MOSCOW (AFP) – As thousands of British fans head to Moscow for Champions League matches involving Manchester United and Liverpool, Russia faces a crucial test of its security measures just months ahead of the 2018 World Cup.
Some 2,000 British fans are expected to arrive for matches tonight and tomorrow against Moscow teams known for problems with hooliganism and racism in the stands.
Liverpool play Spartak Moscow tonight and Manchester United plays CSKA Moscow tomorrow, both kicking off at 18:45 GMT.
The head of the Russian Football Union’s security committee, Vladimir Markin, warned them to behave or face an extended stay behind bars.
“I don’t want to scare anyone but I warn those who plan to come here not to support their side and see the country but to commit hooliganism: the law is the same for all, not just for Russians,” Markin told TASS state news agency on Sunday.
“Those who break it will face a suitable punishment, possibly in the form of a long stay in Russia, in conditions our guests won’t like.”
The influx of supporters raises the spectre of a repeat of the violence at Euro-2016 in France when street battles erupted in central Marseille ahead of the match between England and Russia on June 11 – 35 people were injured and three Russian hooligans jailed.
Russia has vowed to ensure fans’ safety when it hosts the World Cup next year and has cracked down on its own hooligans who model themselves on the hooligan gangs that dogged English football in the past.
For the Liverpool and Manchester United games, tightened controls will be in place at stadium entrances and nearby metro stations – as happened when Russia hosted the Confederations Cup in June and July without incident.
A multi-lingual telephone help line (Fans Hotline 8-800-775-76-88) is set to open 24 hours between Monday and Wednesday to offer British fans’ legal support if needed.
Both Liverpool and Manchester United have warned fans to be on their best behaviour.
“You can expect there to be a visible police presence wherever groups of LFC and Man United fans congregate,” a Liverpool statement said.
Manchester United called for “impeccable” behaviour from its supporters and advised them not to “attract attention” and to avoid wearing the team’s colours in public.