Get ready for the invasion - Emirates24|7

Get ready for the invasion

It is rather fitting that football's most lucrative competition concludes in a city that boasts more billionaire businessmen than any other in the world. Equally germane is that next Wednesday's Uefa Champions League final will be contested by two clubs whose owners would not seem out of place among the Russian capital's silk-stocking society.

The only anomaly, however, is that super-chic Moscow is about to be invaded by more than 42,000 beverage-swigging Brits. And that only accounts for the official number of tickets sold to English fans desperate to see Manchester United and Chelsea contest club football's principle prize.

The English invasion is fast approaching, yet Gennady Fyodorov, a leading sports journalist in the city, is surprisingly serene when questioned about Moscow's ability to cope with such an influx of 'undesirables'. "I do not think Moscow people worry about that too much," he says with a lot less apprehension than can be expected inside the Luzhniki Stadium come kick-off. "I think they see their city as a huge metropolis.

Statistics say there are 11 million to 12 million people living here, but it is probably twice that number because of the many unregistered people coming from former soviet republics to look for work. "When you go down to the Metro there are masses of people and it is getting bigger everyday, so a few thousand English fans will not make a difference."

The significance of showcasing European football's premier event is not lost on Fyodorov. In 2005, Moscow missed out on hosting the 2012 Olympics, the first city to be voted out of the bidding. Broadcasting the Champions League final to the world, however, has helped heal the wounds of three years ago. "It is a big achievement for Russia, and Moscow in particular, to stage an event of this magnitude," says Fyodorov.

"Moscow tried to bid for the 2012 Olympics, making the final round, but lost heavily not only to London but to Paris, New York and Madrid. "So the final will, if successfully organised without problems, show that they can host major soccer events such as the European Championships and the World Cup. It is not the first major soccer event – Moscow hosted the Uefa Cup final in 1999 – but this is much bigger and you have also got top teams in Chelsea and Manchester United playing.

"So there is more prestige attached. To the eyes of the outside world, and in terms of staging major sporting events, Russia is maybe still not up to the standards that you would expect from the West. But Moscow has been preparing for this big event for months and they are ready. I am sure Moscow will make those who come glad that they did."

Those preparations have included dispatching extra embassy workers to expedite visas in Manchester and London; the opening of its compact Bykovo airport; an extension to the running hours of the world's busiest Metro; and the building of a temporary footbridge over the busy road that runs along the Luzhniki Stadium.

Valery Vinogradov, the deputy mayor of Moscow, is convinced the city is ready for the flood of so many English football fans. "The city of Moscow has taken every measure possible to ensure comfortable conditions for the thousands of international fans," he says. "For us this is an absolute priority. We have set up so that the buses will visit all of Moscow's tourists attractions and have organised a special 'Festival of Football' on Red Square.

At the stadium, fans from different clubs will be sat on opposite bleachers, without any possibility to meet. Moscow, a city with the colossal history and experience of hosting the largest international events, is completely ready."

One area of concern in the build-up to the game has been the availability of hotel rooms. While Moscow officially has 34,000 hotel rooms to cater to 75,000 guests, those include places beyond the average fan's means. Fyodorov remains unruffled by the suggestion that the city cannot handle such a sudden swell of guests. "It depends how you look at it. There are plenty of five-star hotels and the prices have gone through the roof. But I do not think people will be left sleeping on the streets. They will find a place to stay and there will also be a lot of fans coming on the shuttle planes, arriving early in the morning and leaving soon after the game, so they will not need hotels."

Born and raised in Moscow, Fyodorov spent his university years in the United States. He moved back to his homeland in the mid-1990s and has watched the city embrace Western values since the dissolution of the old Soviet Union at the start of the decade. "The city has changed tremendously, almost everyday you see new buildings being erected, new roads and bridges being built," he says.

"It is a nice place – I would not say it is the best city in the world because it is probably overcrowded – but as far as the beauty of the architecture, nice new buildings have replaced the old soviet structure and the city looks much better than it did a few years ago."

Home to world-renowned architecture and the hub of Russia's performing arts, it is perhaps unrealistic to expect fans of the Premier League's top two teams to swap Baltika for ballet when they descend on Europe's largest city in droves next week. But the Reuters reporter fully understands that Saint Basil's Cathedral or the Seven Sisters – Stalin's creation that defines the Moscow skyline – will be neglected in favour of the vibrant revelry on Tverskaya Street.

"When most of the foreign fans come to Moscow they see all the usual attractions. If the weather is nice they will probably just hang out in Red Square, drinking in the cafés there, or go on tours or take boat rides on the Moscow River. Everybody will find plenty to do on the day of the game."

Oksana Shavorskaya, at the Russian National Tourist Office in London, is not so sure the city is prepared to welcome thousands of English fans. She admits that they have been inundated with enquiries about Moscow, but is disappointed that many fans will not use the trip to visit the city's many attractions. "We have had a lot of questions about visas and brochures, and also about currency and what to see in Moscow. But, from what I can gather, the majority of people are going just for the match. Unfortunately, they are not planning to see the city when it is a really great chance to visit Russia and see the country. I do not know the total view from the Russian side, but from reading in the newspapers about what the Russians expect from the British, the only thing I feel is that Russia is worried about the final."

Fyodorov, though, is unconcerned that the fusion of football fans and alcohol often sparks trouble, and is quick to quell any rumours that the Russians fear the 'English Disease' rearing its ugly head in the capital next week. "I do not think that scares a lot of people because there will be a lot of police watching them," he says. "Nobody thinks if, say United lose, there will be thousands of United fans going on the rampage in the centre of the city, smashing windows and so on. "And the heavy police presence will just be to protect the English fans from anything, just as it was last October when England played Russia [in a European Championship qualifier] in the same stadium.

They will be there to make sure there are no altercations between the sets of fans, but Chelsea and United supporters will be segregated so I do not think anything will happen." A clash of rival supporters will not be the only thing to preoccupy the minds of the notoriously heavy handed Russian riot police. Soccer-related hooliganism is on the rise in the country, highlighted by last month's controversial scenes in the Caucasus. As Spartak Moscow fans travelled north for their match against Spartak Nalchik, they drank excessively and confronted locals.

Three people, one with a gun wound and two stabbed, were in critical condition but survived. "Violence happens in Moscow, I would not deny that," adds Fyodorov. "Sometimes you hear racial abuse at the stadium but I am pretty sure you will not hear it on Wednesday, just as I do not think the English fans will be attacked by Russian hooligans.

The final is important for Russia and they will want to make sure everything goes without problem." Such worries should not matter too much to Roman Abramovich or Malcolm Glazer as they watch their sides, complete with mega-rich superstars, from the comfort of the stadium's hospitality boxes on Wednesday night.

The rest of the 72 million television viewers, who made last year's final the third-most watched sporting event of the year, will have to be content with seeing events unfold in the billionaires' playground from afar. If only the glitz and the glamour in Moscow was restricted to the pitch.

 

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