While the country goes into overdrive
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England’s first World Cup semi-final in 28 years, the mood at
the team’s base camp in Repino, a coastal town outside St
Petersburg, was calm and focused, with few obvious signs that
football fever has taken hold among the locals.
In the wooded parkland opposite the team hotel children
played on a climbing frame while an elderly couple strolled arm
in arm. The only evidence that anything was different from a
normal mild summer afternoon in this resort on the Gulf of
Finland was the high security around the ForRest Mix hotel
which has been on lockdown since England arrived.
Armed police were stationed at various points around the pine
forest, with a patrol car at the main entrance to the country
club. A minibus carrying several camouflage-wearing soldiers
was parked a couple of hundred metres down the road, as it
has been for the past month.
They may have expected this particular assignment would be
over by now but have remained in position as England have
unexpectedly marched through the draw, the soldiers
crowding round a smartphone to watch Russia’s World Cup
games until the team’s penalty shootout exit on Saturday.
England will leave here on Tuesday around midday and travel
by chartered plane to Moscow bound for a semi-final at the
Luzhniki Stadium against Croatia on Wednesday evening. It is
the first time England have still been in the tournament at this
stage since Italia 90 and the defender Kyle Walker admitted it
was the biggest chance England have had to win the World
Cup since 1966.
“I think it’s the best opportunity that England’s ever had, and
probably might ever have,” he said, “because no disrespect to
Croatia but the other side of the
draw was a lot more
The Repino beachfront, separated from England’s hotel by a
main road, has the atmosphere of faded glory, with a few
restaurants including the popular Stroganoff Bar & Grill but
certainly not the high-end establishments Premier League
footballers are accustomed to. Past campaigns at major
tournaments have seen England stay in upmarket hotels or
glamorous resorts but the manager Gareth Southgate
deliberately opted for a quiet location with few distractions.
The comedian Frankie Boyle, in his documentary Frankie Goes
to Russia released before the World Cup, suggested Three
Lions mania could overtake sleepy Repino. There is little
evidence of that. The chaotic corner shop closest to England’s
hotel was selling kitchen knives, women’s underwear and
frisbees but no World Cup paraphernalia. There is no bunting
in the cafes or at the supermarket which several members of
the team have visited on rest days.
On Monday the 23-strong squad completed a full training
session a 10-minute drive away at their camp in Zelenogorsk,
which was renovated by the Football Association and will be
handed back to the local community after England leave.
Afterwards five members of the squad – Ashley Young, Eric
Dier, Walker, Harry Maguire and Dele Alli – were bussed to the
nearby Cronwell Park hotel to talk to the media. As part of a
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strategy after England’s disastrous Euro 2016 campaign where
they crashed out with defeat to Iceland, players have been
encouraged to be more open with journalists.
The media centre at Cronwell Park has been transformed into
a social club, albeit one that smells slightly of cigarettes as
Walker pointed out on Monday. There is a pool table, bowling
alley and a darts board where players have taken on the
media in a rolling tournament. Sitting on a sofa bedecked with
St George’s flag cushions Alli spoke about how Southgate has
overseen a change in culture since that loss to Iceland.