Gareth Southgate wants fans to ‘have a brilliant time’ despite security fears

Gareth Southgate has urged England fans to celebrate football and enjoy their time at Euro 2024 with supporters from across the continent amid security fears surrounding their Group C opener against Serbia.

Police in Germany have described Sunday evening’s game as “high-risk”, with reports earlier in the week of Serbian ultras making their way to the region.

With England supporters travelling to a tournament en masse for the first time since 2016, all eyes will be on behaviour ahead of the game as much as the performance of the players on the pitch at the Veltins Arena.

Asked on the eve of the contest if he had a message for supporters, England boss Southgate replied: “I expect everybody to enjoy the football.

England manager Gareth Southgate smiles as he fields questions from the media
England manager Gareth Southgate spoke to the press ahead of the Group C game against Serbia (UEFA Handout)

“I’ve been fortunate to be involved in a lot of tournaments and travelled to others that I wasn’t been directly involved.

“They are great carnivals of football, an opportunity to see another part of the world, meet people from other parts of the world, have a brilliant time.

“So everybody I’m sure is coming to do exactly that. The whole of Europe can come together, celebrate together the brilliant game we’re involved in, support and get behind their team but of course meet other people and have a fantastic month together.”

Serbia head coach Dragan Stojkovic echoed the sentiments of his English counterpart and dismissed suggestions the game should be regarded differently to any others.

“I’m sure tomorrow’s game will be an opportunity for everybody, for the Serbian and English fans, to enjoy watching the game so I don’t see any kind of risk,” he said.

“Football is really something special to enjoy and I’m sure both sides will be very, very happy to be tomorrow in the stadium.”

Earlier in the week Football Association chief executive Mark Bullingham also backed England fans to behave, while it has also been arranged for only low-alcohol beer to be sold in the vicinity of the stadium.

“Over the last few years, we’ve shown our fans have been great supporters of the team and behaved well,” he said.

Fans smile as they unfurl an England flag
England fans have flocked to Gelsenkirchen ahead of the game against Serbia (Martin Rickett/PA)

“Obviously you are going to have a big volume of people and that’s maybe a factor they need to consider. We are expecting – I’m not really quite sure how anyone really measures this – up to 500,000 people estimated.

“Understandably with that volume of people, they will be looking at that. What I would say is, over the last few years our England fans have been absolutely brilliant support to us, particularly in the stadium.

“There are a lot of people going to come out here. The best thing that the fans can do to help us do well in this tournament is be a tribute to their country.

“The German police have proved they are really good at policing football tournaments so there’s no reason why that shouldn’t be the case again. But really the main message is: get behind the team and support in the right way.”