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Page last updated at 10:42 GMT, Tuesday, 20 May 2008 11:42 UK

Moscow Diary: Football fever

British fans in Moscow for the Champions League final may have less difficulty getting a taxi than most Muscovites and can probably find a (smart-looking) policeman any time they need one, the BBC's James Rodgers reports. His diary is published fortnightly.

DRESSING UP TO LOOK THEIR BEST

Moscow riot police train for the Champions League match
Police have been simulating stadium crowd control

The Moscow police have been ordered to wear white shirts.

Some of them will also have heavy boots and riot gear but the ordinary uniformed officers on duty for the Champions League final have been told to turn out in the Russian policing equivalent of their Sunday best.

They usually wear blue shirts with their grey-blue uniforms but, on national holidays, they wear white. They will wear white on Wednesday too - that is how keen the Moscow authorities are to show that this is a very big day for the city.

It is just one of the measures announced by Moscow's deputy police chief, Gen Vyacheslav Kozlov.

You see, this is not just a football match. Moscow sees it as a big opportunity to polish its sometimes poor international image.

Russia has a long history of smartening the place up for important visitors and this is the 21st Century version.

Moscow - and Russia - have made a massive effort to make all this happen. The rapid change in the law to allow visa-free entry is a huge concession for a country which can be a bureaucratic horror to get into.

Perhaps because of that sense of special occasion, fans making the trip here may not get a true impression of what this city is really like.

TAXI! TAXI?

Take taxis. Hundreds of them are supposed to be on hand to help take supporters away from the stadium after the game.

Moscow riot police train for the Champions League match
Riot police will be on hand if the festive atmosphere turns sour

But just try to get a taxi on a normal day and you will find a very different experience.

Stand by the side of the road with your arm out and a car will stop pretty soon. If could be anything from a rusting old banger whose driver wants a few extra roubles to an off-duty ministerial Audi.

It will not be a taxi in any usual, international understanding of the word.

Whether you find yourself offered a top-of-the-range ride or something a bit further downmarket, it will not have a meter. So your journey will begin with a bit of haggling.

That is not to say there are no taxis in Moscow. There are reliable and reasonably priced companies you can call up. But because of the traffic, it is not something you can often arrange at a few minutes' notice.

That is why most people prefer a less official arrangement. Outside the market near my flat, there is even an informal taxi rank. Ladas - and it nearly always seems to be them - line up every morning as rush hour begins.

The fortunate football fans will mostly be spared this sort of travel, and will even miss out on the ultimate experience of modern Moscow: the traffic jam.

Gen Kozlov has also appealed to "Muscovites and guests of the capital" not to take their cars out on 21 May. Some traffic lanes will be reserved for buses carrying supporters, so if motorists do not want to find themselves facing even longer delays than usual, they should stay off the roads.

BLUE FLAG FLYING

While not planning road closures, the police have been practising crowd control. On Friday afternoon, they had a training exercise at the stadium itself. One group of plainclothes officers played rather convincing roles as hooligans before being dragged off by their riot-helmeted colleagues.

They seem determined not to let things get out of hand, and spoil what they are calling a "festival of football" (white shirts for the police and all).

That is because there is real excitement here at the prospect of seeing two of the English Premier League's teams battle it out for the title of European Champions. Who are Muscovites supporting?

Well, both teams have their followers here - but Roman Abramovich's ownership of Chelsea seems to have given the Londoners the edge.

"Chelsea, of course," said Igor who works in a shop near the BBC office in Moscow, when asked who he was going to be supporting. "They're a half-Russian team!"


Your comments:

I hope the fans represent themselves well and behave in our city and respect the fact that they are the tourists, not us. I am sure the game will be a good one and I look forward to seeing it live at the Stadion. I think it will be a close game with some rivalry. I hope Roman can take defeat as he needs to learn that his money cannot buy everything, so I will support Manchester United to win.
Mikhail, Moscow, Russia

I am sure things will be all right even for those who happen to be drunk because of the outcome of the game (unless they become really violent). The game and everything surrounding it are under great control because a) it is a major event with worldwide coverage and b) the government is trying hard to prove that Sochi-2014 and other major events will be held ok also. I do not believe that police will turn a blind eye to any assaults or troubles this week.
Ivan, St Petersburg, Russia

Let's be realistic, it's a final between an American owned English team and a Russian owned English team. Thank God it doesn't involve that English owned "European" team - Arsenal! The Russians could be "on a roll" given that a Russian owned Russian team has just won the UEFA Cup, the Russian national team has just won the World Ice Hockey Championship so they could be expecting Chelski to complete the hat-trick.
Peter Hutchinson, Buderim, Australia

Complete waste of time as far as I am concerned they go to what is, arguably, the most interesting country in the world (I have been five times) to watch a stupid football game. Give me a break! Should be interesting if there is hooliganism though, the Russians might not be as gentle as the British police.
Chris Mahaffy, Montgomery, AL, USA

I'm getting fed up with this being hailed as a British final. They are two 'English' teams playing in a European final, not two British teams. The Uefa cup final cannot be a black mark on English football as there was not an English team or English fan involved. Needless to say I hope that both CFC and MUFC fans behave themselves in Moscow as I will when I fly out at 0530 tomorrow and prove that all that bad behaviour is a thing of the past. Moscow are welcoming us and this should be a platform to show the world that they and England can host future events - like the World Cup?
Sami, Essex, England

To Sami: Two points, 1) They are two British teams (as well as English clubs) as they come from the British Isles and can have overlapping identities and all that, and 2)it's a bit rich trumpeting English football fans as the most law abiding and peaceful in the land. There are thickheads who want to cause mayhem everywhere, at all clubs.
Nick Jacobs, Kerkyra, Greece

Nobody supports Chelsea here. Many dislike Abramovich and his oligarch cronies. But Man U is not better, just because it has a glamorous image. So I would support no one.
Ruslan, Moscow

I was in Russia on a school trip in March this year, and it was amazing! As some people have already said, go on the Metro, it's nothing like it is in London. For a start it's quiet! The traffic in Moscow itself is horrendous, those going to the match should count themselves really lucky that it's going to be controlled. Be prepared for cars parked in random places, like the middle of the road. But, anyone that's going, I hope you enjoy it. It's an amazing country.
Esther, Rasharkin, NI

I think it's great that people will be able to see the beautiful city of Moscow. Russia in any sense is a beautiful sight to behold. It is really unlike any other place a person can visit. Give credit where credit is due, this is a huge step for Russia. Instead of looking at the negative, let's recognise the huge effort being made and open our minds to peace and making as much effort on our parts. That is really the only way that Russia can become a part of the rest of the world.
Judy, Spring Hill, TN, USA

In support of both the British teams taking part, I can say their fans will have a great time. The Russian people are very friendly, helpful and will ensure a great time is had by all. But there is a group of Russians called Russia for Russians who might try to spoil it and you can guess who will be blamed, the fans. It is also common for police to turn a blind eye to their actions.
Peter Berry, Portsmouth, England

Taking an 'unofficial' taxi in Moscow is convenient and much cheaper than the real thing, as long as the driver knows where your destination is and there are no other people in the car, which is risky. But the best way to get around in Moscow is the metro system: the most efficient and busiest in the world. Besides, it's a true museum of Soviet history under the city. A real treat. If you're going to the game, don't miss a ride inside the circle line.
Traveller, Barcelona

When I talked to many Russians about how they felt about Abramovic during a recent visit, he was universally unpopular, particularly outside Moscow, and was regularly described to me (in a phrase that evokes earlier times) as "an enemy of the people". The fact he wastes what many people see as "their" money on his London hobby is a serious source of irritation.
Michael Anthony, Manchester, England

It's fantastic to see a city making such a huge effort for an event like this. They are looking at the security side, which is natural, but they are also going to great lengths to ensure that the whole event looks and feels as special as possible. Well done Moscow. It should be a great night.
Jamie, Carmarthenshire, Wales

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