A lifelong England fan from Leeds has spoken about his 'fantastic' experiences watching the national side at the World Cup this summer.
Steve Riding, who is originally from Chapel Allerton and now lives in Harrogate, attended two of England's group matches and now hopes to get tickets for the quarter-final clash against Sweden.
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He and his friends displayed a St George flag bearing the name of their local pub, The Regent in Chapel Allerton, in the stands.
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Steve, a photographer, flew to the tournament from Leeds Bradford Airport, and had to travel from Gdansk in Poland to reach one game.
"I’ve travelled all over the world watching England but Russia takes some beating. I’ve been to Rio and Rio is, well... Rio. I’ve been to two other World Cups as well - Spain in ’82 and Germany in 2006 - but the two places we’ve been in Russia have been superb.
"The people there were as friendly as anywhere we’ve been and I’ve been to Ukraine, Dortmund, Berlin, Oslo, Copenhagen, Tallinn, Stockholm. I could go on… Obviously, it was a bit different to other places but everywhere you went the people couldn’t do enough for you. You’d walk past in your England colours and they’d be shouting “Come on England” or “Good luck England”. You always hear people saying Russians don’t smile but that’s nonsense. Whether in Nizhny or Kaliningrad or wherever, they were fantastic.
"It’s only the politicians that want to have their 15 minutes, that’s the issue. That annoys me when they stick their two-pennorth in about something they know nothing about along with newspapers and TV programmes where they try and sensationalise things. Every fan I have spoken to said the same thing - what a great experience. Similarly, plenty have said how many others will be wishing they had gone out there as well. Some thought it would be too expensive but, in fairness, to get to Kaliningrad, it was only a £102 return flight fare from Leeds Bradford.
"I always thought it would be a great World Cup. That was actually my preconception as I thought Putin would want it to go well, come what may. It was never in doubt that we would go. FIFA does have its faults but they can put on a show. No matter where you go, whoever your team is, there are always fans from so many other countries. There’s just something about this competition; fans always seem happy to see each other, everyone wears their team’s colours and, unfortunately, it’s just a very small minority of people that tend to make the headlines for the wrong reasons.
"Having travelled around the world for so long watching England, I am so pleased that we now have a manager who isn’t afraid to put his faith in youth. It’s great to see Gareth Southgate picking players like Trent Alexander-Arnold and Ruben Loftus-Cheek. For the so-called ‘Golden Generation’, things just never happened for whatever reason. But with this squad, you can see the atmosphere is great; you can sense when they score that they are all playing for each other."