World Cup 2018: England had the time of their lives in Kaliningrad and the love is mutual

Delirious in Kaliningrad, the English know the only way is down

Oliver Carroll
Monday 30 July 2018 12:11 BST
England fans inside the stadium before the match
England fans inside the stadium before the match (REUTERS)

“It’s all yaw fault, you know, the scaremongrin,” says Les Gasson, 60, pointing a finger in my chest, before smiling broadly: “Vulgergrad, Nishhny Nowgrad, Kalangrad, Russia has been f—g brilliant.”

Judging by the mood in Kaliningrad, venue of England’s tame 0-1 defeat to Belgium, Moscow correspondents aren’t popular among England fans. With the national team competing, cheap beer flowing and pretty locals smiling, many are understandably having the time of their lives. They are angry that anyone could write negative things about the magical, happy land they have come to love.

“There would be twenty thousand of us here if it wasn’t for all the negativity,” says Glenn Jagger, 54.

The love is mutual. In Kaliningrad, locals have waited with excitement, and a little bit of trepidation, for the English. Some joked about leaving town for the duration. In the event, it was a week of celebration, with locals putting on flamboyant performances of music, theatre, and dance. Many joined in chanting English classics.

Lyudmila Ivanova, 73, a pensioner selling kvass, a fermented bread drink, from a yellow, wheeled barrel, said she has never seen her neighbours so happy. Or her city so beautiful.

Ahead of the games, the local government embarked on a major clean-up of the city. Soviet apartment blocks dating from the 1950s were refashioned as Hanzel-and-Gretzel cottages. Potholes - at least the ones on the World Cup route - were fixed. The ruins of the city’s German castle, blown up on Brezhnev’s orders in 1967, were also finally put on show. They had for decades been hidden behind ugly metal perimeter fences.

And even the police were smiling. Outside the Radisson hotel, the English team hotel, they laughed at the crazy Englishmen with their painted faces and repetitive chants. One of them shook his hips to the sounds of the English drums. What they weren’t doing was making arrests. As far as they were aware, they said, there had been none.

“We thought there could be a bit of trouble,” said a policeman who had been brought in from Tomsk, Siberia for the tournament. “We were never scared of the English – after all, we’re used to dealing with bears back home.”

All parts of the community contributed to Kaliningrad’s party. On Wednesday, the Maxim strip joint, located across the Radisson, decided it would also do its bit. On seeing their new neighbours, management made the England team an offer it could not refuse: free use of any of their services. It was a generous proposal. A full programme of table dance, massage and shower would cost more than 10,000 roubles (£120).

Manager Yevgenia Sorokina said the players had yet to take advantage of the offer - at least to her knowledge. But the English supporters had more than made up for that disappointment. Business has been very brisk over the last few days, she said. Unusually, there hadn’t been a single “incident”.

“The girls decided they really like the English gentlemen,” she says. “They aren’t rude or aggressive like Russian men can be, and they have been happy, really happy, and generous with their money.”

Ms Sorokina said she was sure that more English fans had passed through the doors of the club than from any other country.

World Cup: Belgian player kicks ball into his own head in goal celebration

“There were lots of Croatians, Serbs, not so many Spanish,” she said. “But many, many many more English - and you can always tell its the English because they like to wear their uniforms.”

Judging by the white shirts inside the Kaliningrad Stadium, it did seem the numbers of England fans had grown from previous matches in Volgograd and Nizhny Novgorod. They may have even been the majority inside the near-capacity 33,000 crowd.

Some of those attending for the first time said they had been reassured by positive feedback from friends in Russia.

“Russia has done an amazing job in resolving many of its worst impressions,” said Mohit Mehan, a fan from Ohio, in the United States, who had adopted England as his team.

“Most people are in Russia for the first time, and this will be their only take. So Putin will certainly feel this has been worth it.”

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in