England football fans have laid a wreath 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.
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 on Monday.
Volgograd is the site of one of the bloodiest battles in history, with estimates suggesting the number of troops killed, captured or wounded on both sides totalled nearly two million.
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.
The city is also twinned with Coventry, after women from the Midlands city wrote to express support during the war.
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.”
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.”
The Queen Mother was made an honorary citizen of the southern Russian city.
Mr Grant, a Brentford fan who lives in north London, said he was “very honoured” to be representing England at the event.
“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.”