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Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 October 2007, 11:25 GMT 12:25 UK
Moscow braced for football riots
By Rupert Wingfield-Hayes
BBC News, Moscow

Russian supporters in September 2007 at Wembley
Russian supporters were well behaved for the London match
England are taking on Russia in a crucial football match that could decide which country will qualify for the Euro 2008 tournament next year.

England are the favourites, but Russia have an impressive record of winning at home.

Thousands of England fans have travelled to Moscow for the match, and there has already been some trouble, with four England fans treated in hospital.

The authorities are putting on a huge security operation to try to deal with the violence, with 6,000 riot police on the streets of Moscow.

It is not the English fans they are most worried about - it is Russian football hooligans who today are the most feared in Europe.

Violent gangs

If you want to get an idea of what Russian hooligans are like just go to YouTube and type in: "Russian football hooligans".

Riots in Moscow in 2002
In 2002 hooligans rioted in Moscow following defeat in the World Cup

It will bring up dozens of home-shot videos of violent clashes between gangs of young men, and sometimes even women.

One of the most popular shows a battle between gangs outside St Petersburg in 2005.

Two groups of roughly 100 men run at each other fists and feet flailing.

In the ensuing maelstrom some are knocked unconscious, others stagger away with blood pouring from cut faces and heads.

The fight is highly organised and extremely violent.

Clashes like this one happen almost every weekend somewhere in Russia.

English model

But ironically the inspiration for it comes from England.

The only real English hooligans are banned - they sit at home drinking beer and watching on TV
Former hooligan

In a shop on one of Moscow's most expensive shopping streets I have come to meet Ivan.

Ivan used to be a Russian football hooligan. Now he sells British football fashions to Russian football fans.

He shows me names like "Stone Island" and "Lambretta".

"These fashions are popular in Russia because the terrace culture comes from England," Ivan tells me.

Ivan and his fellow Russian hooligans see themselves as the inheritors of Britain's infamous football gangs of the 1980s.

Ivan does not see it as shameful. He claims it is a genuine subculture, and laments what has happened to the English gangs.

"Nowadays English hooligans do not have any good mobs or firms," he says a grin spreading over his broad face.

"The only real English hooligans are banned. They sit at home drinking beer and watching on TV. But they're no longer in the stadium. It's unfortunate."

'Strongest hooligans'

Every major Russian football club has its own "firms" or organised group of hooligans.

Against our toughest guys the English don't stand a chance
Spartak Moscow supporter

Ivan has promised to take me to meet the leader of one Moscow's most feared firms.

I am led down a stairway into a dark basement pub on the Moscow ring road.

Sitting at a table wearing a ski mask is Vasily. His nickname he tells me is "the killer" and he is the leader of the Spartak Moscow Gladiators.

"Russians are the strongest hooligans in Europe," Vasily says, staring straight into my eyes with a cold gaze.

"Against our toughest guys the English don't stand a chance. They're out of practice, they don't know anything about tactics of street fighting. They'll be crushed."

Five years ago when Russia lost to Japan in the World Cup, angry football fans tore apart the centre of Moscow.

Cars burned, shop windows were smashed. Two people were killed.

It was the worst football violence ever seen in Russia. The Moscow authorities are determined to make sure there will be no repeat if Russia loses on Wednesday.

Violence in Moscow after previous football games

Airport police target hooligans
16 Oct 07 |  Manchester
Supporters injured in Moscow
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