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     Andrey Bikey: Why I carried a gun in Moscow 

    By Duncan White

    When you have to resort to carrying a pistol for your own security, you know matters have got out of hand. Such was the level of abuse and threat that Andre Bikey suffered when playing for Lokomotiv Moscow that it rapidly became evident he needed a weapon for his own protection.

    "I used to have a gun," he said. "But it was only for my protection. I had to buy one after some problems I had. When I moved to Reading I gave it to one of my friends in Moscow. There are things I want to forget about my time in Russia." It will hardly be reassuring for Chelsea and Manchester United`s numerous black and Asian fans to hear how even a famous footballer and Moscow resident feared for his life when negotiating the streets at night.

    Tooled up: Andrey Bikey feared for his safety playing in Russia
    "I`m a big guy and maybe you think you can fight people off when there is one, two or three people trying to attack you," the Cameroon international said. "But when it is six or seven you cannot do this. That is why I had to buy a gun.

    "Russia has a different mentality. For a black person it is very hard to live in Russia, especially outside of Moscow. There is racism. In London it is much better: it is possible to walk along a street without problems."

    Marc Bennetts, Russian football expert and author of Football Dynamo, stressed that it was important for black supporters not to get isolated after the game.

    "They shouldn`t walk around on their own at night in the outskirts of Moscow," he said. "There is racism, often violent, so supporters or not they should be aware of that."

    Human rights groups believe between 41 and 57 people have been murdered by extreme right-wing groups in Russia this year, mostly in Moscow. Just last Thursday, eight men were sent to prison by Moscow City Court for a racially-motivated bombing campaign that claimed 14 lives.

    In 2005 a Cameroonian student was murdered in St Petersburg and a year later a Senegalese student was killed by a shotgun engraved with swastikas. The same year a mixed-race girl, just nine, was stabbed in the neck and head but survived. When a Tajik girl, also nine, was stabbed to death by a gang of eight youths in 2004, they were charged with hooliganism.

    Moscow, however, is a city that is rapidly changing. It has become increasingly cosmopolitan over recent years and attitudes are changing.

    Football is a tremendous liberalising force and you only have to look to the adulation with which CSKA Moscow fans celebrate their two black Brazilian strikers, Vagner Love and Jo, to see that in action. It`s a long way from 2001, when Jerry-Christian Tchuisse, a Cameroon defender who took Russian citizenship, was dropped from the national side before he could play a game, after pressure from right-wing groups.

    Bikey himself was popular with the Lokomotiv supporters but found away trips difficult. "You would go on the pitch and as soon as the game starts you would begin to hear the fans saying bad things," he said. "It was not easy for me to hear those things. The police did not protect us. But the teams keep buying African players so I think things must change and they have over recent years. Maybe one day I will go back.

    "I hope it will be OK on Wednesday night. There will not be Russian football fans at the game, just the English supporters so there will be no problem for the black players. And I hope there will be no problems for black people in Moscow."

    After the despicable events that followed the Uefa Cup final last week, there will be understandable nervousness on the part of Uefa and the Russian officials. Reassuringly, Bennetts believes that so far there is no organised violence being planned by Russian hooligan groups.

    He has been monitoring the various forums and chat rooms and has not come across any plans for organised violence.

    "There are no plans to attack British fans, it seems," he said. Let us hope they are as resolved not to attack each other.

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