|England 6-1 Panama. Nizhny Novgorod Stadium.|
"This is what happens to you if you decide to support a country with a different set of values (to Russia). You can expect to be assassinated," said the man who is meant to represent Britain on the world stage.
Then, a mere week before the competition began, a Foreign Affairs Committee report warned of the very real dangers of "intimidation, hooligan violence and anti-British hostility." You may therefore be wondering how am I alive to write this blog on part one of our trip to Russia.
Mr Johnson of course has a long and storied history of speaking complete and utter bollocks on all manner of issues, usually plastered across the side of a big red bus. Meanwhile, our MPs in general aren't exactly known to be the sharpest tools in the box, especially when the Shadow Home Secretary wants to pay new police officers £30 a year or the Trade Secretary reckons that a new deal with the EU will be the easiest in history.
|"Welcome to Nizhny, try some of our fish"|
Nizhny you see was wonderful. Our group of five England fans and a token Bristol City supporter - welcome to McCarthy's Football Travels, Stuart - arrived in Moscow from Gatwick via Munich on the Saturday evening, allowing a cursory glance at Saint Basil's Cathedral as we passed through the Russian capital. Unfortunately, Red Square was closed off at this point for security reasons so there was no chance to enter it as we had a train to catch - onwards to Nizhny, driver.
|A quick glance of Saint Basil's Cathedral through Red Square|
|Moscow Metro system -|
you don't see this sort of artwork on the Piccadilly Line
Certainly, it would have been unthinkable 25 years ago that there would be a train speeding its way from Moscow with a buffet car full of people singing about Vindaloos, Jamie Vardy being on fire and holding and giving but doing it at the right time. Yet that is what we had as English, Russian, Panamanian, Swedes and one Australian bloke who must have been lost came together to drink beer and sing songs for virtually the entire four-and-a-half hour journey.
|The party carriage from Moscow to Nizhny Novgorod|
|It was good to see Alan Shearer on the train wearing his own|
shirt from Euro 96
|The man in shades was no Gordon Ramsay if his raw fish|
offering was anything to go by
|"Don't worry about her, she just drink too much" -|
either that or she didn't like the dead fish dinner either
|Nizhny Novgorod's 16th century Kremlin|
|The cathedral within Nizhny Novgorod Kremlin|
|"Big breakfast" - not what I'd expected when it was ordered|
|Nizhny Novgorod Stadium - a stunning arena|
|The teams prepare to do battle|
|Check out the size of that roof|
The game itself was one of the more surreal I've seen. Yes, it was only Panama but to see England 5-0 up at half time led to utter disbelief on the concourse. A couple of friendly Russian blokes in our section - note Boris, they didn't want to assassinate us - even began boldly predicting England will go all the way. You could tell they aren't used to the normal disappointment that goes with supporting the Three Lions - either that or they'd been inhaling too much Novichok.
|Our new Russian friends had clearly been sniffing the Novichok after|
announcing at half time England would win the World Cup
It finished up 6-1, Harry Kane becoming only the third Englishman to score a hat-trick at a World Cup, John Stones moving two ahead of Lionel Messi in the top scorers chart and there was even a brilliant strike from ex-Brighton player Jesse Lingard to round things off nicely. This was my first ever game at a World Cup and it is hard not to think that, from here, it's going to be all downhill as how do you top a 6-1 win, quarter final spot booked and 30 degrees throughout? If Carlsberg did World Cup games... well, you wouldn't be allowed to mention them as Budweiser are the official sponsors.
|Another goal for England|
|England 6-1 Panama. Is this the real life?|
|Lured into a Travel Agents for beers and selfies -|
what would Boris Johnson say?
|Pandemonium with the Panamanians|
|Mark was not so happy to have been drinking oversized|
vodka the following day...
|Standard photo with a Panama fan wearing a Panama hat|
To be continued - presuming I don't die on the way, of course.
England: Jordan Pickford, Kyle Walker, John Stones 2, Harry Maguire, Kieran Trippier (Danny Rose), Dele Alli, Jordan Henderson, Jesse Lingard 1 (Fabian Delph), Ashley Young, Raheem Sterling, Harry Kane 3 (Jamie Vardy).
Panama: Jaime Penedo, Michael Murillo, Roman Torres, Fidel Escobar, Eric Davis, Gabriel Gomez (Felipe Baloy 1), Edgar Barcenas (Abdiel Arroyo), Armando Cooper, Anibal Godoy (Ricardo Avila), Jose Luis Rodriguez, Blas Perez.