The Russian cities of Volgograd, Nizhny Novgorod and Kaliningrad are bracing themselves for an onslaught of thousands of England football fans next June, following the draw for the Group stage of the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
At the ceremony in the Kremlin in Moscow, England was drawn in Group G. The first match is on 18 June against Tunisia in Volgograd. The city was formerly known as Stalingrad, and was the location for the bloodiest battle in the Second World War On 24 June, England play Panama in the historic city of Nizhny Novgorod, also on the banks of the Volga, England’s third and probably decisive fixture in Group G is against Belgium in Kaliningrad on 28 June. The host city was formerly the Prussian stronghold of Koenigsberg.
For the third World Cup running, England’s pre-draw choice of base during the tournament has proved unfortunate. The team will be staying in the small town of Repino, north of St Petersburg and many hundreds of miles from all the venues. In South Africa in 2010 and Brazil in 2014, the chosen bases were nowhere near the match grounds.
Official sports tour operators are already selling packages involve all the matches of every team, but prices, including hotels and transportation, run into many thousands, even millions of pounds. Ticket sales for specific matches go on sale next Tuesday, 5 December. It will be the second sales phase; the first tranche of tickets, sold in September and October, was for supporters who committed to specific venues.
An entry level ticket costs £80, while a good seat for the final is more than 10 times as much.
Tickets are electronically linked to the “Fan-ID”, the official identity document for the tournament, which in turn is tied to the supporter’s passport. Opportunities for touts to sell tickets at many times face value are expected to be limited. The Foreign Office says: “Tickets bought through any unofficial means may not be valid. Tickets in themselves aren’t sufficient to enter a stadium.”
The Fan-ID offers visa-free travel to Russia for the tournament. It also provides free local travel by bus, tram and Metro.
Air fares are soaring now that teams are matched with venues. For travel between the venue cities, the host nation is providing free long-distance trains — a first for the World Cup. Russian Railways is laying on “football specials” for supporters holding a “Fan-ID”.
Accommodation will be a serious concern at some venues. Moscow, St Petersburg and Sochi have a plentiful supply of hotel rooms; as many “normal” tourists are expected to stay away during the World Cup, rates are unlikely to rise to astronomical levels.
But demand by fans for the England v Belgium match in Kaliningrad, the closest of the venues to both teams, will overwhelm that small city’s limited accommodation. “Peer-to-peer” options like Airbnb will meet some of the need, but many supporters are likely to base themselves across the border in Poland or Lithuania and travel in for the match.
The Foreign Office has issued special guidance for England fans travelling to the World Cup. In addition, The Independent has an online guide to travel before, during and after the tournament.