiles were paraded earlier this month, will have football coaching for children and will display the Champions League cup.

Richard Milham, a marketing official for Chelsea Football Club organising a prize draw for Russian teenagers on Red Square said: “The interest has been amazing. The response we've had, it's unbelievable.”

The popular Komsomolskaya Pravda daily reported that “where queues used to form for the neighbouring mausoleum, people are now queueing to see the cup” — a reference to Lenin's tomb, an iconic Soviet monument.

Ahead of the match the Russian government has taken unprecedented steps to ease its normally labyrinthine visa regime for the fans, with the event seen as a warm-up for hosting the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

Last week President Dmitry Medvedev signed a decree allowing fans into the country with just their passports and a ticket for the match.

Fans will be housed on the grounds of the Luzhniki stadium. The first planeload of Manchester United fans arrived in Moscow on Monday.

Britain's embassy meanwhile was trying to minimise problems, cautioning fans via its website that drinking and smoking on Red Square were illegal and could lead to arrest.

The match comes against a background of tension, both political and sport-related.

Last week a Russian tabloid, Tvoi Den, featured graphic photographs of a Russian football fan stabbed in Manchester as violence erupted at the UEFA Cup final between Russia's Zenit and Glasgow Rangers.

The two countries remain sharply at odds over the 2006 poisoning death of Russian opposition figure and ex-agent Alexander Litvinenko.

On Sunday Russia's FSB secret service demanded an apology from Britain for allegations of involvement in Litvinenko's murder.


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