England players sense grim war history of city they prepare to play in

Playing football in the once war-ravaged city of Volgograd has given England's players perspective, manager Gareth Southgate said.

The city, formerly known as Stalingrad, is the site of one of the bloodiest battles in history, with estimates suggesting the number of troops killed, captured or wounded on both sides was nearly two million.

Historians believe the Soviet defence of the city, on the banks of the Volga river, was a major turning point for the Allies against Hitler's forces in the Second World War.

The battle, which ran for several months from 1942-43, resulted in the annihilation of an entire German army.

The Motherland Calls in Volgograd
The Motherland Calls in Volgograd

A huge monument known as The Motherland Calls looms large on the hill overlooking the Volgograd Arena.

And the huge memorial park dedicated to Soviet war dead is just a short walk away from where England will take on Tunisia in the World Cup on Monday.

Southgate said his squad was aware of the importance of the battle and the "very strong" links between the two nations during that period.

The build-up to the tournament was overshadowed by the political row between the UK Government and the Kremlin in the wake of the poisoning of Russian ex-spy Sergei Skripal in March.

England's Harry Kane
England's Harry Kane

Southgate said: "We're of course aware of the history of the city and the importance of that battle in the Second World War.

"It's something that of course is the past and we respect the people who lost their lives who fought together.

"There's a lot of talk about relationships between our country and Russia and of course history there is very strong between the two countries in that period.

"So to see the statue and have an understanding of the history reminds you that some things are even bigger than football and that's good perspective for us all."

England captain Harry Kane said some of the players would like to visit the monument if they could.

He said: "Obviously it's great to play football in such a place.

"We travel the world a lot being footballers and you obviously want to go and see the history and see the trips that you don't always get to do.

"All we can do is play football and the history is what it is.

"Obviously there is a lot of respect there but from us kind of just concentrate on the task ahead and if we get a chance to go and see any of the statues and monuments I'm sure some of the players would like to do that."