If you were to see Paul Dubberley walking along the street, you might not suspect the extent of his fandom. He is the epitome of what one might call a "laidback character." Drinking tea from a teapot in an alfresco cafe near the Kremlin, Mr. Dubberley ignores the Colombian fans getting cocky with their chants at the bar. For him, if England doesn't make it through to the quarterfinals, then he'll be "gutted" – but, in his own words: "England always seems to get knocked out at some point!"
Having traveled to nine World Cup tournaments since 1986, Paul knows what to expect. He just smiles and waits patiently, as a slew of fans queue to take photos with his friend, looking very patriotic in St. Georges flag. He knows the media is attracted to his tales from the previous World Cup tournaments, and he knows, in the end, that whatever happens, happens – whether on the pitch, or in the festivities that follow the matches. For Mr. Dubberley, a trip to the World Cup is a chance to soak up the spirit of what is truly a global festival.
Mr. Dubberley manages to take something from each World Cup experience. Even when asked to choose his favorite, he struggles:
"Well, I liked Mexico because it was the first World Cup final I went to. I liked South Africa, because I went to the final with my son. I've really liked Russia, because it has been better than all my expectations. I'm just enjoying the fans from all over the world, and the spirit of it all! That doesn't change, no matter who is hosting the Cup."
It's true that most England fans here in Russia have had to conquer a certain amount of negative expectations. But that didn't sway Paul from coming to see England play.
"I wouldn't let the press put me off from going somewhere. But of course, all your friends and your family are all saying: 'Oh don't go, it's going to be too dangerous!' It's been the complete opposite of that. It's been the most welcoming of places really."
It seems that that has been the overriding sentiment for most of the fans that have traveled to Russia, but do the fans back home feel the same way now?
"I think so, if you look on all social media, whether it be Facebook or Twitter, the calmness of the tournament has really come across. I think that those at home are getting the message from the people that are here."
Paul Dubberley traveled to Russia on an airplane, like the majority of the revelers here. Traveling to the Japan tournament was a different story. Paul had arrived at the World Cup via land. Traveling on buses, trains and eventually, a boat to get to the island. But will Paul manage to tally up ten tournaments by traveling to Qatar in four years' time?
"I always say I'm not going to the next one. I said I'm not coming to this Russia, and I'm here. So, although I say I won't go, actually I know that I am going to be in Qatar. 100% I will be there. I know it won't be the best place to host it, especially in the winter, but yes, I will be there."
Out of all the experiences that the World Cup offers, it's not the football, the beer or the singing that gets Mr. Dubberley going. What really puts the festivities in motion is the spirit of the tournament.
"It's like a festival. Across the city, across the country, and across the world really. But the best part, is not the end, and it's not the final. It's the beginning. At the end there are only two teams and only a few fans left. The best time is the beginning, in all the group stages. The sheer amount of people just mingling around. You'll get Colombians mixing with Englishmen, and so on. All of that. That's what it is really. The spirit of the World Cup."