Gareth Southgate has encouraged more England fans to follow David Beckham’s lead and join the World Cup party in Russia.
England are usually one of the largest groups of travelling fans at international tournaments but uptake was relatively low this time around with numbers in Volgograd and Nizhny Novgorod thinner than usual.
Estimates suggested as little as 2,000 England fans came to each game, though more are expected for Thursday’s Group G decider in Kaliningrad.
Fears of violence, racist abuse and an anti-English sentiment fuelled by diplomatic tensions between the two nations have not been mirrored by events on the ground thus far and England’s confident qualification for the last 16 has created a buzz around Southgate’s side.
That will only intensify with the arrival of England’s former captain, and perennial A-lister, Beckham – where he is expected to take in the final group game.
“It’s nice he’s coming to support and maybe we will see him,” said Southgate.
“I had a message from David before the tournament and after our first or second game. It’s nice we’re getting support from a lot of our former players, whether directly or through the media. But this tournament is about our current players and their opportunity to make history, really.”
They've conducted themselves well and they’ve been good ambassadors for the country.Gareth Southgate on the England fans
Southgate was fulsome in his praise of the England faithful that did brave some troubling warnings and off-putting logistics to head to Russia, but would like to see the contingent swell in the knockout stages.
First and foremost the supporters here have been brilliant,” he said.
“Our support on the ground has been outstanding, they’ve conducted themselves well and they’ve been good ambassadors for the country.
“It’s been a difficult process, a lot of fears which hopefully have been proved unfounded about what people would experience here.
“We’ve been really warmly received as a team. It would be great if more people were excited enough to come and watch us.
“It feels that is what is being generated at home. But we feel the support we’ve been getting from back home even if we haven’t had quite as many in the stadium.”