Page last updated at 13:46 GMT, Wednesday, 21 May 2008 14:46 UK

So far, so peaceful in Moscow

By Richard Galpin
BBC News, Moscow

Manchester United fans in Moscow
English fans have been gathering in Moscow's Red Square

They came, they saw and so far they have been peaceful.

Just like the many previous invasions of Russia from the Mongols to the Nazis, the army of English football fans which has now arrived in Moscow has its eye on a specific prize which can be found in the nerve centre of the Russian capital, Red Square.

But it is not the Kremlin they want to seize - it is of course the Champions League trophy, which will be on display until a few hours before the final between Manchester United and Chelsea kicks off on Wednesday night.

Not long after the first charter flights from Britain touched down in Moscow on Tuesday, columns of red and blue started moving into the famous square where the embalmed body of the revolutionary leader, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, is also on display.

Less than two weeks ago, Red Square reverberated to the sound of Russian troops and tanks taking part in the annual military parade.

Karaoke booths

Now it has become base camp for Chelsea and Manchester United fans ahead of the crunch match, which some commentators are describing as one of the most important in the history of the English game.

Just a few metres from the Lenin Mausoleum, the Russian authorities have set up a fan zone with a small football pitch and karaoke booths where supporters can sing along to their favourite footie songs.

There are also competitions and a big dome where videos of top footballing moments can be watched.

It's all part of what the Russian authorities want to be a "festival of football" in the heart of the city.

And so far it seems to be working.

Chelsea fans in Moscow
Fans are donning traditional Russian headgear

The atmosphere among the thousands of fans who have come from Britain and around the world, including even Australia, has been one of excitement, not aggression.

Although there are grumbles about the huge cost of travelling to Moscow for the all-English final and the quality of some hotel rooms, most of the fans we interviewed told us they'd been impressed by the city, its people and the logistical operation put in place to cope with the arrival of up to 50,000 people from abroad.

So far the fans also seem to have heeded the warnings from the Russian police that they will not tolerate any "anti-social" behaviour.

Drinking ban

The ban on drinking alcohol on the streets is particularly rigidly enforced on Red Square, raising some concerns given the numbers of fans pouring into the area.

Although many have clearly been in very high spirits, as yet no-one has been spotted with a beer in hand.

The thousands of extra police officers brought in to prevent any trouble breaking out have had very little to do so far.

On Tuesday, many of the riot police stationed just outside Red Square were fast asleep.

Assistant Chief Constable Steven Thomas of the British Transport Police, who is now in Moscow to liaise with his Russian counterparts, told me he did not believe there'd be any serious trouble surrounding the final.

He said known English hooligans had been stopped from travelling and undercover police officers were in Moscow to try to spot any other troublemakers.

And he was confident that the Russian authorities had clamped down on hard-core Russian groups.

The Kremlin is well aware of how much is at stake. It wants to prove the country can handle big sporting events so it can bid to hold some of the most important international competitions in the future.

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