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MOSCOW – Russian police are readying for Tottenham's game against CSKA Moscow on Tuesday, the first visit by an English club to Russia since clashes between the two countries' fans marred the European championship, though a repeat of that mass violence appears unlikely.
Russian and English fans clashed repeatedly in Marseille before and after their Euro 2016 group stage game in June. Groups of Russian fans arrived well prepared for trouble, equipped with mouth guards and martial arts gloves, and French police struggled to cope, deploying tear gas and water cannon.
Russian fan leaders who were in Marseille for the June violence have been warned against a repeat performance, and Tottenham has urged its fans to keep a low profile.
"All the Russian fans who were in France, all the supporters, were summoned to police departments and hour-long conversations were had with them. No one wants to take revenge on anyone for anything," Alexander Shprygin, head of the All-Russian Fans' Union, told The Associated Press. "Everyone wants to live a quiet life and everyone forgot about the English a while ago."
Two board members from Shprygin's group, which has been accused of far-right links, are currently serving prison sentences in France related to the Marseille violence. However, he said when English fans arrive in Moscow their "safety will be at a much higher level than in Marseille this summer, obviously as long as they don't provoke the citizens."
While CSKA fans were not prominent in the Marseille violence, with supporters of others Moscow clubs such as Spartak and Lokomotiv playing a central role, CSKA has been repeatedly punished by UEFA in recent years for fan racism and occasional violence at games. When Manchester City visited in 2014 in the Champions League, UEFA ordered the game to be played in an empty stadium.
Russian authorities swamp many football games with hundreds, even thousands of police as a matter of course, including for relatively minor league fixtures, while only around 300 Tottenham supporters are expected to travel, according to Ivan Upanov, CSKA's head of fan outreach. In Marseille, English fans made a show of occupying the city's Old Port area, which antagonized Russian fans and French locals, but Spurs fans have been told to hide their allegiance in the Russian capital.
"For additional personal security, it is suggested that you do not show your football colors until you are inside the stadium," Tottenham said in travel advice to fans. "Whilst flags and banners are welcome at the stadium, we recommend that they are not openly shown in the city center."
"We haven't seen much to suggest that what happened over the summer has been a big influence in changing people's minds about whether or not to travel," said Martin Cloake, co-chair of the Tottenham Hotspur Supporters' Trust. Instead, the Russian visa procedure, which can cost around 150 pounds ($195) and requires biometric testing, is a bigger deterrent. "It's a very expensive trip anyway, and a long journey," added Cloake.
If there is trouble at Tuesday's game in Moscow, it wouldn't be the first time Spurs fans have experienced crowd violence in Russia.
On Tottenham's last visit in 2013 to play Anzhi Makhachkala in the Europa League, the game was played in the town of Ramenskoye near Moscow because of safety concerns related to and Islamist insurgency in Anzhi's home region.
The arrival of thousands of Anzhi fans angered Ramenskoye locals and the two groups clashed inside the stadium during the game before the locals charged the Anzhi fans, prompting a stampede for the exits, all as the small group of travelling Spurs fans looked on. Police eventually restored order and the game finished peacefully, with a 2-0 win for Tottenham.