'Hype' about hooliganism and Russia tensions blamed as England fans stay at home


England's travelling support at the World Cup so far could be the lowest in three decades, according to a leading football supporters' group.

The Football Supporters' Federation (FSF) said "disproportionate hype" about the spectres of hooliganism and political tensions with Russia had stopped many from travelling.

Relations between the UK and Russian governments were plunged into a deep freeze following the poisoning in March of Russian ex-spy Sergei Skripal, while MPs raised concerns of a repeat of the violent attack in Marseille during Euro 2016.

England fans reported feeling outnumbered in Volgograd ahead of the 2-1 win against Tunisia on Monday, while there were around 4,000 empty seats in the stadium.

The group, which worked closely with the FA and the Foreign Office to prepare travel advice for fans, also cited the long distances, high costs and unlikely holiday feel to many host cities as factors for low numbers.

Many England fans have spent thousands travelling to watch the Three Lions, taking multiple indirect planes or train journeys that last up to 24 hours.

In a blog post, the FSF said there was a "great" disparity between the image portrayed in the media and the welcome fans had received in Volgograd.

"The only sad thing about the whole experience is that the numbers of England fans who have been here to enjoy it have been so low: we reckon it's been probably the lowest number of England fans at a World Cup game for 30 years," the FSF said.

Nizhny Novgorod Stadium
Nizhny Novgorod Stadium

"We know there are a lot of other reasons why a lot of people have chosen to support the team from back home - there's the distances, the cost of travel, the inescapable fact that Russia isn't really a traditional family holiday destination - but it's nonetheless a shame that some fans have been deterred from coming here because of disproportionate hype about the hooligan threat or political tensions.

"The big majority of Russian people have been immensely friendly, generous and welcoming.

"England fans above all should know from bitter experience the price that can be paid for judging everybody on the behaviour of a minority."

The FSF added that reports of hiked food and accommodation prices and an overbearing police and security presence had been "unfounded", with security forces "visible but unobtrusive".

And fans' presence in Nizhny Novgorod was reportedly low two days before the Three Lions play Panama on Sunday.