For smug liberals, unreconstructed neocons and Russophobes of every stripe, their personal idea of hell has arrived
The World Cup in Russia is off to a flyer, serving up a feast of football amid the special and unique atmosphere generated by this quadrennial event. Fans from every corner of the globe having been packing the stadiums, some of them custom-built, reminding us that despite our differences we are one human family.
However not everyone is happy. For Russophobes and neocons the success of the World Cup in Russia is something to mourn rather than celebrate, interfering as it does with their relentless demonisation of a country, in Russia, which refuses to know its place as a subaltern power, home to retrograde cultural values, relative to the West.
In fact given the intensity of anti-Russia invective that has played out in the Western mainstream media these past few years, many watching the World Cup will have been genuinely surprised to know that, yes, the sun actually shines in Russia too; and that, yes, its people are not oppressed and living in gulags.
Consider for a moment the sentiments of Guardian journalist Shaun Walker — in Volgograd along with thousands of his English compatriots in advance of England's opening match Group G match against Tunisia:
The England fans I've met in Volgograd so far are absolutely loving it. "It's the opposite of what we expected, everyone has been amazingly welcoming. Last night was brilliant — couldn't ask for a better start to a world cup trip".
"The opposite of what we expected," Mr Walker tweets, which isn't a surprise considering the wall to wall anti-Russia propaganda the Guardian spews out on a near daily basis. There was no more craven an example of this than an article by the newspaper's Diplomatic editor, Patrick Wintour, just prior to the tournament, in which he conveyed without challenge the 'warning' by 'various MPs' that England fans travelling to the tournament were putting themselves at serious risk of abuse and attack.
The Guardian also carried an opinion piece in the run up to the tournament, the title of which — 'Robbie Williams selling soul to dictator Putin in World Cup gig' — only served to confirm why the liberal newspaper's decline has been so rapid.
Anyway, having watched Robbie Williams' performance at the opening ceremony, there are grounds for arguing that it was Putin who sold his soul to bad music.
So yes for smug liberals, unreconstructed neocons (such as the cranks over at the Henry Jackson Society) and Russophobes of every stripe, their personal idea of hell has arrived in the shape of a successful, joyous and celebratory World Cup in Russia, involving beautiful football on the pitch and a coming together of different cultures and nationalities off it in a spirit of togetherness and amity. Just imagine their pain; years spent churning out anti-Russia articles, opinion pieces, speeches and books, only to see it all debunked over the course of just a few days.
No wonder they did their utmost to sabotage the tournament before it got underway.
That being said, there are some people who refuse to be deterred no matter what. Take Peter Tatchell, a man who's made it his business to rampage around the political firmament engaging in an unending series of political stunts with the objective, it would seem, of burnishing his profile as a lone ranger for LGBT rights.
In his latest adventure, Mr Tatchell descended on Russia just as the World Cup got underway, doing so with the objective of getting himself arrested and beaten up by gangs of marauding homophobes. Alas, much to his chagrin, he couldn't find any who would obliged and promptly flew back to the UK — a country, by the way, in which it was revealed in 2017 that homophobic attacks over the previous four years had surged by 80%.
Overall, the mainstream media's unstinting caricature of Russia under Putin's government (an elected government do not forget) has, with the onset of the World Cup, blown up in their faces. For the hundreds of thousands who've descended on the country from across the world, including England, what they have encountered will only serve to deepen public scepticism and mistrust of the garbage they are routinely fed by the Guardian, the BBC, CNN, and all the rest.
In other words, they have created a rod for their own back.
As to the tournament itself, as mentioned what a feast it has served up. The opening game saw Russia roll over Saudi Arabia 5-0 in Group A, while in Group B Portugal and Spain produced a classic, ending in a deserved 3-3 draw with Ronaldo netting a hat trick for the Portuguese. The most memorable game so far — that is, at time of writing — saw Mexico defeat current world champions Germany 1-0 in Group F with an inspired display of fast counter attacking football.
Played at Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium, the huge Mexican contingent among the crowd was a reminder of the special magic that surrounds the World Cup — out singing their German counterparts as their team outplayed them on the pitch. There was a large German contingent also, which was especially nice to see given that the last time such a large contingent of Germans descended on Moscow, back in 1941, they got turned back at the gates.
For a Scotsman such as myself, whose country last qualified for the World Cup in 1998, breaking with the ancient tradition of supporting anyone but England would be sacrilege. Therefore it is my deepest desire to see England get humped at the group stage and sent home early. Along with every other self-respecting Scot, the opportunity to revel in the ritual gnashing of teeth that such an event elicits within the English press is simply too delicious to pass up.
Anyhow, my ancestors would not have it otherwise, and this is without entering into the equation the unforgivable national insult delivered to Scotland by one of England's all time great football commentators and pundits, the inimitable Jimmy Hill.
It occurred during the 1982 Word Cup in Spain when Scotland faced the mighty maestros of Brazil in their second group match. Eighteen minutes in and Dave Narey opens the scoring with a scorcher of a shot from outside the box. But rather than greet the effort with the praise due, Hill has the temerity to describe Narey's shot as a 'toe poke', and in that moment earns himself the eternal enmity of an entire nation. Never, indeed, has there been a stronger argument in support of Scottish independence.
As the legendary Bill Shankly said: "Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I don't like that attitude. I can assure them it is much more serious than that."