With Moscow as the central hub of the World Cup, the city has been something of a carnival. Peruvians march up and down the streets donned in red and white, Brazilians beam in yellow, distinguishable from the Aussies by their chants. Face painted Russians team up with the Serbs to sing and wave flags, flogging vuvuzelas on the corners. It is a medley of color and song.
#Russia still qualifies for the knock-outs, but things got a little rowdy after Uruguay's 3-0 win yesterday. Spirits were high but the waitresses were a little peeved! #Moscow #Serbia pic.twitter.com/x4LPGrZmGC— Maud Start (@Maud_SputnikUk) June 26, 2018
But amid Moscow's riotous fan-fests, one group of supporters has been largely absent from the mix. The England fans, in their red and white strips, are nearly nowhere to be seen.
In fact, ahead of the 2018 opening ceremony, England fans had only bought 31,000 tickets. That's nearly half the total number of tickets sold to Brits at the 2014 tournament in Brazil. England's tally this year pales in comparison to ticket sales to other nations. US supporters have racked up an impressive 80,000 tickets, despite not qualifying for the competition — a figure that is second only to Russia's 800,000.
Why has Britain been so shy at this year's World Cup?
Word has it that faith in the English team prior to the tournament was at an all-time low. Just 3% of supporters believed that England had a shot at winning the Cup — and with such low expectations, tickets sales slowed.
But that's not all. A flood of bad press from the British media in the lead-up to the tournament could be somewhat culpable. Following the poisoning of Sergei Skripal in Salisbury, British MP's were quick to point at Russia. Amidst a ripple of sanctions and diplomatic expulsions, MP's suggested that the championship be moved to another country. Failing to overturn the games, the British press churned out warnings to fans wishing to travel to Russia. Brits were warned of "extreme violence" coming from Russian hooligans, whilst the tabloids hailed on about the "most dangerous World Cup yet."
Dan, aged 21 from Middlesbrough, bought a ticket anyway, but he explains that he was "wary of coming to Russia," as a result of the headlines. That wasn't the case for Richard, aged 42 from Essex, who's now at his third World Cup. He saw straight through the bad publicity, believing that the headlines were recycled from World Cups of the past.
"We've seen it all before, they said the same for South Africa, that it would be dangerous, the hosts would be aggressive, saying that we were asking for trouble if we went. Of course, it was all hype."
Things are about to change.
Lo and behold, so far in the World Cup reportage, the "deadly World Cup" seems not to have reared its ugly head. In addition, compassion for the England team has swelled since England's legendary win against Panama. As a result, a huge spike in applications for Fan-ID's (visa-free entry to Russia) has been noted. At the same time, Skyscanner, the flight comparison website, has been inundated with searches for flights to Moscow. Appeals for direct flights from London to Russia's capital have surged 168% since Sunday, after England's victory.
It seems that with two wins under their belt, confidence in the team has soared, with many ambitious fans putting England as the favorite to win the tournament. Alex (aged 26, Liverpool) has been collecting the branded cups from the stadium.
"One day these cups are going to be worth hundreds each! I bought as many soft drinks as I could. It's an investment! Everybody is going to remember this as the match where we scored 6 goals. If we win the tournament, they'll be worth even more."
With tickets to England's next matches a hot commodity, most of the fresh-faced World Cup newbies will be hard-pressed to get into the games. The plan, it seems, is to visit Moscow to soak in the football vibes, support the team and watch the games from the big screen.
England is scheduled to play Belgium in Kaliningrad on Thursday. Should they win, they will move on to the city of Rostov-on-Don. Alternately, by coming second, England will spar it out in Russia's capital, Moscow.