Lokomotiv Moscow v Chertanovo, Sunday 11th October 2020, 2pm

November 29, 2020

As I clock up visits to the various Moscow stadiums, my options for new grounds get fewer each week. In an effort to find a game for this trip I had a look to see what was going on in the Women’s Supreme Division. It must be difficult to try and come up with new titles for leagues and I think that’s the first use of ’Supreme’ that I’ve seen outside of Crufts.

My luck was in and there was a game taking place at the Sapsan Arena which appeared to be right next door to the main Lokomotiv stadium that I’d recently visited.

As I already knew how to get there I thought I’d also pay a repeat visit to the nearby Sokolniki Park before the match. This time I took the paths to the right of the main entrance gate and tried to skirt the edge of the park as much as possible. It wasn’t as busy as the other side which has the funfair, but it was a lot earlier in the day.

One of the reasons for staying to that side of the park was that I was keen to find the Spartak training complex with a future visit in mind. I crossed over a fairly busy road and continued for around twenty minutes, unsure if I was still in the park or not. I found the complex which had at least two pitches with stands and look forward to returning at some point for what will most likely be an under-nineteen game.

After a further wander around the park I took the subway up to the Lokomotiv stop and followed the smattering of fans who were heading past the main stadium, hopefully to the game. I passed a guard and then walked through a park with a couple of other adjacent pitches before arriving at the Sapsan Arena.

It was free to get in and I had the usually temperature and bag check, before being asked whether I was a Lokomotiv or a Chertanovo fan. I told them that I was neither, which temporarily flummoxed them, before being directed to sit in the central section of the only stand open.

Had I told them I was there to support Chertanovo I’d have been directed to the section to my right, with the dozen or so away fans. I’d no way of knowing if they were fans specifically of the Women’s team or whether they just got along to any Chertanovo game that they could but they had a few chants that seemed player specific.

The ten thousand capacity stadium had three stands, being spoilt only by there being nothing more than a five a side court behind the goal to my left. The pitch looked a bit odd. I’m sure that it was artificial but it seemed to be cutting up in areas, perhaps with too much of that black rubber that always ends up in your boots. Lokomotiv were in white with Chertanovo in blue.

Marina Fedorova stood out in central midfield for Lokomotiv. Her touch appeared way ahead of a couple of the Chertanovo defenders who looked as if they were using their wrong foot regardless of which one they used.

Half an hour in there was a pitch invader wearing a home shirt who almost scored. None of the players seemed to notice him and he nearly beat the keeper to a loose ball in the six yard box. After his goalmouth exertions he made his way towards the dugouts and was escorted away by someone who I presume was the stadium manager. They disappeared behind the stand and five minutes later three cops briskly made their way over, batons swinging from their belts.

Lokomotiv took the lead just before half time when Nelli Korovkina turned her marker inside the box and gave the keeper no chance. A second followed soon after when she ran on to a through ball and again placed it beyond the reach of the away keeper.

Five minutes after the break Korovkina got her hat trick with a tap in after a clever pass into the box that split the defence. It had been the best bit of skill of the afternoon and drew smiles and applause from all bar the dozen away fans. As a neutral it just what I hope to see in a game I attend and with another forty minutes for Chertanovo to try and keep the score down, a rout looked on the cards

Maybe Lokomotiv eased off after their third, because we had a spell where Chertanovo held their own and then, despite heading for their tenth defeat in ten games, the visitors pulled one back in the eightieth minute with a drive from the edge of the box.

With five minutes left Korovkina almost got her fourth against her former team but couldn’t quite get on the end of a cross from the right and it was her teammate Kristina Cherkasova who instead finished it to restore the three-goal advantage.

There was still one more to come a couple of minutes later and with Korovkina going nowhere, she was brought down for a pen. Former Betis and Metz midfielder Fedorova capped a commanding performance with a two step pen into the bottom left hand corner for a five-one victory.

FC Veles v Orenburg, Sunday 4th October 2020, 2pm

November 17, 2020

Veles play in Domodedovo, which is about twenty miles south of Moscow. I could probably have taken a couple of Metro rides and then a surface train but, conscious of Covid risks and if I’m honest the arseaboutery of having to head into the centre only to head back out again, I opted for a taxi.

I was dropped outside of the five thousand capacity Avangard stadium and noticed some football activity on an adjacent pitch. It was some sort of seven a side tournament with two games taking place simultaneously, crossways in each half. The pitch was next to a park area with a playground where groups of blokes stood around swigging vodka, despite it not being much past midday. We’ve all been there.

It was a little early for me to join them so I had a wander up to the stadium and then carried on along some kind of heritage footpath. Every couple of hundred yards there would be a star with a date on it commemorating the wartime history from that year. As I didn’t have too much time to spare it’s as well that the Second World War didn’t extend beyond 1945.

The footpath finished at a church that catered for the children of its parishioners with a playground and a few conker trees. If St. Mary’s in Norton had done that I might have shown more of an interest in religion when occasionally dragged along as a child

With kick off approaching I made my way back to the ground. It was a lot busier than when I’d passed it half an hour or so earlier with people milling around at the entrance and queuing at the ticket office. I was searched as I went in and, as usual, had my temperature taken.

I’d bought my ticket for the outer edges of the main stand for a hundred rubles in advance online. This choice was also made with Covid in mind as the centre sections seemed such good value at two hundred rubles that I anticipated that area being more densely populated.

Once inside I was pleased to see that my plan had paid off and that the outer edges of the stand were near empty. I exercised a little more caution and ignored my seat in section F in favour of one further out in Section G. There were a few people nearby but nobody within ten feet or so of me.

Veles were in light blue with visitors Orenburg in white. From what I could glean about Veles, they had only been in existence for a few years and this was their first ever season in the dizzy heights of the second tier National League.

They started well, going a goal up after three minutes from a corner where one of the Orenburg centre-halves firmly directed a header past his own keeper. I’m convinced that Veles aimed for him at the next few set-pieces that they took.

Orenburg had chances to equalize in the rest of the first half but the home keeper pulled of a couple of decent saves to maintain his side’s lead at half-time.

I spent the interval watching the stewards performing their now familiar ‘whack-a-mole’ strategy of singling out someone in the crowd with his mask in his pocket or under his chin and after making it clear that it needed to be worn correctly would then move on to their next target only for the original fella to quietly return his mask to wherever it had been.

I probably bang on about this every time I write about a game but come on, how difficult is it to sit and watch a game with a mask on? You aren’t eating or exerting yourself. Just comply and do us all a favour.

Mask moving aside, the crowd didn’t get up too much. There were a small number of vocal Veles fans at the opposite end of the stand to me but they seemed to spend more time waving their flags than they did singing. If Orenburg had brought any fans I hadn’t noticed them at this stage.

There was a certain symmetry to the Orenburg equalizer, with it also coming from a header and three minutes into the half. Or would symmetry require it to be three minutes from the end of the half? Probably, but it’s written now. The goal revealed that I’d underestimated the presence of away fans with a few of them to my right in the centre section and more to my left, standing low down towards the front of the stand in what I suppose was probably the area set aside for them.

The highlight of the second half was a ball boy being fired for leaving the taped off protected area to retrieve a ball. Someone important, possible the stadium manager, marched over to give him a bollocking and to demand that he remove his fluorescent vest. The poor lad was then escorted to the tape and spent the remainder of the game watching sulkily from a distance.

And if that was the highlight, you had probably guessed that there were no more goals. Orenburg should have clinched the points, but with an easy goal on the cards a striker in an offside position couldn’t resist getting involved and caused the effort to be ruled out.

One-all was probably about right in the end.

Olimp Dolgoprudny v Zenit 2, Sunday 27th September 2020, 4pm

October 9, 2020

My search for a game this week threw up the prospect of a third-tier match at Dolgoprudny, which is a town twenty miles north of Moscow. It didn’t look the easiest place to get to with the Metro falling too far short for me to walk the remaining distance and my reluctance to get on an overcrowded bus where few of the passengers wear masks. In the end I took the easy option and went by taxi. The cabs are cheap over here and my hour-long ride set me back a tenner.

I’d no idea if I would ever go back to Dolgoprudny, so I thought I’d better make the most of whatever charms it has. I checked on Trip Advisor and the number one attraction was the Church of St George. That didn’t really fill me with a lot of enthusiasm, but it looked to be an hour’s walk or so from the stadium and so I thought it would make a decent starting point for pre-match stroll.

As the taxi approached Dolgoprudny there was a spectacular looking church to the left of the highway. It had multiple turrets topped with brightly coloured onion bulbs. It left me with high hopes for Dolgoprudny’s number one church. On my arrival at the Church of St George a few minutes later though I was somewhat disappointed. It was definitely a church, but a lot less fancy than the one I’d passed two or three miles back.

Nevertheless I had a look around. It had a decent set of bells outside and a few pictures on what I presume were saints inside. No dragons. Normally I’ll pay a bit of attention to the floor tiles but they looked little better than standard shopping mall marble. If the weather had been poor I might have hung around a bit longer but it was a bright crisp day and so I thought I’d set off for the Salyut Stadium and hope to stumble across something better on the way.

Once outside I checked the map on my phone and discovered that the stadium was less than an hour’s walk away. A lot less. It was actually two hundred and twenty metres away. A tortoise could probably have done it in an hour. It gradually dawned on me that the taxi had brought me to the wrong church, possibly due to St George being a popular saint around these parts. By chance this wrong church was adjacent to the football ground whilst the right church was very probably the fancy one that I’d passed on the road a little earlier. It was difficult to feel pissed off about it as I’ve had far worse mishaps in getting to a ground and I suppose I should be grateful that I hadn’t ended up on the wrong side of Moscow.

With time to kill I had a wander around the neighbourhood, pausing for a while to watch some fellas tarmacing a road. I could look at that sort of thing all day, with the machine being fed lumpy stuff by shovel at the front before excreting a perfectly flat surface out of its back end.

I’m not entirely convinced that the workmen appreciated being photographed by some weirdo and so after a while I left them to it and made my way into the stadium.

I had the usual temperature check and was searched at the turnstile, although not so thoroughly to prevent me taking a couple of cans of coke in with me. Someone handed me a flyer in lieu of a ticket, although with no admission charge it seemed somewhat unnecessary.

The Salyut stadium holds five thousand when full, presumably just in its two stands, each situated along the side touchlines. There wasn’t any provision for spectators behind the goals, but as there was a running track around the artificial pitch that’s probably just as well.

Only one stand was open, the one on the tunnel side and I took a seat towards the centre and in the back row.

My half of the stand filled up significantly and I ended up with a bunch of kids to the front, left and right, some of them squeezed in together tightly enough for them to be sharing two seats between three of them. I thought all of that unnecessarily risky and so moved to the other side of the tunnel where the stand was virtually empty, maybe because it had been designated for the away fans. There were fourteen of them singing fairly constantly in support of Zenit and making a decent racket for the size of their turnout. Plenty of songs seemed to mention Leningrad, so maybe the past name for St Petersburg remains in common use.

There were still people coming into the ground throughout the first half and a lot of them were sensibly making their way through to the away section. It was possible to keep a good distance from everyone else though, even when the bunch of kids that I’d escaped from earlier made a re-appearance.

Olimp were clearly an older bunch of players with Zenit’s second team being a lot younger and probably a development side. Olimp went into the game at the top of the league, in this case Group Two of the Professional Football League, whilst Zenit were about halfway up the table.

The visitors had the best of the chances in the first half but it was Olimp that took the lead with a penalty just after the half-hour and they went in at the break a goal to the good.

Olimp added a second a few minutes after the restart when Zenit failed to take a couple of opportunities to clear. With the home side pressing forward it looked at that stage as if Olimp might put themselves out of reach. However, they got sloppy and gave away a penalty with a foul right on the outward corner of the box on a Zenit player who was going away from goal. It don’t think it was possible for the attacking player to have posed any less of a threat in that position. The Olimp keeper saved the defender’s blushes though by throwing himself to his left and turning the spot kick onto the post.

Zenit seemed re-energised by the penalty and pulled one back soon after before squandering a good chance to equalize a few minutes later in a goalmouth scramble where the ball was prevented from crossing the line by a defender lying flat out and blocking the ball as if saving a try at rugby.

Despite some late Zenit pressure, Olimp held on for the win to maintain their position at the top of the table.

Lokomotiv Moscow v Tambov, Sunday 20th September 2020, 7pm

October 5, 2020

I’ve made good progress in working my way through the Moscow clubs since I got back to Russia a few weeks ago with Lokomotiv being the last of what I’d consider to be the ‘big four’ that also includes CSKA, Spartak and Dinamo. I would have added Torpedo to that but despite the familiarity to me of their name they currently turn out at Chertanovo’s ground in the second division, so not very ‘big’ at all.

CSKA’s heritage is the military, Spartak was the union team and Dinamo the KGB. Lokomotiv, you may not be surprised to learn, were and are the railway team. It therefore seemed somewhat appropriate that I took the Metro towards the RZD Arena. I had a few hours in hand though and so I got off a couple of stops early to have a wander around Sokolniki Park. It is definitely one of the better parks that I’ve been to in a city where there is a lot of competition.

There’s a section for eating and drinking near to the fountain at the main entrance and various activities spread around the park. You can ride a horse or a roller coaster.

My preference in these parks is just walking on the quieter trails and my route took me past a lake and on to something called a ‘Health Trail’. It was a pathway about three kilometres long with exercise equipment every hundred yards or so. There were also quieter offshoots that made it easy to thin the traffic even further and extend the distance. I’d read in a guidebook that there are wild boars in the adjoining reserve north of the park but if there were any wandering around they kept well away whilst I was there. The best I saw in terms of wildlife was a red squirrel.

As kick-off time drew nearer I got back on the Metro for two stop trip to the Lokomotive Station and then had a five minute walk around the corner to the turnstiles. I’d bought my ticket online in advance paying 1.200 rubles for a seat in the back row of the lower tier in the stand facing the tunnel. I could have sat behind the goal for only 500 rubles and season tickets were an even bigger bargain starting at 5,500 rubles or fifty five quid. At the moment I’m happy to ground hop, but when I’ve exhausted Moscow’s possibilities then a team with a stadium near to a decent park might hold some appeal.

In honour of the railway connection Lokomotiv has a great big train parked up in the area between the turnstiles and the stadium. It was popular with people wanting photos and struck me as a better alternative to scrapping it. I think I’d like to see old trains dumped all over the place.

My seat was very good with no obstruction from the overhang and sufficient space between me and everyone else. On the opposite side of the pitch I noticed that each team had a dugout to accommodate forty-five people. That apparently wasn’t sufficient though and both dugouts also had a few extra chairs tagged on at the end.

The teams came out to the sound of a train whistle, with Tambov in blue and Lokomotiv in green and red, a combination that I never really consider to be proper football colours. I always think of green as non-league, although I’m sure fans of Sporting Lisbon or Celtic might disagree. Green and red, just doesn’t go though.

The Tambov goalie was forty years old and a former Lokomotiv player. Despite all that he got very little reaction from the home crowd. Maybe the indifference was due to them forgetting about him in the thirteen years since he had left, or maybe a lot of them were just not old enough to remember him.

The old bloke conceded early on, although there was little he could have done about it and there was just the one goal in it at half-time. I quite fancied a drink but even with only six and a half thousand people spread around a near thirty thousand capacity ground the queues were both long and tightly packed. I played safe and did without.

The veteran keeper was booked in second half for taking too long over a goal kick despite his team being behind. Maybe they are strict about running on time here. He then pulled off a very good one handed save with twenty minutes to go. There was no urgency from Tambov as the game drew to an end. I’d been expecting to see their goalie in the Lokomotiv box and hoped that he’d make the sort of impact that only a late goal from a player that should be a hundred yards away at the other end of the pitch can have. I was disappointed though as Tambov didn’t even risk throwing any outfield players forward and instead seemed content to settle for the one goal defeat.

The final whistle was greeted by more train whistling and then a firework display. It all seemed a bit over the top really. Perhaps they don’t win very often.

Dinamo Moscow v Rubin Kazan, Sunday 13th September 2020, 4.30pm

September 28, 2020

For this week’s game I thought I’d pay a visit to Dinamo Moscow, the team formerly owned by the KGB. It’s a little surprising that they have much of a fan base at all really although a season ticket was probably a good career move back in the Soviet era. Maybe the modern day fans were forcibly taken along by their Dad as a kid, just like all of those Man United fans of a certain age who claim to reluctantly follow their team solely as a consequence of being dragged to Old Trafford in that mid-seventies Division Two season.

I could have taken the Metro to within a hundred yards or so of their ground, but whilst autumn is clearly arriving it’s still good weather for a walk. I decided to head for Vystavochnaya station and then walk for a couple of hours from there to the Lev Yashin stadium.

The Metro journey was simple enough, with a three stop ride along line six and then another three stops along line fourteen which is a circular line. As an added bonus I’ve found the Metro to be an excellent way of getting rid of the change that has been accumulating on the table by my front door. There are machines in each station where you can top up your card and so I just grab a pocketful of coins and feed the machine until the people queuing behind me start making audible sighs.

My choice of route was selected as it would give me an easy navigation along the river for half an hour and then after turning through a park I’d be able to wander around a graveyard before the final stretch along streets to the ground. The first section went ok, in as much as I couldn’t really deviate from the river. I walked a bit too far though and missed Krasnaya Presnaya Park which caused me to need to double back on myself to rejoin my route at the Vagankovskoye Cemetery.

The graveyard was, as you might expect, full of graves. Really full. Most of them were in small square family plots surrounded by iron fencing. When one plot finished another set of railings would be pressed up against it. There was usually a narrow access path but for the plots further back it wouldn’t have been an easy process. A lot of the graves had photos of their occupiers, making me wonder whether you go for a recent photo or one of you in your prime? I don’t suppose it matters much to those below ground, it’s more a quandary for those left behind.

Whilst the plots were busy, the cemetery was busier still with families delivering flowers and middle-aged couples browsing the goods in the tombstone shop as if on an afternoon out at a garden centre. There were flower and wreath stalls and a small hut that sold candles and grave tat. I’d hoped when I spotted it that it might have sold drinks but it catered only for the dead.

Not long after I left the cemetery it started to rain and so I gave up on the rest of my walk and travelled the rest of the way to the Lev Yashin Stadium by cab.

The VTB Arena is an incredible venue. The Lev Yashin football ground is only part of the overall arena, with one end of it being used for a hockey stadium. From the outside though you can’t tell that it is accommodating two sports and it just looks like one big stadium. I can’t really do it justice with my photos, so I suggest that you google the plans for it instead. I was given a mask and gloves at the turnstile and then scanned and searched as I entered the ground.

I’d booked my ticket online for 650 rubles and I was in the upper tier on the tunnel side. The stands sloped steeply so even towards the upper part of the stand I didn’t feel as if I was far from the pitch. For the first time that I’d been to a game since the Covid return there was food and drink available in the concourse. Beer was Bud alcohol free which somewhat surprisingly had a few takers. I got myself a hot dog which tasted as if it had been there since before the lockdown. That’s the nature of hot dogs though, I doubt anyone would choose to eat one if there was other food available.

In the lower section behind the goal to my right I noticed a drum kit set up. If that was to be part of the ultra support it’s a serious effort. It wasn’t though, it was part of the pre-match entertainment from a band where the lead singer looked a good thirty years older than the rest of the musicians. I suspect that whoever they were, he may have been the only original member.

Dinamo started well and had a first half goal disallowed for a tight offside that needed VAR confirmation. Half an hour in though it was Rubin Kazan that took the lead from a penalty decision that so incensed one of the Kazan players that he picked up a yellow for berating the ref. I can only presume that he expected the opposing defender responsible to have been carded for his foul.

The opening goal enabled me to spot a dozen or so away fans in the upper tier opposite me. There was a larger group of home fans behind the goal to my left that made plenty of noise, waved their flags, jumped and swayed with their arms around each other and generally scorned the idea that in these days of a deadly virus it might be prudent not to get so close to a bunch of strangers.

At half time I took advantage of the low crowd and nipped down to the concourse for a coffee. Fewer than a fifth of the seats had been sold, with an attendance of 5,723 in the 30,000 capacity ground and so it meant that the queues were short.

In the second half the rain that had curtailed my walk to the match started again but the roof which extended well beyond the stands meant that if a player stuck to the wings he could stay dry. One Dinamo player must have been told to stay central and in frustration delivered an elbow to one of the visitors. If you are going to get sent off you may as well do it when it is pouring down,

Despite being down to ten men Dinamo applied the pressure and should have equalized five minutes from time. The Kazan goalie who I’d seen pull of the Montyesque double save at CSKA three weeks earlier had been dropped to the bench for this game. It seemed a harsh decision to me but his replacement somehow managed to keep a free kick out of the top corner that was every bit as good a stop.

By this time the home fans had decided to remove their shirts and add the risk of pneumonia to Covid. I moved down a level and watched injury time from a railing in the concourse. From my new vantage point I saw the home goalie go up for a couple of corners and two further players, one from each side, get their marching orders for second yellows in separate incidents. No more goals though in another deserved away win for Slutsky and his team.

Rodina Moscow v Kolomna, Sunday 6th September 2020, 3pm

September 22, 2020

The upper structure of the leagues in Russia is similar to that of Spain in that there is a top division, then a second, followed by a third tier consisting of four divisions. Below that are some lower leagues that I’ve no idea yet of how or even if they feed into the system.

This game was my first in the Russian third tier, known as the Professional Football League. Rodina is a new club, or at least a new club to the professional game. It looks like they existed solely for youth teams up until a couple of years ago. Their home ground, Yantar Stadium, is up in the north east of Moscow and too far from me to walk so I took the Metro. This involved an hour’s travelling and two changes of line. You tap in with a card and the journey each way cost me forty rubles or, at the current exchange rate, forty pence.

Moscow is renowned for having fancy subway stations and whilst Kievskiya was probably the best of the ones that I passed through with lots of marble, ornate plasterwork and fancy lights, all of them had some impressive features.

I hadn’t ridden the subway since March and was curious as to what Covid measures would be in place. Every second and sometimes third seat had a not to be used sticker, but once the available seats had been taken passengers just sat on the others. I’d say around a third of the travellers were wearing face masks, but maybe a third of those were failing to cover both their mouth and nose with them.

On leaving Strogino Metro station I followed the map and before long the Yantar Stadium floodlights came into view. The ground is alongside the river and overlooked by a hill, so I was hopeful that even if Covid restrictions meant that spectators were excluded from the lower leagues I’d be able to find an external vantage point somewhere. As I approached I spotted someone making their way through the entrance gate and pausing after being told to put on a mask.

It was free to get in, although somewhat pointlessly we were each given a ticket. My bag was searched and I was patted down. The fella coming in before me had his opened bottle of water sniffed by a steward, presumably to check that it wasn’t neat vodka. The only area open was the seating on the tunnel side and even then I think it was only the seats to the left of the tunnel. Two out of every three seats were taped off and as I was early enough to have a decent choice I selected one in the fifth and back row.

The teams and officials were warming up and the ref and linesmen were worth watching. They pretended that a game was going on and simulated the actions that they’d have to take. The linos made their way sideways along the touchline, varying their speed and peering across at an imaginary last defender before flagging for an offside. The ref was running the diagonal, clearly keeping up with some scenario that existed only in his head before playing advantage or signaling for free kicks. He kept his cards in his pocket, possibly recognizing that he was being watched and surmising that brandishing a yellow at that stage might easily be misconstrued.

I’d have been happy to have seen him produce a red card for whoever was playing the pre-match music at ear-splitting volume. Some song that rhymed ‘taking off her blouses’ with ‘taking off my trousers’ made me glad that I’m of an age where going to nightclubs and having to listen to other people’s noise is a distant memory. In days where anyone can listen privately to whatever they like at any time it’s baffling that I’m subjected to that utter shite when I want to watch a game of football.

The match kicked-off with me having no idea which team was which. One of the sides was kitted out in light blue, the other in dark blue. Perhaps they planned a boat race. The goalie for the dark blues must have spent a good ten seconds crossing himself before kick-off. I’m not really sure what people expect from their god, but you’d think that influencing the outcome of a lower level football game would currently be way down any list of divine priorities.

There were four young lads to my left who were happy to stand and chant their support. Every now and then they would do something that sounded like monkey chanting. I don’t think that it had any racist connotations as they would do it whenever play broke down rather than aiming it at any particular player. Besides, I hadn’t noticed any non-white players. It will be interesting to see if there are any similar chants at other games.

Half an hour in the light blues had a two on one break. The fella without the ball was screaming for the pass but the lad in possession ignored him and placed his shot across the keeper for the opening goal. A quick check of the scoreboard confirmed that the light blues were the home side, Rodina.

The goal spurred Kolomna into a quick response and within five minutes they had been awarded a penalty. The home keeper looked the part in his all black strip, but he lost a little credibility by pretending to knock the mud from his boots on one of the posts. Maybe he forgot that it was an artificial pitch. Nevertheless, his routine paid off and diving to his left he kept the shot out.

As the first half drew to a close I noticed a bloke in a pair of Speedo’s watching the game from the grassy bank beyond the opposite fence. It’s still reasonably warm in Moscow but he did seem underdressed, even if he wasn’t too far from the river.

I was equally surprised to see the fella a couple of seats along from me scoffing a packet of toasted bread crusts, presumably a by-product of those crustless loaves that small children or people short of teeth like to eat. It just shows that there’s a buyer for just about everything if you market it right.

Kolomna got their equalizer twenty minutes into the second half when a shot, or more likely a cross, from out on the right eluded everyone on its way into the top corner. There was plenty of cheering from the people around me so whilst I’ve no idea where Kolomna is, they had decent support among the hundred or so spectators in attendance. We briefly had a chanting battle between a family with a toddler to my right and the four young lads to my left.

The family joy didn’t last as Rodina promptly regained the lead with a penalty that caused their youngest to throw a tantrum entirely appropriate to his age. His mood darkened further as his side fell another goal behind ten minutes later. There were good chances for both sides in the  final moments before the visitors switched off in injury time and Rodina added a fourth.

The final score line didn’t really reflect a game that could have gone either way at one each and a quarter of an hour to go, but that’s how it goes sometimes. I made my way out whilst most of the hundred or so crowd hung around to clap their teams off.

Chertanovo Moscow v Tekstilshchik, Saturday 5th September 2020, 3pm

September 19, 2020

I tend not to visit stadiums more than once these days. It’s a combination of wanting to see somewhere new and of wanting to add to the number of grounds where I’ve attended a game. This weekend was an international weekend though and so my options were more limited than usual. So limited in fact that the only game in town looked to be at the Luzhniki Sports Camp where I’d watched Chertanovo drop three points at home to Alaniya six days previously.

However, even if I couldn’t tick off a new ground I still thought watching live football would be better than lazing around in my flat. To try and avoid it feeling like a repeat visit I booked myself a ticket on the other side of the ground. This meant that I’d be watching from the padded seats in the centre section of the main stand rather than standing in front of a seat that required me to view the game through two fences. My posher seat in Sector A2 cost me three hundred and thirty rubles which is three pounds thirty. Even at the higher price it struck me as being much better value than last week’s two hundred and twenty ruble ticket.

I also decided that I’d walk to the stadium along a different route, so rather than just heading out from my flat and following a reasonably direct route I took a taxi to the Kremlin with the intention of tracking the river all the way to the ground.

Red Square had fewer tourists than last time I’d been there. Most people were taking selfies with the historic buildings in the background, a just married couple were posing for wedding photos in front of the Borovitskaya Tower and a small queue had formed for those wanting to pay their respects in the Lenin Mausoleum.

I knew that if I made my way through the square past St Basil’s Cathedral I’d reach the river in another two or three hundred yards. All I had to do then was turn right, keep the river on my left and I’d eventually reach the Luzhniki Sports Camp.

Anyone who has read this blog before will know that such plans invariably don’t go as smoothly as I’d hope, but on this occasion it worked perfectly. I didn’t even have to check my location on my phone. I passed the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour with its golden onion bulb topped towers and the impressive Ministry of Defence building. On the other side of the river was a big statue of some seafaring fella.

The river water didn’t look particularly clear, but as there was the odd duck bobbing about it couldn’t have been too bad. It must have been good enough for fish to survive as there were a few fishermen trying their luck. I didn’t notice anyone catch anything but at one point I paused to watch a fella try to haul in what turned out to be a log that he’d snagged. I don’t think he appreciated the audience.

The river was busy with cruise trips, some of which didn’t have music blaring out, and so maybe at some point I’ll try one myself. The one downside of the walk was having to keep an eye out for electric scooters. They are easily and cheaply hired in Moscow and whilst there are walking and cycling lanes marked on the riverside path, the scooters would appear suddenly weaving from lane to lane.

The walk was definitely a city walk, with a busy road alongside me all the way to Luzhniki. Across the river I could see Gorky Park and if I end up paying a third visit to the Sports Camp I think I’ll walk along the opposite bank for the quieter surroundings.

I arrived at the Sports Camp two hours after setting off from the Kremlin and with a few minutes to spare to kick-off. Unfortunately, admission was via a gate on the opposite side of the ground and so I had to backtrack through the park, eventually reaching my back-row seat a minute after the game got underway. My late arrival inconvenienced the bloke at the end of my row who was videoing the match, presumably in some sort of official capacity. He had to move the tripod to let me by and so anything of note that happened in the second minute of the game will escape analysis.

My vantage point was much better than the previous week and my padded chair also had armrests. I was a little disappointed that it didn’t recline or have an automated cigar lighter. The seats around me were only partially occupied with at least every second one taped to signify that it wasn’t to be used although clusters of people, presumably from the same household, were sat together. I took advantage of a break in play for an injury and counted the fans in the opposite side of the ground. I made it ninety-four depending upon whether I’d correctly identified anyone stewarding. There were approximately six hundred seats in that side of the ground so that’s reasonable distancing in theory.

The fans on the far side included two singing clusters, both supporting Chertanovo and both tending to limit their repertoire to repeated renditions of “Shirta, Shirta”. Over on my side, to my left were ten or so away fans who didn’t really pipe up until the second half when we were treated to a snarly sort of chant loosely based on the tune to Yellow Submarine. Ringo sang it so much better.

Tekstilshchik, in red and black stripes, had the better chances in the first half including a free-kick from around thirty yards that was tipped over the bar by the home goalie with the top-knot. As with last week, there was a player booked for diving, although for what it’s worth I’d have given the pen. Diving in the box must be this season’s clampdown issue.

It was goalless at half-time and whilst I was tempted to wander around to the burger van on the other side of the stadium, I thought I’d disrupted video guy enough already. Three minutes after the restart the visitors took the lead.  Their tall striker with the beard did well to keep the ball in and pulled it back for someone else to stab it home from a yard out.

Beardy bloke might well have been the best player on the pitch. If he wasn’t he certainly believed that he was. In the latter stages of the game he formed a strike partnership of Ravanelli and Beck proportions with one of the subs. Beardy was quick to throw his hands up if the sub didn’t try to set him up or misplaced his pass whilst for his part the sub seemed to be constantly seeking the approval of his hirsute team mate. It was in vain as Beardy withheld his appreciation and avoided eye contact whenever the sub did anything that might be considered praiseworthy.

Despite their efforts Tekstilshchik failed to add to the earlier strike and Chertanovo were no more effective. The contest petered out with just the single away goal to separate the teams.

Chertanovo Moscow v Alaniya, Sunday 30th August 2020, 3pm

September 3, 2020

After a few months of there being no football or of me having little interest in attending it’s starting to get back towards normal. Normal in that I’ve been checking the fixtures and working out what games it might be possible for me to get to. In addition to the language barrier and ever-present frustration caused by a lack of clarity on the actual venue for the fixture, the restrictions related to the coronavirus have reduced capacities and, it appears, made advance ticket purchases a necessity.

Chertanovo has one of the better websites and it explained in English that whilst they hadn’t previously charged an admission fee for their second-tier Russian National League matches, the requirements for social distancing had resulted in them making games ticket only and as the tickets were issued through an agency, they would have to be paid for. Fair enough I thought and with a lot less palaver than I’d had with the CSKA tickets a week earlier I bought and printed a two-hundred and twenty-ruble ticket for section B7, the only section available.

The venue for the game was the Luzhniki Sports Complex. It’s the park where the 1980 Olympic Stadium is located, although I understand that the stadium had been re-built since then and no longer features a running track. If Seb Coe had attended Chelsea’s Champions League Final defeat against Man United and tried to imagine himself powering down the home straight he’d have had to ignore the rows of seating that presumably cover where the track had been.

On checking how to get to the game I discovered that Luzhniki is only around six miles from my flat and so that made it within walking distance. I prefer to get around on foot if I can as you see a lot more that way. On setting off the first part of the route was easy to follow as I’d done it before on a visit to the Darwin Museum earlier in the year. The main attraction of that museum is bad taxidermy and if that is one of your niche interests then I can recommend a visit.

Further along the route took me through a park that has a small football ground in that I noted for future games and a large chess board that nobody had much interest in. Russia has seemed to dominate the chess world for as long as I’ve been aware of the game and so I’d have though that it would have been a popular attraction. Maybe Covid has caused it to be moth-balled for a while.

As I neared the river that provides a boundary to the complex the path took me through some woods. I spotted a well-worn, but un-marked path that looked like a short-cut. As invariably happens it didn’t work out exactly as I’d planned with the trail petering out and me having to scramble down a steep and muddy embankment, grabbing on to tree trunks and branches to stop me going arse over tit.

Once at the bottom I re-joined the tracks that I should never have left and crossed the river by way of a walkway attached to the outside of the metro line. The river was busy with tour boats, one of them holding some sort of boom-boom-boom party where all the attendees were dancing in a huddle and waving their arms in the air. The noise was so loud that, if they were so inclined, the passengers on any of the other boats within a couple of hundred yards could have partied along as well.

Once over the river I was soon inside the complex. It had taken me a little longer than I’d anticipated but there were still twenty minutes to kick-off. I checked a map of the area and realized that in addition to the main stadium there was also a North Sports Centre, a South Sports Centre, a Palace of Sports and a Sports Camp. I doubted that the game would be in the main Olympic Stadium as the website had mentioned an overall capacity for the venue as being around eighteen hundred seats and so I asked a security guard if he could match the venue information on my ticket with the map of the park.

As expected he had little idea, but was at least able to orientate our position with the map and send me off in the direction of the South Sports Centre. Five minutes later I was able to rule that location out and I passed the main stadium on my way to the next option of the North Sports Centre.

There was nothing doing at the North Sports Centre where I was joined by a woman and her small son who were also hoping to attend the game. We spoke little of each other’s languages, but I was able to communicate that I’d already checked the South Centre and so together we headed for the next stop, the Palace of Sport.

Once again we drew a blank, but as we passed the kick-off time of 3pm we heard drumming and shouting. We followed the noise to the Sports Camp where it was clear that a game had started. Unfortunately, the six minute delay in getting in turned into one of twenty minutes as there was no way through a perimeter fence and we had to detour out of the park to the entrance gate.

Getting through the gate followed a similar pattern to last week’s game. My ticket was scanned and I passed though a metal detector. I was instructed to put on my gloves and, in an extra precaution, I had my temperature taken. I often get my temperature taken at work and it is usually indicative, at best, of hypothermia setting in, or at worst of me having been dead for an hour. I wasn’t overly worried therefore that the exertion of getting to the ground might have warmed me up to the extent that I’d be considered a Covid risk. Sure enough, I was fine.

It was another couple of minutes from the gate to reach the ground and I was directed to my right, along a series of small five row stands on the side of the ground opposite the tunnel. To my left was a single stand for home supporters that housed the drum that had guided me in. I should have thanked the fella really.

My section was at the end of the row, beyond the goal line and with the need to peer through two fences if I wanted to see the near goalmouth. What do you expect for two quid? It was also the away section, with every block bar that first one allocated to the Alaniya supporters. I’d guess that around a third of the 1800 seats had been sold with the away allocation extending to a large section of the main stand too.

Whilst Chertanovo were in all blue and Alaniya in all white, most of the visiting fans were togged out in what I assumed to be their team’s home kit, a Melchester Rovers inspired red and yellow striped effort.

My delayed arrival had caused me to miss the opening goal, a penalty from Alaniya, or as their fans stretched it out in their chants “Al-Are-Knee-Arrgh”. A second followed soon enough though, a daisy cutter from Butaev that passed through a crowd of players and left the home goalie leaden footed.

Alaniya thought they were due a second penalty just before half-time but despite (from around a hundred and fifty yards away) it looking nailed on to me, the ref instead booked the striker. I wondered if he had had his doubts about his first award and was trying to make amends.

In the second half a different away striker received a booking for diving in the box. On this one I had no idea as to whether it was a penalty or not, the obscuring of my view by two fences meant that I wasn’t really in a position to decide. It seemed clear though that Alaniya wouldn’t be getting a second penalty unless limbs were severed.

The lack of spot-kicks stopped being an issue when the visitors extended their lead with a clever passing move that drew the keeper and enabled Malogan to tap into an empty net in the way that you would do in a five-a-side game.

In the closing stages it just seemed a question of how many more the visitors would extend their lead by. Gurtsiev shrugged off the last defender and in a one-on-one looked certain to make it four only for the home goalie who sported the sort of top-knot that should only be seen in a Sumo-ring to deflect it around the post.

In an even worse miss, Khabalov must have beaten three or four defenders, some of them twice, all in order to give Malogan an even easier tap-in from a yard out. The poor bloke waved a leg at it and missed the ball completely bringing laughter from the fans around me. I suppose you can do that when the game is won.

CSKA Moscow v Rubin Kazan, Saturday 22nd August 2020, 8pm

August 29, 2020

IMG_20200822_182716028

It’s not often that I go five months without getting to a game of football, but I suppose these aren’t typical times. The Russian football league continued for a further week after I’d attended a Spartak Moscow match in March, but even within that week the Covid situation had worsened and I’d cautiously stayed away from crowds.

Lock down in Moscow was taken seriously and in the three months that I worked remotely from my apartment the only time I was allowed to leave was for shopping trips to my nearest supermarket. It’s only fifty metres away and as I tried to minimize contact with others by limiting visits to twice a week, it did little to break the monotony.

Fortunately that supermarket was well-stocked and with little evidence of panic buying I was never in danger of having to wipe my arse with the curtains. Even so, there’s a much bigger supermarket a mile or so away that I’d have much preferred to shop at. They’ve got live carp at their fish counter which makes the outing much more interesting. I know eating carp is a big thing in eastern Europe but it still baffles me that they don’t go for trout instead. I ate carp in Kazakhstan a few years ago and it was ok, although the sauce it was served in masked any hint of the muddy taste that it’s renowned for. Maybe a week or so cleansing in a supermarket tank makes all the difference.

IMG_20200822_124023446

Whilst lock down in Moscow is now over, there are still some lingering restrictions. It’s compulsory to wear masks and gloves in shops and on public transport and whilst almost all bars and restaurants have reopened again, most of them seem to be serving people outside at hastily constructed patio areas. Let’s see how that works out for them in December when it’s minus twenty.

Attendance at football has been adversely affected too. I can’t work out what the rules are but clubs are only allowed a small number of fans at each game. I’d assumed that the reduced capacities would limit attendance to those with season tickets and so hadn’t really been looking at opportunities for getting to a game. Old habits die hard though and when looking at the CSKA website the night before their Premier League fixture with Rubin Kazan I noticed that they were selling tickets. I was surprised that anything was available so close to the game as I’d have thought that CSKA would have had more than enough fans to sell out the limited capacity with or without a general sale.

That section of the website was Russian language only, but with the help of Google Translate I was able to navigate my way through to the final stage of purchasing a ticket only to be thwarted by what I later concluded to be a delay in processing my registration.

I had another go the next morning and this time it worked well. The spacing requirements meant that they were only selling every seventh seat and then only in alternate rows. That’s ideal for someone as anti-social as me and something that I’d be happy to see remain should the virus make itself scarce. I bought a ticket for five hundred rubles in the upper tier of the main stand. That works out at five quid which is slightly less than I’d pay for a ninth tier Northern League game back home. It is also, at the equivalent of two pints or so, exactly the amount that I think going to the match should cost.

IMG_0332

On Saturday evening I took a taxi to VEB Stadium. I could have used the subway, but I thought that a car journey where both the driver and I wore masks would be safer. He dropped me off outside the ground and as there was still an hour and a half to kick-off I had a wander around in the adjacent Berezovaya Roshcha park.

It was a pleasant enough place for a stroll, with some quiet trails through the trees and a couple of restaurants that in different circumstances would have been ideal for a pre- or post-match drink. A few supporters were making their way towards the stadium, many of them pre-gaming with a can or bottle of beer. There were also a few small groups of policemen, dressed as if they were expecting a riot. They had little interest in the fans with a beer, so I concluded that drinking a beer in a park wasn’t seen as sufficiently riotous to warrant intervention.

I headed inside with plenty of time to spare. First up was a check of the ticket and a reminder to put on my mask. I’d brought gloves with me but as disposable ones were being handed out I took a pair of theirs.

Once I’d passed through that first check point I didn’t see anyone wearing gloves and so they must have been discarded at the first bin. I then had to pass through a metal detector and undergo a frisking, before finally reaching the section 507 turnstile where my ticket was scanned and I was allowed to climb the stairs to the upper tier.

IMG_20200822_190302080

The thirty-thousand capacity ground looked in good nick, not surprisingly really as it was only built four years ago. There’s a great big tower in one corner that resembles the UEFA cup, perhaps in tribute to CSKA’s win in 2005. In the final they had beaten Sporting Lisbon, the side that had knocked the Boro out earlier in the competition.

As all the food and drink kiosks were closed free bottles of water had been set out on tables. That was a very welcome gesture particularly after the four flights of stairs to the upper tier.

IMG_20200822_191415302

When the teams were announced, visiting manager Leonid Slutskiy got a good reception from the home fans. It was well-deserved considering that he’d delivered a few trophies during his past seven-year stint in charge of CSKA. I doubt he’d be as warmly received at Hull if he ever went back there.

IMG_20200822_200134771

The crowd spacing wasn’t quite as I’d imagined it from the ticket booking website, but there was still plenty of room in a crowd that I’d estimate to be around six thousand. I wore my mask throughout although not many others did. A significant number of people had removed their masks altogether, whilst most others chose to cover only their neck or chin. A young steward spent the game venturing into the crowd to ask that the masks be worn correctly but most people that she spoke to complied only for a few minutes before letting it slip down their face again. She put the effort in but as the evening wore on it increasingly resembled a game of Whac-A-Mole.

IMG_20200822_200130654

The exception to the spacing was behind the goal at the opposite end, where the more hardcore fans largely abandoned social distancing, preferring to huddle together and protect themselves from the virus by removing their shirts instead.

CKSA were in a sort of sub-Barca kit with Kazan in green. I was pleased to see the visiting keeper in an all-black kit. It’s what I expect from a Russian goalie. That and a mullet. He spoiled the effect somewhat with orange gloves and boots, but they seem to be the fashion as at one point eleven of the players on the field were sporting orange footwear.

Both sides struggled to create anything in the first half. Most of the best opportunities came down the CSKA right when their wing back managed to get balls into the box. Ten minutes before the break Kazan midfielder Bakaev somehow found himself one on one with the home goalie and calmly stroked it past him for the opener. The lead didn’t last for long though as a couple of minutes later the ball fell to CSKA’s Vlasic on the edge of the box. The former Everton player volleyed it goalwards with the bounce taking it over the keeper’s arms.

IMG_20200822_200122406

In the second half there were a few decent chances for both sides. CSKA looked to have won it in the final minutes only to be denied by a Monty-esque double save from the Kazan goalie. The failure to take that chance proved costly as in added time Kazan broke and substitute Makarov pinged the ball home from the edge of the box as casually as if he’d still been hitting the ball into an empty net at the half-time warm-up.

The home fans around me didn’t appear to be too disheartened at the late goal or the loss. Maybe, like me, they were just glad to be back.

Spartak Moscow v Krasnodar, Monday 9th March 2020, 4.30pm

April 20, 2020

Just before Christmas I accepted a job based in Moscow. I went out there for a short trip in December and then started properly after the Russian New Year in January. It had been a long time since I’d visited Moscow, thirty-three years in fact. On that occasion in 1986 I’d gone for a December weekend with a girl that I was trying to impress.

A lot had changed in that time. For a start, the GUM department store next to Red Square was selling Ferraris and Louis Vuitton handbags. The last time I’d been there it was all knock-off ‘Adidas’ tracksuits with just the two stripes.

Jen and I are living out in the suburbs for the simple reason that being able to walk to work beats using public transport or taxis every day. I can even pop home for my lunch. The Moscow winter was milder than I or any of my local colleagues had been expecting with occasional snow and sub-zero temperatures, but nothing like most previous years or the minus twenty-five that I’d encountered a few years ago in Kazakhstan.

Whilst the winter had been relatively mild, it still meant that there was no football. Up until relatively recently football in Russia was a summer game with matches taking place between March and November.  A few years back they changed things to align their season with most of the rest of Europe, but with the severe weather still preventing games from taking place between mid-December and March that time of year is now set aside for a winter break rather than the close season.

The winter break meant that for the first two months that we were here I just had to wait it out. I looked at the option of going to the Ice Hockey, but the 2019 season in that sport was drawing to a close and I thought I’d save that until next winter. Once the winter break was over I selected a Spartak Moscow game taking place on a public holiday as my introduction to the Russian Premier League.

Jen and I took the subway up to Spartak’s Otkrytiye Stadium just before lunch. It was easy enough, with just the one change of line as we travelled from a south western suburb to one at the north west of the city. The hour long journey cost us around forty pence each. There were a few people at the stadium when we arrived and also some local coppers keeping an eye on us.

I’d wanted to be there early so that we could sort tickets before the arrival of the match day crowd and we selected seats in the upper tier along the side for 1800 rubles a pop. At the current exchange rate of a very convenient one hundred rubles to the pound that’s around eighteen quid each.

With our tickets in hand we back tracked one stop on the Metro, also forty pence, had some lunch in the food court of a shopping mall next to the station and then went for a walk in a nearby park.  I discovered that Russian squirrels look a bit different to the ones in the UK. They are darker than the grey squirrels that we have and seem to be more in the shape of the red ones. They have bigger ears though. I only had my phone with me so the photo isn’t the best.

There wasn’t much else in the way of wildlife in the park, but we did stumble across a woman taking her cat for a walk. Or rather, she was doing the walking whilst the cat perched on her shoulder. When the time comes for the cat to ‘cross the rainbow bridge’ as pet deaths tend to be described these days, she should have the cat made into a stole and life, for her anyway, would be little different.

We headed back up to the Otkrytiye Stadium with plenty of time to spare. By now the area around the ground was a lot busier. There were more police than earlier and a few small concessions selling scarves or food and drink. Our tickets were for the far side so we did a lap of around three-quarters of the stadium before having our tickets scanned at the turnstile.

You might remember the Otkrytiye stadium from the last World Cup. It’s the ground where England played Columbia and went through on penalties. It was also the venue for the group game between Belgium and Tunisia that Paul and I had watched in a Fan Park in Saint Petersburg.

Once inside we noticed a tribute to Igor Netto. He was a former captain of Spartak and the Soviet Union, playing for the former for seventeen years. Netto had also found time to turn out for the Spartak ice hockey team too. He died around twenty years ago, but the display celebrated what would have been his ninetieth birthday.

We took our seats high along the side facing the tunnel and what looked to be an almost entire stand of media facilities and hospitality. I suppose with the stadium having been built shortly before the 2018 World Cup, there was always going to be plenty of provision for that sort of thing within the forty-four thousand capacity.  There are a lot of rich people in Moscow, but there didn’t seem to be much of a take up of the two hundred quid ‘Platinum’ seats opposite.

Before kick-off there was a further tribute to Mr. Netto with a huge banner to our right and his son and, I think, great grandson coming onto the pitch. I like sentimentality in football, I think it is has just as much a place in the game as winning trophies does.  Although as a Boro fan, you’d probably expect me to say that.

Once the home fans had put away their Netto display, they got out their normal match day flags and banners. There must have been around thirty flags, all waved non-stop throughout the game and accompanied by constant singing.

In the corner to our left were a couple of hundred Krasnodar fans. It’s probable that some of them will have been living in Moscow, but for those that had travelled from their home town, it was around sixteen hours drive each way.

Krasnodar were in black and third from top whilst Spartak were somewhere in mid-table. On the plus side though, they were wearing shirts that weren’t too far off being classic Boro tops. I may have just found my Moscow team.

There weren’t many chances in the first half for either side. Spartak had some decent build up play but weren’t clinical enough whenever they made it into the box.

At half time I went down for a tea and a hot dog. The beer of choice was Budweiser, but the American version rather than that from the Czech Republic. That made it easy to pass on it even before I noticed that it was zero percent alcohol, although I’m not sure it would have tasted a lot different from their regular version.

In the second half, the visitors missed a couple of sitters before a slick passing move twenty minutes from time gave them a man over and they drew the foul for a penalty. Ari converted to give them the lead. The goal opened the game up and a second for Krasnodar looked likely. It still hadn’t materialised by the time we decided to leg it with five minutes to go to avoid the subway crush and that’s the way it stayed.

The game took place straight after the weekend when most teams in England played their final game for a while. There was one more round of fixtures over here, which I kept away from, before all Russian football was shut down until further notice.