Don't take England flags to Russia World Cup, police tell fans

'People need to be really careful with flags,' says national head of football policing, adding they can be 'almost imperialistic'

Jon Sharman
Wednesday 16 May 2018 13:27
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England football fans should not display the “almost imperialistic” St George flag during the 2018 World Cup in Russia, police have warned.

Supporters should respect Russian national pride during matches in places like Volgograd – formerly known as Stalingrad – where England are to play Tunisia on 18 June, said Deputy Chief Constable Mark Roberts, national lead of football policing.

“We wouldn’t expect people to come across to this country, get drunk and drape flags on the Cenotaph so we need to extend the same courtesy when we go abroad and treat places with due reverence," he said.

He added: “People need to be really careful with flags. It can come across as almost imperialistic. We really urge some caution about people putting flags out and waving them about in public.”

The warning comes two years after Russian and English fans brawled in Marseilles at the Euro 2016 tournament, with dozens arrested and several jailed.

In total, 91 England fans are under football banning orders because of the violence in France, out of 1,750 in total.

Another 35 people are under investigation and could be banned from travelling to the World Cup over disorder in Amsterdam before England’s friendly against the Netherlands in March, which Mr Roberts said had set back police attempts to reassure Russian authorities.

Volgograd, under its previous name, was the scene of a grinding, months-long battle during the Second World War that claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and signalled the beginning of Nazi Germany’s defeat on the Eastern Front.

Mr Roberts said: ”We’ve seen previously English supporters go to Spain and sing about Gibraltar, go to Dortmund and sing songs about the world war. I cannot emphasise how stupid that would be to do in Russia.

“The key thing is those supporters who might drink too much, engage in anti-social behaviour – that would really be my concern for this tournament, that that might not be well-received locally and provoke a hostile response.

“Supporters need to act with respect, they need to be good guests, seek to make friends and not engage in anything that’s antagonistic in its nature and which may provoke what they consider to be a disproportionate response but would actually put themselves at real risk.”

Mr Roberts said he had not seen a blacklist of Russian football hooligans, which Foreign Office minister Harriett Baldwin told MPs was believed to be held by Russian security services, but had been assured of a commitment to tackle the issue.

The tournament will also kick off amid heightened political tensions between the UK and Russia in the wake of the Salisbury spy poisoning, and Mr Roberts said it was “difficult to gauge” the impact.

Theresa May’s government has blamed Russia for the poisoning of former MI6 double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in March, while Russia has accused Britain of staging the attack, or carrying it out itself.

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