Russia is putting on its most friendly face for the World Cup, according to one England fan.
Steve Holmes, a member of the England Band which has followed the national side to six World Cups, said the welcome they had received in the country had surpassed expectations.
His fellow band members John Hemmingham and Steve Wood, all from Sheffield, South Yorkshire, agreed their Russian hosts had been “brilliant”.
Nizhny Novgorod had a carnival atmosphere on Friday as Panama fans took over the centre, with drummers leading a large crowd up the pedestrianised Bolshaya Pokrovskaya Street.
This was in stark contrast to the low numbers of England fans to have arrived in the city so far, with one fan group estimating the Three Lions’ travelling support so far had been the lowest at a World Cup for 30 years.
Mr Hemmingham, 55, from the Hillsborough area, said “fake news” could have played a part in low numbers of England fans deciding to make the journey, while Mr Holmes said he thought it could be down to costs – with the trio spending around £20,000 on the trip.
Mr Holmes, 47, from Stannington, said: “It’s brilliant – it’s so different to what we thought.
“It’s definitely friendlier than when we’ve been to Russia before.”
Asked about low numbers of England fans, he added: “The groups that we’ve seen from World Cup to World Cup it’s the same groups of lads who’ve come out but every group’s a bit smaller.
“So there’s usually a group of ten but there’s two that have come to Russia instead of ten.
“I don’t know whether it’s cost or the problems but it is an expensive place to come to.”
Mr Hemmingham said: “It’s cheap when you get here but accommodation and flights are expensive.
“But it’s the football that matters.”
He added was impressed with Nizhny Novgorod.
“It’s great, fantastic sights to see, great food, great people. It’s really good, they can’t do enough for you to project their country,” he said.
All three men believed England could make the final.
“England’s going all the way – Have you not heard it?” Mr Hemmingham said.
But Mr Wood, 54, also from Stannington, and Mr Holmes predicted a tight game against Panama on Sunday.
“It could be nil-nil until the 85th minutes and then we’ll win 3-0,” Mr Wood said.