Sunderland RCA v Stockton Town, Saturday 4th September 2021, 3pm

September 16, 2021

After attending matches in the Extra Preliminary and Preliminary rounds of the FA Cup I thought I’d keep my streak going with a game in the First Qualifying Round. There were a few options but I took the opportunity to see Stockton Town for the first time this season in their tie with Sunderland RCA at the Meadow Lane ground in Ryhope.

The ground wasn’t the easiest to find. We could see it from all sides but it took a while to locate the entrance. Once parked up we headed into town for something to eat. The Guide Post pub looked promising but weren’t doing food and so in the end we had to settle for fish and chips from Ryhope Fisheries next door.

With rain in the air, we returned to the ground a good half an hour before kick off to try and get a seat under cover. It was six quid each admission with another pound for the programme. A decent attendance looked to be on the cards and the bar area was already busy as we made our way towards the main stand. There were flags from Stockton and plenty of Teesside accents.

We spent the first half in the main stand with the beagle tucked between my legs. He’s generally fine sitting quietly at a game but every now and then he perks up when he smells food. Bit like me really. Stockton took an early lead through a Kev Hayes free-kick and with Mikey Roberts adding a second mid-way through the half.

At that stage it looked as if Stockton, who are one division higher than RCA, were on for an easy win, but the hosts pulled one back on the half-hour and then equalized a few minutes later. They could even have taken the lead just before half-time but were denied by a decent save from the keeper. It was quite a turnaround.

With the prospect of rain diminishing we watched the second half from behind the goal. Stockton were getting on top again but struggled to make the extra possession count. Former Boro player Jonathan Franks was having a decent game. He’s someone that I’ve kept an eye on throughout his career, mainly because he went to school with my kids. I saw his Premier League appearance in the relegation game at West Ham and Jen and I saw him at Hampden in the League Cup semi-final victory over Celtic a few years ago. More recently I’ve watched out for his team’s results in Iceland and it’s good to see him back where he started.

With around twenty minutes to go Stockton regained the lead with another goal from Hayes. There were still chances going begging at the other end though and I wasn’t convinced that Stockton would see the game out. For one thing they had a few players carrying a bit of weight. It’s not unusual to see the odd player at this level with a bit of a belly on them but Stockton had at least three. Mind you, a few of the Sunderland lads looked as if they could do with a decent dinner so perhaps these things even out.

With play stopped for some reason we had a chat with the lady lino about dogs and football. She mentioned that in one game she had been reffing it had been a nightmare getting a stray dog off the pitch. There were at least six dogs at this game so it’s not surprising really that you get the odd one that gets up to mischief.

With time running out Stockton clinched the game with a fourth goal to see themselves through to the Second Qualifying Round and only three more wins from a potential tie against a League One or Two club.

Gateshead v Guiseley, Monday 30th August 2021, 3pm

September 15, 2021

I’d been to Gateshead International Stadium a couple of times previously but for athletics and rugby. I’m pretty sure my son Tom and I went to watch Linford Christie run there in the early nineties and I definitely remember us watching England A take on their All-Black equivalents around about the same time. I’ve never seen a football game there though and so thought I might as well tick it off by way of a sixth tier National League North game between Gateshead and Guiseley.

I’d bought the tickets about a week in advance and had splashed out twenty-five quid for hospitality seats. As regular admission was fifteen quid I reckoned that we wouldn’t need much in the way of extras to make it worthwhile.

We got to the stadium about forty minutes before kick-off. Parking was easy enough at that time and we were soon in the lounge allocated for us VIPs. There was a decent buffet, coffee and juice, a programme and seating at a table for six where the other two occupants were young lads getting stuck into a few pre-match cans of Fosters. At the risk of incurring the scorn of Roy Keane I had what I believe to be my first ever prawn sandwich at a game. When we made our way out into the cold our seats were central in the main covered stand and padded. On returning at half-time there was a well-stocked cheeseboard. Very nice.

One of the reasons for picking a Gateshead game had been their recent signing of former Boro player Luke Williams. He stood out as a kid under Strachan but a series of injuries have meant that he hasn’t played a lot since. Unfortunately he didn’t play in this one either as he was serving a suspension for being sent off in the previous game. Maybe I’ll fit in a Gateshead away game at Darlo or York and see how he is getting on then.

An announcement on the tannoy revealed that the attendance was eight hundred and sixty including forty-eight fans from Guiseley who were out of sight to our left. A few of the fans behind us were singing in support of ‘the heed’, mainly about how much they disliked Blyth Spartans or that they were ‘just a stop on the metro’.

Gateshead gave their fans plenty to sing about with a goal inside the first ten minutes from someone that they all just referred to as Macca. He cut inside from the right and finished well, across the keeper. A few minutes later he added a second and an easy victory looked on the cards. Gateshead had plenty of chances to kill the game off but with ten minutes remaining Guiseley pulled one back. That gave us a frantic ending to the match including a header that just went wide from the away keeper who was up for a last-minute corner. There were no more goals though and ‘the heed’ held on for the points.

I wasn’t sure whether we were allowed back into the hospitality after full-time but an announcement that “Dickson’s excellent pies will be available at a reduced rate of one pound on way out” was enough to send me on my way with the masses. I picked up a hot pork pie for a quid and had scoffed it before I’d hit the A19.

Middlesbrough U23 v Southampton B, Sunday 29th August 2021, 12 noon.

September 14, 2021

After staying overnight in Wylam after Paul’s party, Jen and I called in on a game on our way home. It was at Bishop Auckland’s Heritage Park and featured Boro’s under 23 team in a Premier League 2 fixture against Southampton’s B team. I’ve no idea about the age-related rules in that league but suffice to say that they could both be considered to be development teams.

It was three quid admission, although if I’d had Tom’s season card with me I could have got in for nothing. There were no programmes and initially no teamsheets, although some did turn up before kick-off. A bloke in a jacket wouldn’t let us into the stand. That must have been earmarked for club officials and so we got a coffee and sat at the benched tables further along the touchline for a while.

As the wind picked up we moved behind the goal to a covered stand that offered a little more protection. I’d estimate that there were around a hundred spectators and another fifty or so in the stands in some sort of official capacity. I had a brief look over to see if I could see Neil Warnock but if he was there, he was keeping a low profile.

From the Boro’s point of view I thought Hayden Hackney looked composed in midfield and one of the centre halves had a good game. Unfortunately I can’t remember which one. Perhaps both of them did ok. Martin Payero was playing but if I didn’t know he was our new South American superstar he wouldn’t have registered with me. I’ve a feeling that he might be more of a de Pena than a Marinelli.

I thought the Boro’s best player was Jeremy Sivi. He opened the scoring with good finish from a Ste Walker pull back and then nearly scored again after twisting and turning in the box to evade a few defenders only to see his shot well saved.

Boro kept the lead until about five minutes from the end when someone tapped a Southampton ankle for a pen. Brad James who had looked solid throughout was given no chance of repeating his Hartlepool play-off heroics but fortunately Boro went straight back up the other end and won a penalty of their own. There was a similar blam into the net to give us a 2-1 win.

Newcastle Blue Star v Cullercoats, Saturday 28th August 2021, 2.30pm

September 13, 2021

Jen and I were heading to a party not far from Newcastle so I had a look to see what games were going on nearby. The best option was a fixture in the Northern Alliance Premier Division between Newcastle Blue Star and Cullercoats. The Northern Alliance is a feeder league to the Northern League and with this being in their top division it meant that it was the eleventh tier of English football.

The game was at the Scotswood Sports Centre and we were able to park directly outside. It was three quid admission with a programme for a pound. If you were feeling flush there were tables for ten in a hospitality tent at two hundred and fifty quid a pop. That’s still less per head than getting into the Boro.

Blue Star were in Newcastle strips sporting, as you may imagine, a blue star. Cullercoats had a weird combination of red and black oblongs on their strip.  We settled into a covered seated stand on the opposite side to the hospitality area. The attendance was later announced as 226 with a fairly even split between those at the beer tent tables and those dotted around the remainder of the ground.

I couldn’t help but notice the difference in the ages of the linos. One of them looked about fifteen which isn’t uncommon these days as people get into refereeing at a younger age and progress quickly. The fella on our side must have been well into his sixties, maybe older and therefore around fifty years older than his counterpart. He didn’t miss much though and got little in the way of whinging from the players. I dare say he has seen it all before.

The standard of play understandably seemed lower than that of the higher ranked Northern league and I got the impression that there were fewer former academy prospects looking for a way back into full-time football. It struck me more as being local lads playing at their level.

Blue Star took the lead within the first ten minutes from a free-kick after the Cullercoats keeper had handled a back pass. It was a harsh consequence, but the young lad redeemed himself with some good stops soon afterwards.

By half time the score had increased to four-nil and all the players remained on the pitch. Perhaps there wasn’t room for them in the changies or maybe there weren’t any. It meant that if they could watch the competition where small kids tried to hit the crossbar with shots from age-appropriate distances. Better than a post-mortem from the management any day.

In the second half we were treated to a Cullercoats sub who came on with black socks rather than the red ones that his teammates were wearing. To be fair, he had made a token effort of applying a couple of rings of red tape to them. Then with five minutes to go the home goalie was replaced. He clearly had somewhere else to be as he dashed straight out of the ground. At that stage his team were 8-0 up and that’s the way it finished.

Guisborough Town v West Allotment Celtic, Wednesday 24th August 2021, 7.45pm

September 11, 2021

Despite living less than half an hour away for a lot of my life I’ve never been to Guisborough forest. I didn’t even know they had a forest. It’s rarely too late to put something right though and as we’d planned to be in the area for a game later that evening we parked up at the visitor centre and had a look around.

We might have timed our arrival better as we parked up at a quarter to six, fifteen minutes before the need to pay for parking ended. Still, these things tend to balance out.

We walked along a disused railway line, first in a direction that brought us out in a housing estate and then by reversing our steps and heading back to the visitor centre to an area less inhabited. First impressions were very favourable. There are plenty of benches, sculptures and structures for kids to climb on. We only covered a small fraction of the paths so I suspect that we will be heading back at some point with the dog and grandkids.

The match was at Guisborough’s George V ground in Division One of the Northern League and it was seven quid to get in for their tier nine game against West Allotment Celtic. There wasn’t a programme but team sheets were being handed out. A slight drizzle was in the air which I always thought was great for playing in. It’s refreshing when running and it gives the ball that extra bit of pace across the wet grass. As a spectator it’s a pain in the arse and so we nabbed seats in the small covered stand just along from the dugouts.

Our wandering in the woods meant that we’d missed our tea and so I got pie and chips from the kiosk.  I had the choice between pork and mince. I asked which was best and whilst one lady wouldn’t commit, the other silently mouthed mince from behind her colleagues back. Once I had committed to mince the other commented that she wasn’t too sure about hot pork pies. The mince pie was ok but I should have got gravy on the chips. In the twin interests of research and gluttony I later got a pork pie and it was very good, despite being warm.

The game was well attended with 241 turning out. Some were in a covered standing area on the opposite side to us, whilst a few braved the light rain and leaned on the perimeter fence. There were lots of kids making the most of the remaining school holidays with many of them being looked after by dads who were enjoying the rare combination of having a pint and watching football whilst carrying out childcare duties.

Guisborough were in Sunderland strips with West Allotment Celtic (as you might imagine) in green hoops. The home side started well and scored in the third minute. I wondered at that point if a rout was on the cards. The Celtic right back was one to watch. He had a very good touch and wasn’t afraid to take a man or two on. One run saw him dispossessed over on the left wing meaning he had a fair bit of ground to make up to get back to his regular position on the field.

The visitors got more into the game as the half went on before Guisborough added a second goal just before half time. Despite the lead it wasn’t all one-way after that and the home keeper made some very good saves to keep Celtic at bay. It took a deflected shot five minutes from time to make it three-nil and clinch the points for Guisborough.

Marske United v Pickering Town, Saturday 21st August 2021, 3pm

August 30, 2021

After seeing an Extra Preliminary tie, I thought I’d keep my FA Cup streak going with a trip to a game in the Preliminary Round. It’s still thirteen steps from the Final, so I doubt that anyone will be thinking of Wembley yet.

I’ve been planning on seeing a game at Marske for a while but not managed it yet so the Marske United fixture against fellow Northern Premier League Division One East side Pickering Town at Mount Pleasant seemed like a good choice.

It was a tenner in with another two quid for a programme. As is the way I was then relieved of more coins for golden goal and raffle tickets. A mince pie and can of coke followed before I made my way to the far side of the pitch and took up a position on the rail.

There was a covered and seated stand opposite and a small raised standing platform a little further along. That one looked to be occupied by a group of regulars. To their right was a covered area with an ultras flag in front of it. The ultras consisted of four young lads who spent most of the game on their phones

Marske took an early lead that was created by a long throw from defender ‘Leabo’. His long flat trajectory was as good as a corner and hurling it into the box was a tactic that Marske used whenever they won a throw-in in the Pickering half.

The hosts doubled their lead inside the opening ten minutes when a cleverly weighted through ball from Matty Tymon was hit strongly enough to tempt the keeper to come for it. The pass didn’t carry sufficiently for him to reach the ball and fellow striker Adam Boyes was able to nip around him and make it two.

It’s the first time I’d seen Matty Tymon play since he was on the same under nines team as my son Tom twenty-two years ago. Matty was streets ahead of the rest of his team in those days, laying the ball off to players who would all then just run with it until dispossessed. He even made off the ball runs in an attempt to draw defenders who were not aware enough at that age to do anything other than move toward the ball.

Matty still looked a class act all these years on, with clever flicks and headers coupled with an ability to draw a foul if nothing was on. He added a third goal after twenty-odd minutes when it was his turn to receive the long throw, directing his header across the keeper and into the far corner.

Second half I moved around a bit and watched from the other side and then from behind the goal. It was more of the same on the pitch with Marske totting up the goals as the half went on. They got to seven without reply by the final whistle with their big striker Adam Boyes scoring five of them. One step fewer to Wembley.

Bootle v Millom Reserves, Wednesday 18th August 2021, 6pm

August 28, 2021

Jen and I recently spent a few days in the southern lake district with my daughter, the grandkids and the beagle. We stayed in glamping pods in Corney which were closer to an apartment than a tent. There were horses on the site and so my granddaughter was kept busy riding and brushing them whilst I played a bit of one-on-one football with the grandson. It turns out we each have the same trick of feinting to go one way with a drop of the shoulder and then treading on the ball and ending up on our arses. Maybe it’s hereditary.

Corney was handy for the beach at Silecroft, which was quiet enough for us to sometimes have it entirely to ourselves.

A highlight was finding a dead seal washed up. More for us than the seal I suppose.  As I’d previously had no idea what a seal’s teeth looked like it was interesting to see quantity and size of them. The beagle has a decent pair of jaws but I’d rather take a nip from him than a seal.

I’d noticed a football pitch when driving between the campsite and beach and on passing it one evening there were cars lining the road. That’s always a good sign of lion sightings in places like Kruger and it works just the same for lower league football in the middle of nowhere.

I parked up and had a wander over. There was indeed a game going on and after quizzing a fella on the railing I discovered that it was Bootle against Millom Reserves in the Furness Premier League. Millom is only a few miles up the road and a little digging around revealed that the league was tier fourteen in the pyramid.

At that level it can be difficult to get officials and this game had a couple of blokes running the line who looked as if they has been drawn from the crowd.

I stayed just long enough for the brief chat and a few photos as I had other stuff planned. If I’d hung around I’d have seen a few goals as it finished up five-two to Millom. I might have to check out their fixtures next time I’m over that way.

Ryhope Colliery Welfare v Goole, Wednesday 11th August 2021, 7.45pm

August 27, 2021

After being in quarantine for ten days my first opportunity for a game fell on day eleven after our return from Russia. There was an FA Cup Extra Preliminary tie replay going on just up the road at Ryhope and so I thought I’d go along to that. It’s strange, I have very little interest in the latter stages of the Cup these days, unless of course the Boro are involved, but I thought that getting along to the very first round of this year’s competition was much better than watching, say, a semi-final between the reserve sides of two Premier League teams on the telly.

The winners in this Extra Preliminary round will need to successfully negotiate a further five ties before reaching the First Round where the likes of Sunderland will enter the competition and seven more before the big clubs such as the Boro come in.  The losers of this game would take home little more than they would on Bullseye or Blankety-Blank with £375 for their trouble, with the winners picking up £1,125.

The fixture was at the Ryhope Recreation Ground. I’d passed through Ryhope on numerous occasions, mainly fifty years ago when visiting my grandparents in Sunderland, but I hadn’t been to the part of town with the ground. To get in you have to walk past a cricket pitch. Ryhope Cricket Club had a fixture the same evening and I passed to watch a couple of deliveries in a light that made sighting the ball difficult.

It was six quid to get in and I took up a position over on the far side facing the dugouts, tea-hut and the covered standing area. The pitch could best be described as undulating, with slopes and troughs in all directions. The grass had clearly been cut recently as the rakings were still littered across the surface, but the groundsman must have used a high setting on his mower as the grass was of a length to make pinging the ball along the ground at pace more difficult than it could have been.

Ryhope Colliery Welfare were in red stripes with visitors Goole in blue stripes, although for both of the teams the stripes only extended to the fronts of their shirts with the backs being a solid block of colour. At times this gave the impressions of there being four teams on the pitch.

Goole play in the nineth tier Northern Counties East Premier Division with Ryhope CW operating at the same level in the pyramid in Division One of the Northern League. Over recent years the Northern League had been considered to be one of the stronger leagues at that level but with promotions of the bigger clubs and the restructuring I’m not sure that it’s currently the case.

Goole opened the scoring after a one on one with the keeper. The striker didn’t connect as cleanly as he would have liked with his shot but then again neither did the keeper who got a hand to the ball but couldn’t prevent it from ending up in the net. That was the only goal of the first half and with rain in the air I switched sides at half-time for a view from inside the  covered standing area opposite.

Ryhope equalized in the second half and despite both teams going for it, the score stayed level at full time. In the first period of extra time the home side took the lead, only for Goole to peg it back in the second period.

With penalties looming Goole nicked a winner. In a strange quirk all five goals had been at the same end of the ground, in front of a small, covered stand that appeared to consist mainly of broken plastic sets. Maybe I should have braved the weather and stayed at that end.

Ural Yekaterinburg v Krasnador, Sunday 25th July 2021, 7.30pm

August 8, 2021

After last week’s Super Cup curtain-raiser the Russian Premier league has started its new season. I wanted to see a game that would tie in with a weekend away and that gave us options for fixtures at Rostov, Kazan or Yekaterinburg. The flight schedules made Yekaterinburg the most attractive destination and on that basis Jen and I headed nine hundred miles east into the Urals.

Yekaterinburg is probably best known as the place where the Russian royal family were done away with after the revolution. It a shame that we haven’t done the same. Whilst I wouldn’t advocate turning the machine guns on our own parasites I’d be happy to let each of them pick something out of the Argos catalogue and then send them into retirement.

The building where it happened was knocked down years ago with the site marked by a cross. There’s a big church near it but we were happy to view it from outside. I’m all churched out.

One of the more popular attractions in Yekaterinburg is a museum with tanks, planes and vintage cars. I’m not that taken with the military stuff as all tanks look the same to me but I was a little envious of the fellas who were rebuilding a large airplane from a pile of bits. I imagine that as it doesn’t have to be able to fly they could do what I used to do with Airfix models and just throw away any bits that were tricky to glue together.

The cars were better to look at. I’d guess that there were around a couple of hundred of them showing the evolution over the years. As someone who has no real knowledge about cars I was surprised how interesting I found them. The highlight was one with a snakehead horn. These should be standard for every vehicle.

Something else that struck me about Yekaterinburg was that there seemed to be a bit of street art around every corner. We were quite surprised to find a statue of Michael Jackson. You’d think that it would have been given the Romanov treatment. Mind you, it’s not as weird as Fulham having a statue of him outside of Craven Cottage. Although I think that has gone now with the change of ownership. Perhaps they should have doubled down with ten-foot-tall bronze likeness of Jimmy Savile outside the Cottage Pavilion.

Our hotel was only about half an hours walk away from the Centralny stadium. The route took us through a graveyard which was a bonus. I like the Russian practice of putting photos on the gravestones to show who is underneath. The section that we walked through was pretty well kept, at least near to the path where access was easy.

Krasnador were the visitors for the opening weekend fixture and I’d bought a couple of tickets for the match for a fiver a go earlier in the week. They were for the upper tier, along the side of the pitch. If I’d remembered the stadium layout from the World Cup I’d have opted for seats behind the goal as it’s the stadium with the temporary scaffolding seating. My recollection is that they were installed in order to meet tournament capacity rules with the intention of dismantling them once the World Cup was done.

We initially turned up at the wrong side of the stadium and had to do a half-circuit to sector C. There was a crowd outside of the entrance gates and upon trying to get in we were told by a steward that it was season tickets only due to covid. An online check revealed that earlier in the day the Yekaterinburg Mayor had issued a decree limiting admission to five hundred corporate tickets only.

As we’d travelled nine hundred miles I inquired about buying a couple of corporates but they were sold out. We had little choice but to retrace our steps and pop into a nearby Irish bar to watch the game in there. Or at least we would have done if the match had been on the telly. The clash with the Olympics meant that gymnastics was being shown instead.  Oh well. For what it’s worth Krasnador won three-nowt.

The failure to get inside the stadium means that the fixture joins that reasonably small tally of games that got a blog post but not a tick on the spreadsheet. It would have been ground number 372. I will therefore leave Russia having seen thirty-six matches in thirty-one different venues over the past twenty months. That’s not a bad effort considering there were two winter breaks and a lot of covid restrictions in that time.

Russia often gets a bad press in the media, but I’ve found it a great place to live and to watch football. I’ve not encountered any over-zealous policing, hooliganism or racial abuse of the players. I wish I could say the same for everywhere that I’ve gone along to a game.

Zenit St. Petersburg v Lokomotiv Moscow, Saturday 17th July 2021, 7pm

July 26, 2021

I didn’t even know that Kaliningrad existed until it hosted some games during the Russia World Cup and on the admittedly often disproved theory of mine that if I don’t know something then it’s unlikely that anyone else will, I should probably give some details.

Kaliningrad is an enclave of Russia on the Baltic coast between Poland and Latvia. Russia got it as a prize at the end of World War 2 and so it meant that Jen and I could fly there for a weekend on a domestic flight without any of the immigration restrictions or requirements arising from Covid.

Our flight from Moscow took just over an hour and a half and so by lunchtime on the Friday we were there. It’s an interesting place. Whilst a lot of the city was destroyed in the war that led to it changing hands some parts of the old city walls remain. We had a look around some of the parts of it, as much to keep out of the sunshine as anything.

There are plenty of areas for eating and drinking with one of the better places being alongside the rivers near to some famous cathedral. There’s a definite German feel to a lot of the buildings which on one hand isn’t surprising given the history of the place but apparently most of the town was flattened during the bombings and so it seems slightly odd that rebuilding by the Russians would be influenced by what had been there before.

And why Kaliningrad? Well, that’s easy. It was hosting the Russian version of the Charity Shield, the Super Cup curtain-raiser for the new season between Champions Zenit St Petersburg and Cup winners Lokomotiv Moscow.

It had been an arse-on getting a ticket. I’d initially got one through Zenit by downloading their App and registering as a fan. Unfortunately, they required me to collect the ticket from St Petersburg so I needed a Plan B.

After registering with Lokomotiv I bought a ticket for their section. A bargain for a fiver but behind the goal, in a singing section and with the possibility of having to watch the game through netting. When tickets for the neutral centre sections went on sale I bought one in the lower-tier near the half-way line. It was more expensive at twenty- seven quid but likely to be a much better view.

The stadium was only around a half-hour walk from the apartment we had rented following a lot of the route along the river that we’d walked earlier in the day. Long before I saw them I heard the Zenit fans chanting and letting off fireworks. As I reached the river I could see their support marching to the ground, waving flags and flares.

I stuck to the opposite bank for as long as I could, but eventually had to join the convoy. By now the flares were exhausted but the Zenit supporters continued the singing and flag waving until they reached the turnstiles.

I had another five minutes walk to reach my entrance, where despite having my temperature taken and my body scanned I wasn’t asked for a ticket. That didn’t happen until I was inside the stadium and ready to enter the concourse area. If anyone fancied the sort of shenanigans that we saw at Wembley for the Euro final it would have been a lot easier for them at Kaliningrad.

The stadium had been built for the 2018 World Cup and it’s where England lost their group game to Belgium. Baltika Kaliningrad of the second tier National League use it these days and I doubt that they ever come close to needing the thirty-five thousand capacity.

By the time I’d got a coke and was ready to take my seat there were around five minutes to kick-off. By coincidence that was also the time when a gaggle of cheerleaders were heading into the stand. I found myself caught up in the line of them before I took my seat on the edge of the aisle. In revenge, the one stationed just in front of me nearly had my eye out with one particularly reckless waft of a pom-pom.

In addition to the risk to my sight, the Plan C seat that I’d bought was situated in the only part of the sunshine still bathed in light. It wasn’t until the start of the second half that the sun had dipped sufficiently behind the opposite stand for me to benefit from some shade. At one point I thought about nipping around to behind the goal and using my Lokomotiv ticket instead.

The game itself was pretty good. I’ve no idea of the extent to which the teams used fringe players but there were some decent moves from both sides. Zenit took the lead in the first half and Lokomotiv should really have equalized early in the second. The chance was spurned and Zenit went straight down the other end and doubled their lead. A real sliding-doors moment.

The second goal opened things up as Lokomotiv tried to get back into the game but despite some chances to pull one back it was Zenit that notched the third and final goal. They were deserved winners.

I didn’t stay for the trophy presentation but as I skirted the stadium perimeter on the way back to the eating and drinking area by the river I could hear their fans singing along to ‘We are the Champions’. Fair comment.