Arsenal were drawn against CSKA Moscow in the last eight of the Europa League this morning. For a few lucky/privileged people, this means planning a road trip - away games are fun, traveling with a band of like-minded supporters creates some fantastic memories and is an experience that is not soon forgotten, regardless of destination.
This game, though, is being played in Fraught Political Times. In case you haven’t really been following what’s going on, a Russian exile living in London died this week, and it is widely suspected that said Russian was killed by the Russian government. In response to this, the usual diplomatic maneuvers were taken - England expelled a bunch of Russian diplomats, Russia is in the midst of doing the same, and both sides are currently in the “puff up your chests and make a lot of threats” phase of this type of incident.
On top of all that, there’s the reputation of both the English traveling support - which isn’t anywhere near as bad as it used to be, but is seemingly taking a couple steps backward in recent years - and the Russian supporters, who take “spoiling for a fight” to a whole new level. They were widely blamed for a great deal of fan violence at Euro 2016, and it can’t be said that they’ll sit idly by when the English come to Moscow for this match either. Both Russia and England were threatened with expulsion from the World Cup after clashes in Marseille, although Russia was widely seen as the instigator.
So, with all that as background, Arsenal are warning their fans who are planning to go to Moscow for the second leg of the quarterfinal to “follow the advice of the Foreign Office” (the UK equivalent of the State Department) and to “remain vigilant, and avoid demonstrations of any kind” while in Russia.
The match between Manchester United and CSKA in the Champions League group stages in September went off without a hitch, which is a positive, but that was before all this kerfuffle. I hope that the traveling English are able to enjoy themselves without incident, regardless of who would instigate said incidents; both sets of supporters have the kind of history that would indicate there might be trouble, but hopefully cooler heads will prevail in Moscow on April 12.