Vindication finally came to Avram Grant last night. The lugubrious Chelsea manager (and sometime Dangermouse nemesis) achieved what his beloved predecessor never could: he smuggled his side into a European cup final. Long derided by fans, and perennially in danger of being chopped by Chelsea paterfamilias Roman Abramovich, Grant suddenly finds himself with the chance of snatching a historic Prem and Champions League double from under the whiskers of Manchester United. And in a fine moment of serendipity, where should this all-English final be held but in Russia - at a time when relations between London and Moscow are frosty at best.
With 50,000 English fans set to descend on the Russian capital in May, the bureaucrats at the Russian embassy in London have stoked the embers by promising to expedite visas "as quickly as possible" while slyly accusing the UK of imposing an unjust visa regime on Russians visitors.
Surely not! London's fondness for our Russian friends is well known. We certainly love the cash they flash in the West End, and we even put on a winter festival each January. And that Russian Bar in Shoreditch is certainly rocking every time Londonist rolls past at 3am of a Sunday morn.
A plan to exempt fans from visa requirements was previously mooted, but could be off the table now that the embassy has racked up the tension. A spokesperson handily brought football and politics together in a double noggin-knocker with the following statement:
"Football lovers from both countries would have only benefited had the UK not decided in July 2007 to suspend negotiations with Russia on a bilateral agreement easing visa regulations and toughen the approach to Russian citizens applying for British visas"
So what's the deal exactly? While fans with valid tickets on organised charter flights should be fine, independent travellers are likely to come unstuck in the visa imbroglio. The Foreign Office is set to issue guidelines later today, so it's worth checking for updates on their website.
The headache doesn't even end once a visa has been procured: supporters can expect to shell out some £3,000 for ticket, flight, and accommodation in what is Europe's most expensive capital city. Still, what price the joy of putting one over on detested rivals, eh?
Image from Free-ers' Flickrstream