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ENGLAND fans laid a wreath today in memory of Soviet war dead in a moving ceremony in central Volgograd.
Two fans, James Lockett and Billy Grant, were among an official party who paid tribute in the city’s Hall of Military Glory, in the heart of the Mamayev Kurgan memorial park commemorating the Battle of Stalingrad.
The group also included British deputy ambassador Lindsay Skoll and FA chair Greg Clarke.
“It’s really important to stand shoulder to shoulder with the people of Volgograd,” said Clarke.
Three Lions manager Gareth Southgate pointed to the “perspective” the war-ravaged history of Volgograd, which was formerly known as Stalingrad, had given his team ahead of the World Cup opener against Tunisia last night.
“We’re aware of the history of the city, the importance of that battle in the second world war,” Southgate said over the weekend. “It’s something that is in the past, but you respect the people who lost their lives who fought together.
“There’s a lot of talk about relationships between our country and Russia, but the history there is very strong from that period.
“To see the [Motherland Calls] statue and have an understanding of the history reminds you that some things are even bigger than football. That’s good for us all.”
A huge monument known as The Motherland Calls looms on the hill overlooking the Volgograd Arena and the memorial park is a short walk away from the stadium.
And more than a dozen England fans turned out to watch the ceremony, which began with a short display by the Russian soldiers who guard the site.
The 1942-3 Battle of Stalingrad was one of the bloodiest in history, with estimates suggesting the number of troops killed, captured or wounded on both sides totalled nearly two million.
The Soviet defence of the city, on the banks of the Volga river, was a turning point for the Allies against Hitler’s forces in the second world war.
The city is also twinned with Coventry, after women from the Midlands city wrote to express support during the war.
Ms Skoll wrote in a book of commemoration: “May our bonds between the people of the UK and Russia remain forever strong and enduring.”
She told reporters: “As you know the links between the UK and this great city are strong and enduring.
“They were forged during the second world war, with shared experience of destruction and devastation and immense bravery, and started by 900 women in Coventry, who sent messages of support and solidarity to their sisters in Stalingrad.”
Ms Skoll spoke about shared values between the two nations.
And she added: “Given the immense suffering of Volgograd and the pivotal part it played in the route towards victory I think it’s only fitting that the 2018 World Cup should have Volgograd as one of its host cities, after all Volgograd today plays host to people from all over the world including Great Britain, who are here in peace and with a common purpose.”
Mr Grant, a Brentford fan who lives in north London, said he was “very honoured” to be representing England at the event.
He said: “Obviously Russian soldiers that were killed in the great battle — it means a lot to them, it means a lot to us.
“I’m into football, you’re into football but when you have an event like this you realise it’s more than just football.
“People have given up their lives and for us we need to pay respect to the people that have done that because that was a very important moment in World War Two.”
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