Wednesday 30 April ~
So there is to be an all-English Champions League final. After Paul Scholes's winner against Barcelona last night, Sir Alex Ferguson joked that he'd prefer Liverpool to be the opponents as there would be more places available at Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium for both sets of fans. The implication, in jest of course, being that Roman Abramovich and his many friends will acquire a lot of tickets should Chelsea get through. Despite the cost and the distance, there is little doubt that there will be thousands of English supporters travelling. Whoever had reached the final, however, Moscow was a highly controversial choice as the venue.
Russian football is overflowing with money these days, with most top level clubs funded by “entrepreneurs” of various kinds and able to import international players from elsewhere in Europe as well as from South America and Africa. An expensive lobbying campaign duly persuaded UEFA to allocate the 2008 final to the Russian capital, which has been the most expensive place in Europe to stay for the past two years.
The English fans who will be pay upwards of £400 to make the journey – to the first Champions League final that has required visas – can expect to be closely monitored by Moscow's notoriously heavy-handed security forces. These were seen in international news coverage of the recent Russian elections roughing up opposition demonstrators and have also been criticised for their approach to the policing of football matches, with numerous complaints made of rough treatment of visiting fans. The hooligan hardcore attached to each of the main Moscow clubs can also be expected to take an interest in the English invasion.
But hark at us being all gloomy. Let's just hope that the occasion is an appropriate showcase for the Premier League. And, of course, two English teams playing abroad is exactly what the maligned Richard Scudamore has been desperately banging on about. Bless him.