SAMARA/MOSCOW (Reuters) - England have not been in the quarter-finals of the World Cup since 2006 when tens of thousands of England fans travelled to Germany to watch their side lose. But when England face Sweden in Russia on Saturday, there will be few England supporters.
FIFA did not immediately respond when asked how many England fans it expected in the Russian city of Samara, but Reuters reporters and England fans who had made the journey said the turnout, like other England games so far, was likely to be low.
Judging by previous matches, it may not exceed 3,000. The Cosmos stadium in Samara has a capacity of around 45,000.
“This is probably the least amount of England football supporters travelling away in a major tournament that I’ve ever, ever seen, and that’s really, really disappointing,” Paul Wilson from Newcastle told Reuters TV before the match.
“Now we can point the finger on why that was or why it wasn’t - but we’ve come out here and we will continue this journey if they go all the way.”
Reuters reporters who surveyed a Samara beach and the train station on Friday saw only a handful of England jerseys. Around 20 England fans were spotted in the fan zone and several of the city’s Irish pubs — usually full of England fans away from home — were empty.
Fans and diplomats have cited fears of violence, negative pre-tournament coverage in the British media and unease over a diplomatic crisis between London and Moscow as among the reasons why many fans have chosen to stay away.
Logistics and cost have also sometimes been a challenge. Samara, where England will face Sweden, is around 850 km (528.17 miles) south-east of Moscow. While flight time is only an hour and a half, it takes around nine hours to drive there.
“To be honest, it is a shame (there are so few fans),” said England fan Trevor, who had come from Coventry with two friends.
“I thought more would come with the lads and (manager) Gareth (Southgate) doing well but it doesn’t seem like it.”
England fan Michael, from London, said the dearth of fans made for an unusual England World Cup campaign.
“It is so unlike us, we usually bring so many fans, more than other countries,” he said. “But I think the combination of not knowing what to expect out here, with the welcome and everything, and also the costs of getting to somewhere like Samara, it is a lot.”
England have traditionally been one of the best-supported teams at major tournaments.
At the 1998 World Cup in France and at the 2000 and 2004 European Championship in Belgium and the Netherlands and then Portugal they would routinely fill half the stadium, finding ingenious ways to buy tickets once the small number of officially allocated ones had been snapped up.
Things peaked at the 2006 World Cup in Germany when an estimated 80,000 travelled to Gelsenkirchen to watch the quarter-final against Portugal. As well as around 30,000 who watched them lose a penalty shoot-out in the stadium, another 30,000 in the city watched the match on big screens in another stadium and thousands more in fan parks.
In Russia it has been a different story with the English FA failing to sell even their 3,500 allocation for the second-round match in Moscow, where England’s tiny band of around 1,000 fans was swamped by yellow-clad supporters of Colombia.
Attacks in Marseille during the 2016 European Championship by Russian hooligans on England fans, many of them sitting in family groups at cafes, sparked fears of more violence in Russia, deterring many from travelling.
Should England triumph against Sweden on Sunday a big influx is expected for the Moscow semi-final, which would be England’s first since 1990.
Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Clare Lovell