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.

Ryazan v Zenit St Petersburg, Friday 9th July 2021, 6pm

July 22, 2021

I’m leaving this job at the end of the month and as I’m in wind-down mode have been taking the opportunity for some three-day weekends. They are so much better than the one-day weekends that I’ve put up with over the last twenty months.

The extended time off makes it easier to head out of town and this weekend Jen and I took a train to Ryazan. It’s just over two hours to the south-east of Moscow on the Kazan line. Most of the trains are sleepers but I found one with a seated carriage and booked tickets for a fiver a go. The train looked a bit on the old side but I quite like that. What I was less keen on was the lack of adequate air-conditioning. When it’s thirty degrees outside you want something functional. I spent most of the journey with sweat running down my body and hoping that the train for the return journey would be a little more modern.

Ryazan is worth a visit, particularly with Moscow having imposed more covid-related restrictions recently. There were plenty of bars and restaurants, a lot of them in the same pedestrianized street.

The highlights included a walk around their Kremlin. Until living here I hadn’t realized that it wasn’t just Moscow that has one. There was some welcome shade and whilst we didn’t go into all of the buildings, what we saw was interesting enough.

We also visited Pavlov’s house which has been preserved as a museum. One building is supposed to be as it was in his day and I liked this one best. I wandered around making mental notes of the things that would improve the look of our house and the winner was a bear skin rug complete with its head in one of the bedrooms.

In the other building were photos and explanations of Pavlov’s research. You’ve probably heard about it. In a nutshell, he rang a bell whenever he fed his dog and the dog came to associate the bell with food. He proved this by collecting increased amounts of saliva at bell-ringing times.

I’m not convinced that the research was of much use but he won plenty of prizes for it. What surprised me was that the dogs had a tap inserted into their bodies for the fluid collection. I’ve had dogs that slavered so much at the prospect of food that a bucket worn under the chin would probably have been sufficient to collect the required data.

Anyway, the match. It was a fixture in the Womens Supreme League between Ryazan and Zenit St. Petersburg at the Spartak Stadium. We were initially turned away at the turnstile for not having tickets which are usually just handed out for free nearby. We were directed to a ticket office where we were charged one hundred rubles each for a ticket. That’s around a quid and it’s the first time we’ve paid for a women’s game in Russia.

I’m not sure if it’s a good thing to charge admission. On one hand it might price some fans out, but there are plenty of free games outside the top two tiers of the men’s game and I don’t see too many people turning up for those matches. It also adds to the worth of the league if you have to pay to get in, so on the whole, I think I’m probably in favour. Mind you, with only around one hundred and twenty people watching it probably cost more to print the tickets and staff the office.

The Spartak stadium had a large and uncovered stand along each side with nothing behind the goals. A running track meant that we were further from the action than I’d prefer to be. Fortunately the ground was orientated so that one of the stands provided shaded seating and that’s where we sat.

Below us were the home ultras. There were around ten of them including a couple of kids who had been sat quietly with the dad and grandad but who made a break for it to more actively support their team.

Zenit had brought some fans too. It’s around six hours on the train so I hope they selected one with air-conditioning. There were around fifteen of them to start with but having selected the unshaded stand their numbers dropped as the game went on. By the end there were six but they kept up their shirtless support despite the heat.

Ryazan were in blue with Zenit in a white kit. It was a scrappy first half with neither side managing to keep possession for more than a couple of passes. Zenit had a free-kick that was well tipped over and Ryazan’s best chance ended with the visiting keeper turning a low shot onto the post.

At half time we moved to the other end of our stand in the hope that the distance from the Ryazan ultra’s drum would lessen its impact on our enjoyment. It did, but unfortunately the sound was replaced by that of a kazoo blown by a home supporter every few minutes. It’s a toss up as to which is most irritating.

Zenit took the lead ten minutes into the second half with a penalty that sneaked under the diving keeper. You could see the keeper’s frustration having guessed the right way to go but just not getting to ground quickly enough. There weren’t too many other decent chances for either side and the single goal was enough to settle matters.

The result didn’t change anything in the table with Zenit in staying second and Ryazan eighth of the ten teams.

Rosichfk Moskovskiy 2 v SShoR Kuntsevo, Thursday 8th July 2021, 7pm

July 18, 2021

This game was in the fifth-tier Moscow division B league. My futbology app suggested that even in the rush hour we could get there in under an hour and so Jen met me outside of my office for the twenty kilometre south-westerly taxi ride out of Moscow to Rosichfk.

It was actually a bit more effort to get there than usual as Yandex didn’t recognise the location of the MSA Stadium and so we had to head for the nearby Dodo Pizza place. It’s a chain with sites all over Moscow and I think our driver struggled to understand the point of us heading miles out of Moscow for a pizza that we could have got much nearer home.

The stadium was actually two grounds with a new artificial pitch tagged onto a grass pitch with a running track and one old stand. This game was on the artificial surface but the stand from the grass pitch made for an ideal vantage point.

We decided to try the seats in the single stand that ran most of the length of the sideline. It wasn’t an ideal view as there were stanchions and netting between us and the action. The worst part though was the clear Perspex roof that made it feel like we were sat in a greenhouse. That would have been ideal for a lot of the year but with temperatures in Moscow exceeding thirty degrees we didn’t last long and soon moved to the shade of the stand from the grass pitch.

Rosichfk were in blue with visitors Kuntsevo in Boro tops. No difficulty picking a team in those circumstances. Nothing of note went on in the first half but it wasn’t long after the restart when Kuntsevo opened the scoring.

The home keeper had spent the game berating his defenders for, I suspect, no other reason than he thought that’s what goalies should do. He misplaced a pass out and when the ball came back in he was beaten to the ball by a Kuntsevo player who nipped in and turned it into the corner. The chastened goalie sensibly chose not to double down and bollock the full-back and for a while eased up on the yapping.

I’d counted the crowd in the first-half and it added up to forty-one. A few more arrived during the second half so it probably eventually amounted to around sixty. As the sun dipped behind a tall building and cast a shadow over the pitch we moved back to the greenhouse stand for the remainder of the second half.

The Kuntsevo players were happy to try and run down the clock by going down very easily. The home goalie took out his frustrations on a strker by standing over him and yelling at him. I wasn’t sure what he was saying but it sounded like something to do with the name of the striker’s team. By the time the fella got up play had moved on and the goalie gave him a bit more stick and shoved him open-palmed in the face.

With the striker back on the ground it should have been a definite red for the keeper and I initially thought that he had started to walk off. If any of the officials had seen it though they decide to turn a blind eye. Fair enough really in the circumstances.

The fallen striker had the last laugh though with a few minutes remaining when he switched feet in the box throwing off his marker and then drove the ball in to the top corner to make it two-nil. Not a word from the keeper.

SPbGUPTD St. Petersburg v Druzhba Krasnoye Selo, Saturday 3rd July 2021, 1pm

July 15, 2021

I think that you can generally divide people into two categories, those who will seek out the sun and those who will seek out the shade. Jen and I are in the latter group, but despite that regularly seem to find ourselves a shade of lobster red.

As the temperatures in St. Petersburg were in the thirties and there was barely a cloud in the sky our plan for this day had been to travel by taxi to the Peter the Great Museum, marvel at the two-headed calf, take another taxi back to our hotel, have some lunch nearby and then do the same for getting to and from the match, a sixth tier game around a fifteen minute drive away. Not much chance of a tan in those circumstances. Or a reasonable step-count.

Plans change though and as we headed out we thought that with the museum only being half an hour away on foot we would just walk it. After all, if you stick to the shaded side of the street than it should be fine. So far so good. We made it to the museum and gawped at the skeletons, foetuses in jars and calves that can wolf down their feed twice as quickly as the rest of the herd.

On leaving the museum I mentioned to Jen that we were only about half an hour’s walk from the Baltika Stadium where the game would take place an hour and a half later. It seemed logical to walk it. What I hadn’t factored in, apart from the heat was our capacity for getting lost. I marched off in the wrong direction towards the Peter and Paul fort and fifteen minutes later we had to retrace our steps.

We eventually made it to the ground with ten minutes to go to kick-off and found shaded cover on a bench at the side of the clubhouse.

The fixture was in the sixth tier Saint Petersburg Liga 1 between SPbGUPTD St. Petersburg and Druzhba Krasnoye Selo. Once again I’ve no knowledge of the seemingly random capitalization and life is too short to find out.

Baltika stadium has a capacity of two hundred. You could fit maybe six on the bench we were on and another hundred and fifty on the uncovered seating at the half way line with perhaps twenty on some dirty seats where the view of the game was obscured by a couple of five a side goals. They were under a tree though so had some takers. I presume the remainder of the potential capacity was made up by the option of sitting on the floor and leaning back against the perimeter fence.

Despite their being room for two hundred spectators, we never got above twenty and I doubt any of those remained for the entire game. There was also a Doberman that had some problem with his ears sufficiently serious to sport a bandage on each of them. Perhaps he was just covering them up from the sun.

SPbGUPTD were in light blue shirts and dark blue shorts with Druzhba in maroon shirts and black shorts. The home side started well and were two up after eight minutes. When a free-kick was curled into the top corner to make it three after twenty minutes it looked as if a rout could be on the cards. Druzhba managed to avoid conceding any more by half-time and as at that point we had lost our shade we moved to the far end of the ground and sat on a raised manhole that had some trees above it to avoid the sun.

In the second half SPbGUPTD quickly added two more before the visitors pulled one back. The scorer, bless him, didn’t celebrate but instead grabbed the ball and sprinted back to the centre circle. We only need five to win lads.

There might have been another goal or two but I got distracted by trying to hand feed a pigeon with cheesecake crumbs. He wasn’t quite brave enough to feed from my hand but ended up with everything anyway in the end.

With the bird fed and the Earth rotated sufficiently for us to be out of the shade once more we headed off with ten minutes to go. I haven’t checked the eventual score but I can confirm that both of us were a lot redder than we’d have preferred to be.

Spain v Switzerland, Friday 2nd July 2021, 7pm

July 7, 2021

I’d had my eye on this quarter-final game at St. Petersburg ever since I’d picked up a ticket for one of the earlier group games. I was confident that there would be a release of tickets close to match-day, confident enough in fact to have booked flights and a hotel.

Sometimes a plan comes together and the day before matchday the game appeared in the UEFA ticket portal. There were a variety of tickets and I picked up a category three seat for seventy-five euros. Not bad at all.

Friday morning Jen and I flew from SVO airport. The flight took sixty-five minutes but with the airport being situated to the north of Moscow the overall journey from our apartment to the hotel took just over five hours. It was still slightly quicker than total duration of the four hour ‘fast-train’ that we had taken last time and a lot quicker than the nine-hour overnight train from the trip before, but I think both of those journeys were more enjoyable. I seem to have less tolerance for crowded airports these days.

We didn’t do too much in St. Petersburg prior to the game. A walk to the Peter the Great Museum was about as much as we managed. The queues were sufficient to make postponing going inside for a day seem like a good idea and once we’d had some lunch it wasn’t far off the time for me to head to the match.

Everyone is given a specific entry time in order to try and stagger the admission to the stadium. It’s an admirable objective but possibly a little pointless when you consider that everyone will be mixing in their seats once inside. My time was between 4pm and 4.30pm and despite arriving as late as I could I still had two and a half hours to wait for kick-off.

For a few moments it looked like I might not even make it inside. The photo on my fan-Id was about three years old. Maybe slightly older. It was easier than having another passport style picture taken. The first fella on the gate stared at it. Then he stared at me. Then he called a colleague over who did the same. Then they both called for their supervisor. All three of them did a bit more staring before the supervisor made a managerial decision and waved me through.

Once inside I sat around for a while before making my way in to the stadium proper. It’s generally quieter outside and even though I’d brought earplugs I had no desire to be trapped in my seat and forced to listen to whatever noise someone else saw fit to play at ear-splitting volumes.

With an hour to go I took a chance and made my way towards my seat in block D105. It’s the fourth time I’ve been to the Gazprom Arena, but the first time in the lower tier. I was behind the goal to the right of the dugouts and it’s the best view I’ve had so far.

The stadium was starting to fill up as I ate a cheese and pesto sandwich from the stand in the concourse. I’d had a hot dog on my previous visit and this was a definite improvement. The area that I was in must have been one of the blocks sold to Swiss fans as there was a large group of them below me. As the game went on others joined them and as they worked their way through the full-strength Heinekens all thoughts of social distancing were left behind.

Many of the Swiss supporters were ringing cow bells. I’m amazed that they got them in as the security searches were incredibly thorough. I’d even had my shoes checked.

When the anthems were played the Swiss one had three different language sub-titles on the screens. Despite that their manager didn’t seem to know the words in any of them. A quick check online revealed that it actually has four different languages worth of lyrics. What an absofuckinglute racket that must be when all sung together.

The team colours didn’t seem right to me either. Spain were in all-white which would have been fine if they fielding a team of Madrid players but with none of them even making the squad I’d have preferred them in their traditional red kit. Instead, it was Switzerland who got to wear red. They should have completed the look by having a small white cross on their shirts with a toothpick down one sock and some tweezers in the other.

Michael Oliver was doing the reffing. I’ve not seen much of him lately as I don’t watch Premier League games on the telly but he seems to have developed a very calm style. At first I though it was similar to Clattenburg, who gave off an almost disinterested vibe in his latter days, but its better. I’ve no idea how he speaks but I imagine it to be in the smooth and measured manner of an airline pilot.

“This is your referee speaking, we are currently half-way through the second half and you made an out of control tackle. In approximately one minutes time you will be descending down the steps to the changies where you will be taking an early bath”.

I thought he had a good game and clearly was not going to let anything turn into a drama. Even a red card.

My main interest in the game was whether former Boro player Adama Traore would get on. The Euros would have been the perfect place for him to announce himself to the world with an accelerative break from inside his own half that took out half the opposition. Sadly the only time he moved from his seat among the subs was when it looked like he’d dropped his phone down the side and on to the floor.

No need to say much about the game because you’ve probably seen it, but I enjoyed the prolongation into extra-time and penalties. A swift getaway after the final kick got me efficiently back into town where we watched what was left of the Italy-Belgium game in a Serbian bar.

Zvyagino Pushkino v Saturn Ramenskol 2, Saturday 26th June 2021, 5pm

June 30, 2021

It has been ridiculously hot in Moscow lately and as I’d made my way back to our apartment on the Saturday lunchtime the thermometer on the side of the building was indicating that it was 37 degrees. It felt hotter.

The temperature had been sufficient for me to rule out any of the games listed to kick-off at noon and instead I selected one with a five o’clock start and with photos of covered stands on the home website. The game was at the Torpedo Stadium at Mytishi, which is a little out of town to the north east of Moscow.

We arrived a good fifteen minutes before the scheduled start despite having to travel through central Moscow. The fixture was in the fourth-tier Moskovskaya Oblast Liga A, which I always think of as being for teams on the outskirts of Moscow, although it seems odd to group the central teams together and then put all those on the edges in their own separate league. Maybe North and South would be a better way of grouping them.

The kick-off times at this level seem fairly flexible and it was seven minutes past five when the teams made their way on to the pitch. Hosts Zvyagino Pushkino were in a terrible combination of luminous green shirts with grey shorts and socks. Visitors Saturn Ramenskol 2 had a more acceptable blue and black kit.

Despite the delay to the kick-off it was mainly wives and girlfriends that made up the crowd. There were a few people sat around the edges on benches but many of them looked to be grandparents carrying out childcare duties and I suspect most of them had no prior knowledge that a match was taking place.

Zvyagino opened the scoring nine minutes in. I missed it as I’d been watching a bloke doing Olga Korbet impressions on some parallel bars behind the goal. Maybe everyone else had been looking his way too as there were no cheers. It was only as I saw the teams heading back for the restart that I realized someone had scored.

The pitch was grass which is increasingly rare at this level. It wasn’t the snooker table surface that you see at the top level but had enough undulation for the ball to bobble around when passed along the ground. Clumps of clover and a flock of birds picking for worms on the edge of the penalty box added to the charm.

In addition to the covered stand that we were sat in behind the dugouts there were two covered stands opposite, also with five rows of seating.

On the hour Zvyagino doubled their lead with a shot from outside the box where the bounce beat the keeper and went in off the post. Again, nobody raised a cheer. Not even the home wags, although most of them were looking at their phones.  Ten minutes later Saturn pulled one back and we got a few shouts and some applause, although it may have come from their own bench.

It got a bit lively in the final moments, with Zvyagino intent on scoring a third when I’d have thought they might have been better running down the clock. I was half expecting them to be punished for their efforts but with the last kick of the game they restored their two-goal advantage for a three-one win.

The win moved Zvyagino up to sixth in the table whilst Saturn remain rock bottom having failed to pick up a point from any of their twelve games to date this season. A quick check revealed that the last time that they won a game was back in September 2019. It was a different world back then.

Smena Moscow v Letniy Dozhdik Moscow, Tuesday 22nd June 2021, 7pm

June 26, 2021

The teams in the  top three tiers of Russian football have finished the 2020/21 season but there is still plenty of action in the lower leagues. I knocked off work bang on six and Jen and I took a taxi towards Kotelniki which is about twenty kilometres to the south east of Moscow.

Our destination was the Trud Stadium at Kapotnaya for a fourth-tier game in the Moscow Division A League and the driver did his best to get us there in less than the fifty minutes forecasted. Taxis are cheap in Moscow, with this ride coming in at around a tenner and in rush hour the opportunity to take advantage of bus lanes gives them a big advantage over regular cars.

Good as the taxi driver was, he just failed to reach the ground by seven. We got lucky though as something had delayed kick-off by five minutes and so we arrived just in time to see the teams lining up. The main stand wasn’t subject to Covid restrictions despite the eighty of so spectators being twice the number that was at last week’s third tier game PFL game where the stand was closed.

Smena were in yellow and black with Letniy in white. It was another of those clashes between the generations with the home players all looking to be under 17s or so whilst the visitors sported the usual range of a non-age group team.

Perhaps having such a young team would explain Smena’s lowly league position of fifteenth in a sixteen team league and their haul of just three points from their ten games to date. Letniy were more comfortably placed mid-table and with Smena having been on the receiving end of a few pastings lately I was looking forward to seeing the old blokes enjoy themselves.

It didn’t quite work out that way though as within four minutes Smena had scrambled an opener. The home fans around us in the main stand were delighted and perhaps sensed a second win of the season. The lead lasted until the half-hour when a curling cross surprised everyone, including I suspect, the bloke who delivered it and Letniy levelled.

At half-time jen and I moved from the main stand to what turned out to be a stand of our own behind the goal. It’s always good to maintain a distance these days and with a gap in the netting nearby I was able to more easily take a few snapshots of the game.

I’d been keeping an eye on a couple of the visiting players, mainly due to their ages. The centre half looked like Mr. Baxter off Grange Hill, or rather what Mr. Baxter probably looks like now. He struggled for pace and so had to sit a lot deeper than was necessary making the linesman virtually redundant as far as offside was concerned.

Star of the show though was the Letniy skipper. He had to have been fifty but was probably one of the more active players on the pitch. He started the game on the left of a front three before dropping back to right midfield. As the second half progressed he took over at right back and I was half expecting that as we approached full-time that he would finish the game in goal.

Neither side looked like scoring in the second half and my main interest centred on the Smena sub goalie. The proper keeper had taken a knock and the overly shouty Smena coach had instructed the spare keeper to warm up. He diligently did so, despite looking terrified at the prospect of coming on in a game where his team had a real possibility of picking up at least a point.

In the absence of an instruction to sit down he stretched his way through the final half hour of the game whilst watching every other sub get his big moment. At the final whistle his relief was obvious. The draw took Smena’s points tally to the season to four and moved them a point further from the single relegation spot below them.

Metallurg Vidnoye v Kvant Obninsk, Tuesday 15th June 2021, 6pm

June 23, 2021

The train from Saint Petersburg got us back into Moscow at three o’clock and as I was off work for the day it meant I had an easy opportunity to get along to a six o’clock game. The traffic at that time of day was busier than normal as a ‘non-working’ week had been announced as a covid response, meaning that everyone was out and about all day and not just during rush hours.

Even so, I had time to drop my bag and Jen at the flat and head off in a taxi to the Stadion Metallurg in Vidnoye for one of the games in the final round of fixtures in the third tier Professional Football League.

The covid restrictions had impacted upon the game and spectators were not allowed in the main stand. It made little difference to those who had turned out to watch as everyone just lined the four feet high perimeter fence and watched from the other side of the pitch.

I suspect that it made little difference to the spread of covid either with people bunched up in a way that was less likely if they had been in seating distanced from each other.

There wasn’t anything resting on the match with Metallurg sitting third from bottom of the table but safe from relegation. Visitors Kvant were a place above but couldn’t be caught. One of the sides was in red with the other in white and maroon but I had no idea which was which. Usually this is resolved when someone opens the scoring but as I couldn’t see the scoreboard I was destined to remain in the dark regardless.

Even if I had been able to see the scoreboard it wouldn’t have helped as both sides were struggled to get shots on target, never mind into the net. Mid-way through the second half the thunder started and with no cover available I called a cab and cleared off. A bit of online checking revealed that it finished up as a 2-1 home win.

That’s it for the third tier for this season. It’s a strange league. The security is as strict a a G7 summit despite it always being free to get in and t falls under covid restrictions despite generally fewer people watching than would travel on a bus or eat in McDonalds. It has provided some decent entertainment though despite not ending on a high.

Poland v Slovakia, Monday 14th June 2021, 7pm

June 21, 2021

A week after our visit to Saint Petersburg Jen and I were back again. This time we took the high-speed Sapsan train rather than the more leisurely overnight option. The reason for the quick return was that I’d been browsing the ticket portal for the Euros and noticed that there were tickets available for the games that had been moved from Dublin to the Gazprom Arena.

There were plenty of Category 3 seats available for the Group E clash between Poland and Slovakia and at just fifty euros it seemed madness not to get one.

We’d arrived in Saint Petersburg just after lunch the day before and I’d planned to watch England’s opening fixture on a big screen that I’d noticed being built in the large square in front of the Winter Palace. That didn’t happen as it was still being erected a week later. Plan B took us to the fans park just behind that Spilled Blood Church.

As Plan B’s go it wasn’t the best. The only seats available were a long way from a big screen. I may have had a better view watching it on my telephone. After half an hour and a couple of Heinekens we moved closer and watched the remainder of the first half from a standing viewpoint.

Once the half-time whistle blew we headed out and followed the remainder of the game on a telly in a restaurant. That was far more comfortable.

On the morning of the live match we paid a visit to the Peter and Paul Fort. Combination tickets for 750 roubles got us into just about nowhere. We used them to see a few tombs inside a big church but everywhere else required a separate ticket.

We paid to go inside a torture museum which was worth the money. If I ever get a choice in how I am to be tortured I’m going to pick water torture. Having a constant drip onto my head seems a lot less stressful than being stretched on a rack, jabbed with spikes or having my skull crushed with a super-sized walnut cracker.

By late afternoon it was time for the game as my ticket required that I entered the ground between five and five-thirty. I was able to use the match ticket for free travel on the subway and arrived at the stadium in good time. It’s a long walk around from the subway station to Gate 7 but once there my Fan ID, ticket and temperature were checked and I was soon inside.

My seat was in the upper tier diagonally back from the corner flag. It looked as if far more Category 3 seats had been sold than Category 1 seats along the side. I checked the portal before kick-off and seats were still available.

The stewarding was attentive. People were moved to their correct seats to preserve the gaps between each other. Anyone who let their mask slip was soon reminded to re-cover their nose and mouth. I was surprised by the extent of the noise with only a quarter of the seats having been made available. There were clusters of Polish fans at each end and before long a group of Slovakians to my right got a few chants going

You may well have seen the game on the telly. Slovakia took the lead with a shot that bounced in off the post and the keeper’s back before Poland equalized within thirty seconds of coming out for the second half.

A second yellow for a Polish guy swung it Slovakia’s way and they deserved their eventual two-one victory. At full time it was again very well organized and I was back in the town centre around thirty-five minutes after the final whistle blew.

It’s good to see a game at the higher levels every now and then and I’ve currently got my eye on the quarter-final at Saint Petersburg. If tickets appear for that one I might very well pop back again.

Sporting Saint Petersburg v Almaz Antey, Saturday 5th June 2021, 1.30pm

June 18, 2021

It was a last minute decision to pop along to the Stadion Krasniy Treugolink for a fourth-tier fixture in the LFL Severo-Zapad league. My new ground hopping App had revealed that there was a game scheduled five kilometres from our hotel and whilst kick-off was imminent, I was happy to arrive late and see whatever we were able to.

Stadion Krasniy Treugolink is in a park, with a river around three sides of the ground. Jen and I arrived about twenty minutes after the scheduled one o’clock start time and spent around ten minutes walking through the park to find the entrance.

Sunbathing seems a popular park activity in Russia and we noticed a few people lying around in just their underwear. I don’t think anyone in England would consider sunbathing without changing into a swimming costume, despite swimming not being on the agenda. Simply stripping down to a pair of baggy Y-fronts has really never struck me as an option when the sun is out.

In a stroke of luck we arrived at the ground just as the game was starting, some half an hour or so after the scheduled start. Maybe whoever was using the pitch beforehand wouldn’t clear off. The home side were in black and white with the visitors in a blue and white kit. It was Almaz Antey who took the lead early on with a tap-in that looked offside to me.

The ground had a capacity of two hundred and all the seats were down one side. The three rows accommodated all thirty-five spectators plus most of the subs who for some reason had abandoned the dugouts.

The first bit of drama came when the home goalie sent a clearance straight into the river. Jen and I had a good vantage point to see a fella try and tape around eight sections of pole together in an attempt to retrieve it.

In the second half a further ball was lost to the river on the other side of the pitch. My first thought was that it must have been difficult to see where that ball had gone as one of the subs spent a lot of time staring through the fence and bushes as if trying to locate it.

The sub was soon joined by a few more from the bench including his manager and they ignored the game whilst appearing to be trying to spot the ball. It was only when Jen and I left the ground at the end that we noticed the real reason for their interest. An attractive young lady was sunbathing around ten yards beyond the fence wearing nothing more than a flesh-coloured thong. The ball could have floated half-way to Moscow for all the interest that the subs had actually shown in it.

Back inside the crisis deepened when ball number three went missing and with no more on the bench a player had to be despatched to the club-house for further supplies. I initially wondered if he would be sent to a sports shop to buy some more but he was able to find extras somewhere inside.

The overall standard seemed quite poor, well below the third tier game we had watched the day before and probably lower than the fifth level games that we’ve seen in Moscow. There were plenty of missed opportunities for both sides and with ten minutes remaining the Sporting keeper was chipped to give the visitors a second goal and a deserved three points.