At least England’s footballers are getting an easier ride than their Russian counterparts right now. “Destined for defeat” was the headline in Wednesday’s edition of the Moscow Times, complete with a team photograph of these apparent no-hopers. Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un were all bumped off the front page for the newspaper to make its point: “Ageing and inexperienced: why Russia is doomed to fail.”
Four hundred and fifty miles north-east on the Gulf of Finland, the mood was considerably lighter. Teenage locals with foam hands showed the guests to their seats for England’s first training session at the Stadium Spartak Zelenogorsk, set in a pine forest close to the Baltic Sea. People from the village came with gifts – bread, salt and a golden teapot – and the players were only an hour or so late for the reception. “Applaud to keep warm,” came the message from the woman with the microphone, as the wind picked up and the temperatures dropped.
In fairness, the weather was not too bad and if you watched Frankie Boyle’s BBC documentary on Russia, it is fair to say that Repino, in keeping with most s
That process has gone as far as the FA shipping luxury mattresses to help everyone get a good night’s sleep. The team hotel, the ForRestMix Club, already had blackout blinds to get around the fact it is still light here at 11pm, and light again from 3.30am, and when the players checked into their rooms they found that somebody from the FA had already been there and the walls were adorned with photographs of their families, children, wives and so on. No cuddly lions, though. England’s fluffy mascots – Kit, Cee and Leo – were given their own seats, and even had their own inflatable headrests, on the flight into France for Euro 2016. This time, there has been none of that silliness.
As for the potential for boredom, Southgate has described that as a red herring and recalled how he was once told by a physio at Aston Villa that “only boring people complain of being bored”. Even so, it is a regular complaint in major tournaments and Jermain Defoe has spoken about it being such a problem at the 2010 World Cup that he and Wayne Rooney spent one afternoon together watching Rooney’s entire wedding video.
Two days in, the only complaint from the players is that the live feed to watch Love Island on television apparently cut out on the first night. The FA has even put a bowling alley, a pool table and a darts board in the media centre, as well as an entertainment room at the team hotel. Plus there will be time set aside for the players to visit St Petersburg, where most of their families are staying.
Southgate, for one, wants to spend some time in the city and, presumably, he will not make the same mistake as Roy Hodgson in Euro 2016, when the then England manager decided to go sightseeing in Paris, including a boat trip on the Seine with his assistant, Ray Lewington, rather than taking the opportunity to watch Iceland play Austria at the Stade de France. England’s game against Iceland came five days later and, well, you can probably remember what happened.