It seems that one article in the last edition of Free Lions has caused a bit of a stir.
Our piece headed “It's not too late to join the party” revealed that all that was required to get a Fan ID which allows you to enter Russia was your passport details, an appropriate photograph, and the reference number from a match ticket – ANY match ticket, regardless of whose name is on it, how many other times it has been used to apply for a Fan ID, or even if the match in question has already taken place.
Getting your FAN ID sorted should be the first thing you do, before booking flights or paying for accommodation, as without one you won’t get into the country. It’s free, and you can have the electronic version literally within minutes, leaving you to pick up the hard copy needed to enter a stadium from one of the many Fan ID centres in the host cities. The only alternative is to apply for a visa, which costs money and takes time.
According to various media reports, this amounts to the FSF encouraging “ticketless fans” to flood into Russia. Let’s be clear about this: we’re not telling anybody what they should or shouldn’t do about coming to Russia. But we are an independent football supporters’ organisation, and what we have always done, and will continue to do, is to provide, to the best of our ability, accurate and objective information, so that fans can make their own decisions.
It is a ridiculous idea that ‘ticketless fans’ are somehow inherently problematic. There are plenty of members of the ESTC who had tickets for the Tunisia or Panama games who didn’t qualify for one for the Belgium game, and so on arrival in Kaliningrad are technically transformed into ‘ticketless fans’ – that doesn’t make their behaviour any different. Similarly, anyone else who has seen media reports of how positive the England fans’ experience has been in Russia so far and has decided they just want to be part of it does not deserve to be stigmatised because they don’t – yet – have a ticket for a game.
Leaving that aside though, sometimes it seems that England fans can never win. Various UK media outlets have spent months – with the BBC’s “Russia’s Hooligan Army” documentary setting the pace, and others generalising about a whole nation based on the actions of a couple of hundred thugs in Marseille – terrifying fans with the prospect of racism and violence at the World Cup, contributing to the lowest turnout at a World Cup for decades.
There then follows a series of features bemoaning how sad and disappointing it is that England’s fans are so under-represented at the tournament, as it becomes clear that far from facing the hostile environment predicted, England fans tell story after story of the warmth and friendliness of local people and the positive experiences we’ve enjoyed.
As that very different picture filters through at home, inevitably many England fans start to reconsider their initial decision to stay away: cause for rejoicing, surely? Apparently not, as the stories are published about England fans “exploiting loopholes” in order to flood, ticketless, into Russia – as if now suddenly the presence of larger numbers of England fans is a bad thing.
As long as England fans continue to respond in the same positive way to the warmth and hospitality we’ve been shown so far – and there’s absolutely no evidence to suggest that lack of a ticket makes you less likely to do that – then surely more England fans here can only be good for the team, the tournament and the party?
Thanks to Wikimedia Commons for the image used in this blog, reproduced under Creative Commons licence.