North-East travel writer Tommy Walker, who is in Russia for the World Cup, finds the country quite different to how it was billed before the tournament

WHEN I was thinking of a headline before England’s game with Panama on Sunday, I had two options. One was “Nightmare in Nizhny”, but as things turned out, that was probably a little bit pessimistic.

England were fantastic at the Nizhny Novgorod Stadium, smashing Panama 6-1 to win their second successive World Cup game. Despite the hapless Panamanians’ best attempts to rough England up, the only thing rough about the game was how all of us fans here in Nizhny were feeling the morning after.

There were many more England fans for this game than the opening match and as the tournament goes on, more fans are feeling confident to travel within Russia. The Barmy Army are now out in true force, non-more than the England band of John Hemmingham and co who play the drums at every game.

The fans now seem to be in good voice and will only get stronger when England come up against Belgium on Sunday. They particularly like Southgate’s punch of the air at full time like he did at when he was the manager of Middlesbrough. It certainly bridges the fans to be on his side more than any other England manager I can remember.

Southgate has always oozed integrity and class. He’s honest and passionate about football, how the game should be played and what he’s trying to do. The one thing I like about Southgate is that I believe he knows what the fans want. He understands the conversations us England fans have in the pubs, on the trains and via social media and most importantly he understands the concerns. England beating the smaller teams with a little more ease, is definitely a step in the right direction.

On the morning of the game in Nizhny, fans turned up in their droves. I arrived myself on a night train from Moscow at 5.45am and there were stacks of fans hanging around the station – most of them hungry for a bite to eat queuing inside McDonald’s. From Moscow it takes about six hours to arrive, but the journey goes in no time when you’ve got a carriage full of beds. I got my head down and managed to get a few hours. Every little counts for match days, let me tell you.

NIZHNY NOVGOROD is a lot more cosmopolitan than Volgograd – it seems more like a city. Volgograd was very spread out, and it was difficult to judge where the centre of the city actually was. The main street, Bolshaia Pokrovskaia, is home to lots of restaurants, bars, shops and attractions. Many of the local Russians wanted photos with anyone with an England top on – quite the opposite of what we all thought fans in Russia would have to deal with.

The Panama fans were there in droves and acted fantastically. They were there for the party, to play against the historically mighty England. For them, they didn’t expect to win, it was all about the spectacle itself. Everyone mingled and had fun, all day and night.

For me personally it looks like my Russian adventure is over but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time here. Like many of the fans here it has been nice to be pleasantly surprised about Russia in general, with many fans over here blaming western media on building up a fake profile of the country.

The people are friendly, and the transportation is good. Moscow is full of architectural wonders, and the weather during summer time is perfect. I feel Russia really does get underestimated as a travel destination. As far as a city break is concerned, Moscow during the summer would be a great choice for any travel enthusiasts out there. With the Kremlin, Red Square, St Basil’s Cathedral, Tretyakov Gallery and more, there are quite a bundle of fine attractions to visit, and it’s only about a three-hour flight from the UK.

Although English isn’t widely spoken here, that’s something that inevitably will change in the future. Moscow in particular is a marvellous place to visit.

The Russians have come across as more friendly than we’d ever imagined and are passionate people who work hard and don’t complicate situations too much.

They see things for what they are, say it how it is (just like us Northerners) and get on with things.

That’s the beauty of travel – you get to see the truth behind the sensationalism and stereotypes and what you find is often a lot different to what you expect.