‘The Moscow 25’: Hardy band of Leicester fans make use of no-quarantine rule, head to Russia for seven-goal Spartak thriller
Leicester earned a valuable three points in Europa League Group C on a frigid Wednesday night in Moscow, overhauling an initial two-goal deficit to run out 4-3 winners thanks to a phenomenal four-goal display from Patson Daka.
Watching on from the away end at Spartak's Otkritie Arena was a group of around two-dozen Leicester fans, who despite bureaucratic obstacles still managed to find their way to Russia.
Jamie Barnard was among those who made the journey, and he helped organize a get-together at a Moscow pub for the traveling Foxes faithful and some Russia-based Leicester fans ahead of the 5.30pm local kick-off time.
Barnard said the late notification of ticket sales – which only came towards the end of last week – had been an obstacle, as well as the expense.
However, at least Brits arriving in Russia from the UK do not have to quarantine under current Covid rules – something not reciprocated for Russians heading the other way, unless they are exempt under special rules.
“You wouldn’t have any Leicester fans coming over if they had to quarantine,” said Barnard.
“Everyone on this trip is flying in one or two days before the game and leaving one or two days after.”
Russia is currently battling a brutal new wave of Covid cases which has led to a record number of deaths in recent days.
Spartak's Otkritie Arena was allowed a reduced 30% capacity on Wednesday because of coronavirus restrictions.
Barnard said he understands why the British government would want to ask visitors from Russia to go into a mandatory quarantine if arriving in the UK – but suggested there could be other reasons behind the rules.
“I’ve heard the cases have been rising [in Russia] quite rapidly in the past few days, so there would maybe be justification for it in that sense,” said Barnard.
“Having said that, [Russians] are maybe suffering more from the initial mistakes the UK government made when the pandemic first started, when they took ages to do anything about changing the border restrictions or introducing quarantines."Also on rt.com EU blames RUSSIA for delay in bloc approving Moscow’s Sputnik V Covid-19 vaccine, claiming it’s Kremlin that’s politicizing jabs
He added: “I think now they [the UK government] are so scared if they make a mistake again and end up with another wave, they’ve got no leg to stand on.
“I understand it, that’s probably how I would articulate it, I don’t necessarily agree with it, but I understand it.
“I also think that if you’ve had a negative test three days before you get on the plane, that should be proof enough,” added Barnard.
Another issue affecting travel between the two countries is the lack of mutual recognition of vaccines.
Russian versions such as the popular Sputnik V have not been recognized in the UK, despite being proven to have a high rate of efficacy. Western vaccines are not available in Russia.
According to current UK regulations, any Spartak Moscow supporters traveling from Russia and hoping to attend the return match in Leicester in two weeks’ time would have to undergo a quarantine period of at least 5 days (if using the 'test and release system'), even if they have been fully jabbed with a Russian vaccine.
“I don’t know much about who created the vaccine or what differences there are with the UK vaccine [and Russian-produced vaccines],” said Barnard.
“I’d imagine again it’s politics and money coming into play.
“In that sense there was trouble in the UK with the AstraZeneca vaccine and the EU restricting that, questioning that. We at home were wondering if that was around Brexit, the fact that the UK had secured a load of vaccines early on.
“It’s hard as a person on the street, I can’t have an opinion on the viability of a Russian vaccine versus a UK vaccine, but there should be an international body which gives an approved standard across all vaccines.”
Aside from vaccine squabbles and ticket hurdles, Barnard said that even after the 2018 World Cup in Russia – which was widely hailed as among the best ever editions of the tournament – there was still some wariness from English fans due to hooliganism.Also on rt.com ‘England fans will go home with a different image of Russia’ – Sun deputy head of sport
“100% [there is a wariness],” said Barnard, pointing to the ugly clashes between England and Russia fans at Euro 2016 in France.
“The incident in Marseille has tainted that. Even after the World Cup of 2018… there’s maybe the perception that the World Cup was a safe haven because all eyes were on Russia, but now all eyes aren’t on Russia.
“The difference between UK hooliganism and the ‘ultra’ mentality on the continent is that it seems a bit more indiscriminate on the continent.
“The UK hooligan scene, if you’re wearing a scarf or going to watch a match, you’re not part of a firm, you’re not going to have an issue 99% of the time.
“Whereas when English clubs play in Europe, it’s like, if you’re English, regardless of whether you’re going to watch football for hooliganism or just to watch a game, you’re fair game.”
Despite the lingering concerns from some of their peers back home, the Leicester fans in Moscow on Wednesday happily sank beers and sang songs before making their way to Spartak's home stadium.
En route, one group of Spartak fans struck up a conversation on the Metro, even saying they would be happy if Leicester scored – so long as it was global fan favorite Jamie Vardy who found the net.
Sips of some strong-looking alcohol were shared after being offered by the Spartak fans, along with handshakes and best wishes as the Leicester supporters made their way to the stadium.
Barnard tweeted an image of the merry band of travelers, captioning it "the Moscow 25", while photos from the stadium suggested another contingent had joined them – suitably rewarded by the incredible showing from 23-year-old Zambian star Daka.
Barnard and Co. were among the band of merry Leicester men and women who made the trip – and given the drama on display, some fellow fans back at home might wish they had done the same.
By Liam Tyler