KALININGRAD, Russia (Reuters) - Kaliningrad was preparing for a wave of England supporters to flood into the Russian enclave on Wednesday ahead of the World Cup clash with Belgium that will decide top spot in Group G.
A reputation for hardcore partying and trouble-making often precedes England fans’ arrival in a city and it was no different in Kaliningrad as a trickle turned into a steady stream ahead of Thursday’s final round-robin match.
The bad behaviour often associated with England supporters has been largely absent in Russia but with Kaliningrad situated just 50 km (31 miles) from the Polish border, providing easier access for fans, the city was early on pinpointed as a potential flash point.
Sandwiched between Lithuania to the north and Poland to the south, Kaliningrad is as close to the Netherlands as it is to Moscow, making it a cheaper and more inviting World Cup destination.
While only a small contingent of diehard fans made the journey to Volgograd for the start of England’s World Cup campaign, Kaliningrad is the one group match that saw the English Football Association’s ticket allocation sold out.
“I have only come out for this game and the weird thing is I don’t even want England to win,” Gary, who drove from Nottingham with three friends, told Reuters. “It has been a really easy journey through Poland, so easy.
“Lots of fans will be doing the same, so we expect Kaliningrad to be very busy tomorrow.”
The atmosphere in the city centre was subdued but upbeat on a sunny Wednesday as England and Belgium fans mingled with local residents, posing pictures and taking selfies.
But the party is expected to pick up on Thursday with many making day trips in from Poland for the match.
Long tailbacks are expected at border entry points as packed motor coaches make their way to Kaliningrad Stadium for the 8pm (1800 GMT) kickoff.
The regional government in Kaliningrad said in a statement that no added security measures were planned and they are well-prepared for any situation.
“The employees of the security apparatus, in cooperation with the host city of Kaliningrad, are taking all the necessary measures to ensure public order,” the regional government in Kaliningrad said in statement. “As was shown in the first World Cup match at the Kaliningrad stadium, no (security) violations were recorded.
“In addition, exhaustive security measures are being taken at the border check points to ensure continuous work to let fans into and out of the Russian Federation, not to allow any conflict situations and lines at the border. “
Due to its strategic importance as the base for the Soviet Baltic Fleet during the Cold War, Kaliningrad was a closed city to foreigners but residents are now familiar with the influx of tourists and were cautiously looking forward to welcoming England and Belgium supporters.
“They (England fans) have already drunk Kvass here,” Nina Kaminskaya, 63, told Reuters as she sold the nonalcoholic Baltic beverage in the city centre. “Everything was ok... I liked Croatians and Serbs too.
“There are yet not too many English, perhaps not all have already arrived. It’s quiet - at least now.”
Additional reporting Anton Kolodyazhnyy and Peter Hall. Editing by Neil Robinson