I received a curious email a week and a half ago from a friend of a friend. Headed: "EUROPEAN CUP FINAL IN MOSCOW?????" (yes, it really was in capitals with five question marks), it claimed that Uefa have a Plan B if two English clubs emerge as this year's finalists.
The email bullet-pointed:
"NO game in Moscow.
Wembley Stadium is not available that week due to other things in Brent.
2 legged [sic] final --like old UEFA Cup-- away goals rule will not apply to avoid moaning about it-draw=penalties."
According to the source for the email (impeccable & well-placed, so I've been told), the plan was originally mooted by the British Foreign Office, their concerns not just revolving around the potential for crowd disorder, but also the current state of anglo-Russian relations in the wake of the Litvinenko affair. The parlous state of London's relationship with Moscow means that the British government's ability to effectively liase with their Russian counterparts over the problems thrown up by an all-English final are severely limited.
The email goes through all the parties affected if it's a Chelsea/Liverpool v Man Utd. final, giving their concerns & interests. The police forces from the Met, Greater Manchester & Merseyside would have no liason or consultation with the Russian police, a situation normally considered unthinkable for a European final. UEFA are clearly anxious about the potential for trouble, indeed, they are still smarting from the warranted criticisms of their performance in Athens last year. Moreover, UEFA are said to be "petrified" at the absence of links between the UK & Russian forces. The English FA are naturally anxious, not least because any large-scale trouble in Moscow could affect its bid to host the 2018 World Cup. The Russian government is seemingly unconcerned about the situation, though this may have more to do with current anglo-Russian tensions than this particular worry. Chelsea are very agitated; their owner Roman Abramovich knows full well what could happen if 60,000 English fans turn up in the middle of Moscow, high on drink, low on policing. Besides this, the billionaire Russian owner has plans to extend the Chelsea "brand" in Russia, & any disorder could jeopardise those ambitions. Liverpool are keen to avoid anything like last year's debacle in Athens & don't believe UEFA have the organisational ability or desire to handle things any better this time around. Man Utd., according to the email, are concerned about any trouble, but suspect that UEFA would want Barcelona to beat them in the semi-final, which would mean no Plan B.
The email concludes:
"No one will know until the 2nd leg at Old Trafford on 29th April but watch this space as things progress and leaks will happen."
I was initially sceptical about the claims made in the email. However, the concerns that each party would have about an all-English final in Moscow do give it an element of plausibility which official statements would find difficult to gainsay.