The wait is over. Today at 16:00 the first ball will be kicked in the opening game featuring hosts Russia and Saudi Arabia in what promises to be a wondrous tournament of football.
The free-flowing Spanish style, the efficiency of the Germans and the flair and excitement of a talented young Brazilian team will all be on display and they promise to do full justice to the beautiful game.
But it’s hard to ignore the side of the game that has the potential to be hideous. Russia has already faced a barrage of scrutiny as the host nation. Russia ‘ultra’ fans were at the heart of a chaotic and ultimately fatal Euro 2016 tournament in which up to 50 fans were injured as a result of football violence, of which two brits lost their lives.
Naturally, there is a tyrant of fear that has plagued football fans and left some following the tournament from the comfort of a local pub or their living room.
However, diehard England fans will travel to the city of Volgograd for the Three Lions opening fixture against Tunisia and of course, this is a good thing. There is no doubt about the benefits that a strong English following will have on the performance on Gareth Southgate’s fresh-faced side. But that support and advantage can quickly become a distraction and a hindrance…
England fans, fairly or not, have been cast with a reputation of ignorance and violence when following their national team around the world. Of course the actions of what can be said to be a minority, have taken away from the success of the football and highlighted the shortcomings.
The “Barmy Army’s” reputation leaves some fans feeling proud, with an urge to defend that ‘fearless’ and ‘brave’ persona. Yet it leaves other England fans feeling embarrassed and ashamed to be associated with an ‘aggressive’ and ‘troublesome’ fan-base.
There is absolutely no doubt that England should be proud of the number of fans that they take all over the world, regardless of the tournament, the destination and the significance – English fans continuously display a passion and desire that has so often been missing on the pitch.
Yet safety has to be the most important thing. One source, that attended the Russia v England match at Euro 2016, told us “Russian fans aren’t fans, they’re fighters, they carry weapons and they are more interested in the oppositions fans than the action of the field.”
When asked if they would be travelling to Russia for the World Cup, they said “No, the violence is what’s keeping me away – footballs supposed to be enjoyable and there’s no way I could enjoy that.”
So to those travelling, enjoy the football, cheer England on at all cost and do your country proud in the stands – but please be vigilant.
Early reports from Russia suggest that local authorities have taken all the necessary steps to keep a lid on fan violence and keep all travelling fans safe – but after what we saw at the European Championships in France, there is still the potential for absolute devastation.
In a world that is riddled with hate and tension, football fans aligned could use what has been branded a tournament for disaster, as a stage to display love, unity and a global respect.
This is the same game that is played by those in the poorest countries in the world as a means of escape, it is a sport that brought a brief moment of compassion and peace to a brutal and violent second World War and it is a sport that gives boys and girls across the world a dream to chase – lets defy the odds and make the 2018 Russia World Cup an event for the ages!