England was hailed as “the motherland of football” as Gareth Southgate’s squad were welcomed to their World Cup training base, with traditional offerings of bread and tea and a blast of the Stone Roses.
England trained for the first time at Stadium Spartak Zelenogorsk on Wednesday morning, with more than 400 invited guests and dozens of media representatives on hand to greet them to the newly refurbished venue on the outskirts of St Petersburg.
Local school children, many of them draped in St George’s flags, were given England goodie bags and Southgate’s squad – missing only Marcus Rashford – obliged by stopping to sign foam footballs and shirts or pose for selfies.
They had earlier been introduced one by one as they emerged on to the pitch to the strains of ‘This is the One’ – a signature tune of Ian Brown’s famous Manchester collective – pumping out from speaker stacks.
An oration followed by Aleksey Kurinov, head of the Kurortny District, whose words were translated into English.
“We are very happy that the England team, which is the representative of the motherland of football, has chosen our city and district as its training site,” he said.
“We hope our hospitable land will bring success and luck to you. We will back you up and support you and we wish outstanding success for you. Welcome!”
Southgate and captain Harry Kane then received gifts of korovai bread – a symbol of celebration often used in wedding ceremonies – and sweet tea by a group of women in traditional dress.
The tea came in an ornate golden urn, whose resemblance to a large sporting trophy did not pass unnoticed.
A young child, Artur Shvarcz, was then invited to meet Southgate and received a signed ball.
A lengthy workout ensued, starting with stretches, running through a variety of drills and culminating in a reduced size match.
It is the last time the locals will get to see the visiting stars up close in such a capacity, with the remainder of their sessions behind closed doors barring 15-minute windows for accredited media.
There were hints of the security procedures which have been put in place for the Football Association, with high fences, security cameras and turnstiled entrances patrolled by staff.
There were even personnel manning the roofs of the administrative buildings, clutching binoculars and placed to spot prying eyes once the private work begins.