Nizhny Novograd v Spartak Moscow 2, Sunday 2nd May 2021, 4pm

May 16, 2021

Weekends away have pretty much been off the agenda in the last year or so, but with Russia seemingly having put covid firmly into the past and with Jen back in the same country as me it was time for us to take a trip. A bank holiday weekend meant that me working on a Saturday wasn’t an issue and so late afternoon we took a taxi to Kursky station to catch a train to Nizhny Novograd.

Whilst waiting on our platform I noticed a few kids in track suits. Closer inspection revealed that they were the Spartak Moscow second team who were the opponents in the game that we would be seeing the following day. I suppose one of the reasons that they looked so young, apart from everyone looking so young when you get to my age, is that reserve teams are allowed to compete in the second tier and below and are development sides. There’s not much point packing them with grizzled old pro’s even if you could do.

One of the players got separated from his chums and ended up in our carriage. I’m pleased to report that he behaved himself.

The three and three-quarter hour journey was a pleasure. For a start we were facing in the direction of travel. Secondly, we had seats that seemed like business class and finally we were constantly fed and watered with good stuff throughout the journey. My recollection was that I’d just booked bog-standard tickets so every additional benefit was a welcome surprise. We were even given complimentary shoe-horns in case we struggled to get our shoes back on after travelling in the complimentary slippers.

I’d booked a hotel about ten minutes walk from the station. I’ve no idea why I did that as there was nothing going on in the area. I’d have been better off booking somewhere where the bars and restaurants are and avoided having to get a taxi everywhere.

Nizhny Novograd seems to be a city under reconstruction. We went for a wander around their Kremlin but couldn’t get inside due to ongoing refurbishment works. The building dates from around the eleventh century but in the wall repairs that were being carried out the replacement bricks were brand new and cheap looking. I wouldn’t have used them on a garden wall never mind a restoration of an historic monument.

With the Kremlin shut we walked around the old part of town hoping to cross the river in a chair lift but it was a public holiday weekend and I think that half the town had the same idea. Without the time or the inclination to wait in a fifty yard long snaking queue we skipped it and headed for the game instead.

The Nizhny Novograd stadium was built for the World Cup. One of the games that it hosted was the one where England put six past Panama. I remember watching that one in a Saint Petersburg bar with Paul, never imagining that I’d end up working in Russia a couple of years later. I think it might have been the afternoon when I spilled my pint on him.

There were sizeable queues outside the stadium. We had printed out our five quid tickets and were directed to a specific turnstile where we were temperature tested, scanned and searched as is normal these days.

One of the features at Russian games is that it is only me who thinks that the match itself will be enough, so there are often people walking around on stilts, dancers or bands playing. Today we were treated to a line of vintage cars as our added extra. We loitered a little too long and ended up missing the kick-off which is quite embarrassing when you consider that we had arrived in town the previous day.

The stadium wasn’t very impressive for a recent World Cup ground. The design stuck me as a bit dull and the concrete steps up to concourse were already crumbling away. I’d caught a glimpse of the old stadium that it replaced when arriving at the station and I’d have preferred to have seen this second-tier game there.

Spartak had a few hundred fans in the upper tier behind the goal. I’ve watched their development team twice previously and despite this game being outside of Moscow it was a bigger turnout from them than at either of those earlier games.

It was a quiet first half apart from a Spartak player being sent off. The ref had been planning a yellow but the reactions of the home players and no doubt some lino chat in his headphones caused him to pull out a red instead. It might have been the lad that was in our carriage. Perhaps he wasn’t so well-behaved after all.

Nizhny Novograd opened the scoring just before half-time with the fella almost walking the ball into the net. We spent the interval queuing for non-existent coffee and then missed the second Nizzy Novvy goal as we edged our way back to our seats soon after the restart.

There was a third goal right at the end from someone who turned his defender well, bore down on the keeper and then coolly tucked it away. A moment or two later the same bloke won a penalty. His captain wouldn’t let him take it though and someone else made it four. There was almost a fifth goal straight afterwards but someone shot instead of squaring it for an easy opportunity. The win kept Nizhny Novograd in third place with a play-off spot looking likely. Maybe they’ll have the Kremlin finished for a return to the Premier League.

CSKA Moscow Women v Yenisey Women, Sunday 18th April 2021, 2pm

April 27, 2021

I’d had the Oktyabr Stadium on my list for a while but none of the games there had fallen on a day when I was free to attend. The new season of the Women’s Supreme League has recently kicked off though and this gave me an opportunity for a Sunday visit.

Jen and I arrived at the gate a minute or two before kick-off having been distracted by a youth game on the auxiliary pitch next door and then by a bloke playing in a five-a side game with his small kids and their friends and who lost his mind over a kid who instead of shooting from the pass he had made to him, dummied it to allow someone else to take the shot.

Angry Dad berated all involved then stomped off to the outer fence and flung his gloves to the floor. I was sorely tempted to stay and watch the remainder of that game rather than head into the real match.

The lure of the game in the main stadium won out though and we made our way to the entrance gate where we were given free tickets, presumably to keep track of the extent of the attendance, and then underwent the usual temperature check, scan and pat-down.

Only one side of the stadium was in use and there were only alternate blocks of seating open. We ignored the first block which had around forty CSKA fans stood singing, skipped the next block which was taped off and settled for seats towards the back of the third block in.

The game was being televised and so there were cameras around the pitch and one at the top of the stand near to us. We also had a stills photographer with an enormous camera mounted on a five-foot long pole to our left. I normally feel as if I’m going over the top with my bridge camera but on this occasion I fitted right in.

Oktyabr stadium looked fairly old. I can’t say much more than that as I tried to find a bit of info online but couldn’t. All the metal railings looked as if they were from the forties or fifties and the running track around the pitch might have been something that Alf Tupper would have “run ‘em” on. There may have been terracing on the opposite side to us at one time but these days it is overgrown with weeds.

The team in white opened the scoring in the first half. I’d assumed that they were Yenisey, with CSKA in red, but I’d got it the wrong way around and it was the hosts that had taken the lead.

It was still one-nil at half-time and we went for a wander outside so that I could take a photo of the main stand. We then popped into a café where the woman behind the counter was adamant that they had no sugar for the coffee. I don’t use it myself but I can’t imagine that any place serving hot drinks would last long with that sort of approach.

Second half we got a bit of light drizzle and it was a lot colder than I’d anticipated. It was hard to estimate the crowd but I’d have thought that there were maybe two hundred or so braving the conditions.

CKSA doubled their lead in the second half with a clever little dink from one of their strikers. She was only around eight yards out but managed to strand the Yenisey goalie by getting the ball up and down again from close range.

There was an added treat on the way out as we stumbled across people sword fighting. There looked to be more fancy flourishes than serious stabbing attempts but it was worth pausing to watch.

The win for CSKA maintained their early season unbeaten run and kept them at the top of the four-game long league. Yenisey remained mid-table despite the loss.

CSKA Moscow U19 v Lokomotiv 2 U19, Sunday 18th April 2021, 1.15pm

April 21, 2021

This was another bonus ground hopping game, my second in the past fortnight. Jen and I had turned up at Oktyabr Stadium for a CSKA Moscow women’s fixture and I’d spotted a match going on at the pitch next to the main ground. It’s great when something like that happens. An additional ground on the list with no more effort other than strolling around to the gate and passing through the unmanned and unplugged metal detector.

The game was twenty odd minutes into the first half and a youth team game between CSKA and Lokomotiv 2. I’m guessing that the 2 meant Lokomotiv’s second-string team and I’m also guessing that it was Lokomotiv Moscow. Not that it really matters.

The home side were dressed up as Barcelona with the visitors in white. There were fans down one side of the ground, some in a small stand, others leaning up against the perimeter fence. I imagine most had a family connection to someone on the pitch.

We only stayed for around ten minutes as I wanted to maximise our chances of getting into the main stadium for the next game. CSKA had mentioned online that capacity was limited due to covid and that latecomers might miss out. Nevertheless, the visit still counts and it took the total of different grounds where I’ve attended a match to three hundred and fifty-six.

Arsenal Tula v Krasnodar, Sunday 11th April 2021, 2pm

April 18, 2021

In the time that I’ve been out here I’ve limited my games to the Moscow area but this weekend there was a game in Tula which is about two and a quarter hours away if you take a reasonably speedy train. I’d booked rail tickets online for about a tenner each way and rocked up at Kurskaya station with around half an hour to spare.

It’s as well that I did leave plenty of time as the official checking everyone’s documents wouldn’t let me board. When she realized that we didn’t have a common language she summoned a colleague.  He was able to explain that my ticket didn’t show my passport number and so he would have to scan the photo page and issue a supplement. Two quid and a receipt later they waved me on to the train.

My carriage was full with the mask wearing contingent comprising of around half of the occupants. I’ve been vaccinated so I’m not too concerned but I doubt many of my fellow travellers had gotten around to having their jabs yet.

It took a while to pass through the suburbs and I spent the first hour looking at lockups, garages and industrial units. There was the usual crap graffiti that seems compulsory next to railway lines and more stray dogs than I’ve seen elsewhere in the whole time I’ve been in Moscow.

As we moved further out of the city there were occasional villages, one with a cemetery that must have been a mile long. The wooden crosses at the new end were almost all accompanied by flowers whilst the older graves were partly hidden within a wood. I suppose they gradually blend in until they are absorbed back into the undergrowth.

I arrived at Tula with two and a half hours to spare to kick-off. The attendant who had initially prevented me boarding very kindly made a point of letting me know that I’d reached my stop. I suspect that she thought anyone incapable of bringing a valid ticket was unlikely to be bright enough to know where he was.

There were a couple of Krasnodar fans getting off with me and they photographed themselves next to the statues at the station.

With plenty of time in hand I walked to the Arsenal Stadium. It should have taken an hour, but I found a long-cut through a park that made the walk more scenic than it would have been. I stopped to photograph a squirrel and then watched as an old lady enticed it down the tree trunk to take a hazelnut from her hand. I resolved never again to go to a park without a handful of nuts.

It was a pleasant day and I took the opportunity to sit on a bench in the sun and give my Mam a video call. It’s not often she gets to have a nose around a Russian park by proxy so it made a bit of a change for her.

I could see the floodlights before I left the park and before long there was a steady stream of fans making their way to the ground.

I was searched and had my 650 ruble ticket initially checked at a main entrance. Inside there were food stalls, programme sellers and a band playing. I only caught the tail end of what turned out to be their last song, but even from that limited performance I got the impression that the singer hadn’t done much performing previously. It’s possible that he might have been someone who was famous for something other than singing, maybe a past player, or even a competition winner or karaoke participant.

Once into the main ground I was searched again and made my way up to my seat in row twenty, the back row. It was close enough to the pitch to give me a decent elevated view, but was spoilt somewhat by the design of the roof which had placed the stanchions in row 16. I could see both goals but there was a mid-pitch section where the action would remain a mystery.

My section continued to fill up even after kick-off and I realized that I was in the home singing section. Fortunately the fans who chose to stand were in the block to my right, but I was close enough to the drums to make me wish that I was on the opposite side of the ground.

Tula were togged up in what I always consider to be Melchester Rovers colours with Krasnodar in white. The two lads at the station had green scarves so presumably white was their away kit.

There wasn’t a lot of action in the first half. In fact I’m not sure that there were any shots on target that troubled either keeper.

Second half I moved to the other end of the stand. It was a lot quieter there and I was able to maintain a distance from everyone else that I felt comfortable with.

My move also enabled me to observe the away fans to my left. They were required, as is the custom in Russian grounds, to watch the match through a fence. I’ve not seen any trouble yet at any game that I’ve been to so it all seemed quite unnecessary to me.

The Krasnodar supporters were quieter than the home fans too, so I readily warmed to them.

There was finally a bit of attacking intent just after the hour when a home player flicked the ball up and volleyed it in from twenty-five yards. It was a moment of skill that was worth a two hour plus journey, although maybe the lads behind the fence to my left might not have felt the same about it.

Nobody else came close to scoring and Tula took the points to ease their relegation fears. I successfully caught a cab back to the station and by virtue of my seat on the same side of the train got a repeat viewing of the cemetery, graffiti and stray dogs that I‘d looked out at a few hours earlier.

Dinamo Moscow v Ufa, Saturday 3rd April 2021, 7pm

April 7, 2021

It’s getting more difficult now to find grounds in Moscow that I haven’t previously visited. But it doesn’t always have to be about another tick on the list, sometimes it’s good just to get out and watch a game and so on Saturday I popped along to the Lev Yashin stadium for Dinamo’s Premier League game with Ufa.

One of the advantages of going to see Dinamo is that it is easy to get there and back on the subway, with a station right outside the stadium. You have to change between lines six and two though and as I had plenty of time I thought I’d come back above ground at that point and have a mooch about.

I found myself fairly central with the river and St. Basil’s Cathedral a few hundred yards away. There were a few old churches nearby and a street with bars, restaurants and tat shops, but overall there wasn’t much to look at. Some of the buildings were fairly run down but had interesting brickwork. I hope they keep them rather than flatten them for office blocks.

After strolling around for three quarters of an hour it started to rain and as I wasn’t planning on taking advantage of the bars and restaurants or even the tat shops, I got back on the Metro and finished my journey to the stadium.

Incidentally, I learned from a train announcement that Dinamo is pronounced Din-armoh. ‘Din’ as in dinner rather diner, ‘arm’ like that long thing attached to your shoulder and ‘oh’ like a debt. It’s sort of two syllables, rather than the three that I’d previously thought when saying it in the way that I would if referring to the self-powered lights on a bike.

I’d bought my ticket online for 650 roubles which is just over six quid at the current rate. I underwent the usual temperature check and search before taking the escalator as far as the lower tier. From there it was stairs only to get to my upper tier seat. I bought a bottle of fake fanta and the fella serving me asked if I wanted a cup for it.

“Do I need one?” I said, glancing over at the stewards guarding the steps up to the seats.

“Not if you hide the bottle inside your coat” he replied. 

I like that kind of service.

Dinnarrghmoe, as I now say it, are up near the top of the table whilst Ufa are looking odds-on to be in the second-tier next season. The home side went a goal up about ten minutes in when one of their strikers turned off the shoulder of a visiting defender and accelerated away like little Mickey Owen in ’98 before tucking the ball away.

The fella behind me muttered something like “Poirot” every time anything good happened, perhaps comparing the excellence of a perfectly weighted pass behind the defence to the moment when the Belgian detective reveals to the occupants of the drawing room which of them was responsible for putting the wheelie bin out a day too soon.

Diiiiiiiiinaaaaarmo notched their second after half an hour when a bloke who was determined to shoot from distance even when nothing looked on managed to clip the arse of one of his team mates to wrong foot the keeper. A keeper who by virtue of his green top, black shorts and green socks could have pulled off the Pele-Banks save and still looked non-league.

We were all reasonably well distanced despite there being more fans than were here on my previous visit. Ufa had brought twenty or so supporters with them, behind the goal to my right. Ten minutes from the end one of them suddenly started banging a drum. I’ve no idea if he had just arrived or whether he had only then remembered what the percussion instrument in front of him was for, but I was grateful that I’d had eighty minutes without the racket.

By that time Ufa had fallen four behind and despite the added noise that’s the way it stayed.

Spartak Moscow 2 v Tekstilshchik Ivanovo, Sunday 28th March 2021, 2pm

April 4, 2021

I’d had this ground on my list of potential places to see a game for a while. It’s pitch 4 at the Spartak Academy and I’ve previously seen it listed as hosting Spartak Youth and Women’s games. I’d even had a wander along to it a few months ago when visiting Sokolniki Park to check that it really did exist, so I suppose you could say that I’d done my homework.

I retraced my route from the park for this visit, pausing for a bonus youth game at Pitch 1 before rocking up just over an hour early. A friendly English-speaking steward pointed out the ticket office a little further down the hill and even told me which stand to ask for if I was not a fan of either team.

The woman in the ticket office found it quite amusing that someone who didn’t speak any Russian would want a ticket for a reserve team game in the middle of nowhere. Although not as amusing as when I tried to pass a thousand ruble note through to her to pay for a ticket that turned out to be free.

Ticket in hand I returned to the entrance gate where the metal scanner and the pat down search failed to discover the SLR camera in my coat outer pocket. Therefore if you inadvertently turn up at the game with a chainsaw in your handbag or a dozen rare turtle eggs strapped to your shins, I’d recommend using Gate A.

The steward told me that there were only two rules, ‘wear your mask and keep your distance from other spectators’. I like rules like those.

My ticket was in block A2 which was along the side with the dugouts. Four out of every five seats were taped off to make it easier for people to follow rule two, although as kick-off approached the later arrivals tended to ignore the tape. The stewards enforced a one seat gap between people and spent a disproportionate amount of their time reiterating rule one to those who were wearing their mask beneath their chin.

Stand B was behind the goal to my left and contained the Spartak fans. They sang for most of the time and even got the odd ‘call and response’ chant going with the people near me.

There were around twenty or so fans in the seats opposite me supporting Tekstilshchik Ivanovo. They too did their share of singing, but the most notable element of their support was the banner showing a skull in a top hat. I’ve no idea at all what it was meant to signify, but it’s a good look for a skull.

Ivanovo is a city around five hours drive north of Moscow, so I imagine a few of the visiting fans were based in the capital. As I run out of local new grounds Ivanovo might make for a realistic option as I cast my net a little wider, particularly if there is a convenient train service.

Spartak were in their usual Boro tops, whilst the visitors were in a strange black and grey combination, that if the grey bits hadn’t been stripes I’d have assumed was due to the kitman mistakenly putting them through a boil wash. Neither side gave their fans anything to sing about in the first half and I think there was half an hour gone before we witnessed a shot on target.

At half time I stretched my legs behind the stand before taking a seat at the other end when play restarted. There were fewer people in that section and I was able to keep a greater distance between myself and everyone else.

Spartak opened the scoring on the hour with a good finish before letting Tekstilshchik back into the game a few minutes later with a defensive mix-up. There were a lot of cynical fouls that earned yellows and a couple of tackles that I thought warranted reds as the game became increasingly ill-tempered.

Both sides had their chances at the death but failed to take them. The Spartak players slumped to the floor at the final whistle as if they had just been knocked out of a cup or suffered a relegation rather than drawn a meaningless mid-table fixture against a side one place above them. Maybe the academy does sessions on looking like you care.

Burevestnik v Lightning, Sunday 28th March 2021, 11 am

April 2, 2021

As a ground hopper it’s great when you stumble across a match that you weren’t expecting. I was on my way to the second tier game between Spartak Moscow’s reserve team and Tekstilshchik Ivanovo when I heard the unmistakable sound of a referee’s whistle coming from the first pitch at the Spartak Academy complex. I’d just walked from Sokolniki Park where the snow was still on the ground but enough of the paths were clear for me to enjoy a stroll around in the fresh air.

Sokolniki is supposed to have wild boars in it but I’ve never seen any. Apparently, it was used by one of the Tzars as a place to catch rabbits with his falcons. I’ve not seen any rabbits or falcons either. Nor any Tzars for that matter. There are always some of those grey and black crows about though, generally in pairs. I spotted one that seemed to be collecting food rather than eating it.

Pitch 1 of the Spartak Academy is a small ground with seats along one side that have an obscured view through a fence. There are no seats behind either of the goals and the opposite side of the pitch houses the dugouts.

As I approached the entrance a fella in a grey kit was leaving.  A quick count up revealed that his team only had ten men so I suspect that he was heading for his car in a huff after being shown a red.

A banner identified the team in blue as Burevestnik and a bit of online research revealed the visitors as Lightning. They were competing in the Under-17 Winter Championship of Moscow and had drawn a crowd of around twenty spectators, some clearly supporting the teams playing and not just killing time before the Spartak game.

I hung around for fifteen minutes or so which was long enough to see a goal for each side, including one cracker from outside of the box that clipped the bar on the way in.

Khimki v Krylya Sovetov, Monday 22nd February 2021, 2.30pm

March 7, 2021

The winter break is over and the football has resumed in Russia. It seemed a little premature to me with temperatures being as low as -24C recently. Apparently, it has been the coldest Moscow winter since Napoleon was up to his mischief. It’s certainly colder than last year which I was told was the warmest Moscow winter since the dinosaurs were wandering around Red Square in their shorts. Who knows? For what it’s worth, there’s been heavy snowfall and as it hasn’t got warm enough for it to melt all the authorities can do is pile it up around the corner from my flat.

I’d been busy at the weekend but a public holiday on the Monday tied in nicely with Khimki’s FA Cup last sixteen fixture with second division Krylya Sovetov. Khimki is up at about ten o’clock on the second Moscow ring road. I’m at near enough seven o’clock so it’s not a bad journey in a taxi.

I’d bought a ticket in advance for nine hundred rubles in the smallish stand down the side that faced the much larger main stand. It looked as if only one in ten seats or so were being sold which is a welcome Covid precaution in a city that often gives the impression that the pandemic is a thing of the past. I suppose that I could be a little less cautious for the game as I’d had my first Sputnik V jab although with the emergence of new strains and the effectiveness of the vaccines not yet certain I’m happy to try and keep my distance from other people for the time being.

There was snow around the stadium and with it being minus twelve when I got out of the taxi I was glad that I’d worn an extra pair of trousers under my jeans. Maybe I’m getting used to the cold as it didn’t seem that chilly. Certainly not as bad as at Highbury twenty-odd years ago in that New Year’s Day game that was cold enough for Robbo to decide not to ever pick himself ever again. Mind you I did have an extremely thick down jacket on, with a hat and a buff underneath the hood covering all but my eyes.

Once inside I loitered in the concourse with a coffee before making my way outside with five minutes to go to kick-off. There was a light dusting of snow on the pitch with the lines cleared. Over in the main stand I could see drifts that hadn’t yet been shifted to the stockpile outside my front door and there was sufficient ice on the floor for me to be wary whenever I stood up.

Khimki Arena was built in 2008 and has a capacity of just over eighteen thousand. I estimated that there were less than a thousand fans inside for this game which might have been due to ticket restrictions but more likely was as a consequence of most people preferring to stay indoors.

The home side were dressed up as AC Milan, suitably accessorized with hats, headbands, gloves and tights. The visitors were sporting light blue shirts, dark blue shorts and, when visible, pale blue flesh. In a nod to times past the ref had brought an orange ball with him.

The game was less than ten minutes old when we got the first talking point. A ball was played in for a Sovetov striker. Under pressure from a centre-half he lunged at it but failed to make contact and a goal kick was awarded. It took a while before that kick was taken though as the ref stood at half-way with his finger pressed against his earpiece with the scoreboards informing us that the Video Assistant Ref was doing the do.

The on-pitch ref was directed to take a look at the touchline-telly and he subsequently made the charades signal for a tv show and blew for a penalty which was converted to give the visitors the lead.

We had barely restarted when Khimki lost one of their defenders for a DOGSO foul. The red card looked harsh to me as the foul was barely in the attacking half of the field. However, unless the video ref had nipped out for a piss I trust that it will have been carefully reviewed. Sovetov had the better chances in the remainder of the first half but the ten men kept the deficit to a single goal at the break. I risked the ice underfoot to get a large cup of tea that was too hot to handle without gloves. Ideal really in the circumstances.

Sovetov doubled their lead on the hour with a well worked passing movement. Their fans behind the goal seemed pleased and someone a few seats away who was likely to be a Khimki fan rolled his eyes at me. A reciprocating eye roll response was the best I could manage with my eyes being the only part of me visible under all my clothing. I did my best to convey that I knew his pain.

With around fifteen minutes to go a second Khimki fella received his marching orders. It was the lad wearing the beanie and he saw a straight red for booting someone over on the far touchline. He stomped off down the tunnel slamming the door behind him. Luckily he didn’t get as far as the bath or his car before the ref was asked to reconsider and after looking at the telly called him back on to the pitch and swapped his red for a yellow. I’d hoped that beanie boy was already on a yellow, just to see his reaction at being called back (ideally wearing just a towel and his hat) only to be sent off again. He was free to carry on though and spent the rest of the game chirping away at the ref and no doubt reminding him of his mistake.

I dare say the ref will have given him a bit back when the visitors made it three as full-time approached and then added a fourth in stoppage time to rub it in and seal their quarter-final spot. Despite the cold it was good to see some live football, hopefully there will be further opportunities over the next few weeks.

Torpedo Moscow v Spartak Moscow 2, Sunday 15th November 2020, 5pm

January 23, 2021

Keepers wear just about anything they fancy these days but back when I was a kid green was the order of the day and the colour that you naturally associated with goalies. There was the odd exception in that if you think of, say, Dino Zoff, it’s grey that comes to mind. Steve Sherwood was red, which sadly just about killed that colour off as a credible option for keepers. Shame really, as I’d thought that it looked pretty stylish when I wore it between the sticks for Freddy Natt in the 1974-75 season.

Jim Platt often turned out in blue for the Boro in his early days and I’ve got a vague recollection of seeing mid-seventies photos of Peter Shilton in an all-white kit. Not as convenient as green for getting grass stains off the elbows though.

The most iconic goalie kit though has got to be all-black combo worn by Lev Yashin. I checked him out recently to see if he’d played for Russia at Ayresome Park in the ’66 World Cup but he’d sat that game out with an injury. Something I did discover though was that he was buried in the Vagankovskoye cemetery. Coincidentally, I’d had a mooch around in there on my way to a Dinamo game, but hadn’t known about Yashin’s presence.

As the cemetery was about an hour and a half walk away from this week’s game at Luzhniki I decided that I may as well go back there, look for the grave and then walk along the river to the game.

It all seemed easy enough, particularly as I found photos of the grave online so that I knew what to look for. It’s an engraving, possibly life-sized, of a bloke holding a football. How difficult could that be to spot? Well, very difficult is the answer.

Vagankovskoye cemetery has lots of small paths dividing it and between those, some even smaller paths. I tried to be methodical but couldn’t spot the stone anywhere. After an hour I gave up and headed out towards the river.

It’s getting cold in Moscow now and with the temperature around freezing there were flurries of snow as I followed the loop of the river northwards before doubling back on myself in the direction of Luzhniki Park.

I passed the area where Kiyevsky station is located and where I’d briefly stayed in a hotel a year ago. There seemed to be fewer people around but I suppose the weather was more conducive to staying indoors.

The match I was heading for was my third visit of the season to the Luzhniki Sports Camp. Whilst the first two games had featured Chertanovo, this one was a home fixture for their ground-share partners and fellow second-tier team, Torpedo Moscow.

Torpedo must be a lot more prestigious than Chertanovo as my seat in the central area of the main stand had set me back 1,200 rubles, considerably more than the 300 rubles that Chertanovo charge. Even at the higher price I felt fortunate to get the ticket as they were only being sold to those already registered as a Torpedo fan. I’d signed up a couple of months previously but then opted for a game elsewhere. Luckily that past registration was enough to get me in.

On my way around to the main stand I stopped for something to eat. There weren’t a lot of options and I ended up with a hot dog that was garnished with crispy onions and what was probably a whole gerkin cut into half a dozen slices. It wasn’t the best, but hot dogs rarely are and at three quid it was a tenner or so cheaper than last one that I’d had at a Philadelphia Union game last year.

Spartak’s second team had their Boro strips on and if you squinted hard enough the home side could have passed for Darlo. The other sartorial matter of note was that the linos were wearing tights. I should have done the same really as a pair of jeans wasn’t much protection against a temperature that was slipping further below zero.

Torpedo broke the deadlock around half an hour in with a shot from outside the box that just sneaked into the corner of the net.

The second half was notable mainly for my legs starting to freeze. Nobody else seemed to be bothered by the cold, but perhaps they were all wearing tights too.

If people had started to head for the exit I’d definitely have done so too but I didn’t want to admit defeat if nobody else was.

Spartak’s reserves had two good chances in the second half, one where their number 66 went around the keeper but a defender got back to cover and the game ended with just the single goal in it.

Esh Winning v Bedlington Terriers, Saturday 31st October 2020, 3pm

December 4, 2020

I was temporarily back in the UK for a funeral and after a fortnight’s quarantine I had a little bit of freedom whilst I awaited the results of a covid test that would allow me to return to Russia. As you might expect, I had a look at my football options and the ninth tier game at Esh Winning in the Northern League Division Two seemed my best bet for an afternoon out in the fresh air.

Esh Winning’s West Terrace ground is known for the countryside that surrounds it and I drove up a track as far as I could to the car park and then walked alongside woodland to reach the entrance. I handed over a fiver and left my name and telephone number in case I needed to be traced.

Once inside, I bought a coffee in the clubhouse where the fella behind the counter seemed thrilled to be able to tell me that they had milk before finding a seat high behind one of the goals in a wooden shelter.

The view from the shelter was as picturesque as I’d anticipated and it gave me a decent vantage point of a heavily sloped pitch that cut up quickly. Esh Winning were in a Norwich-style kit with opponents Bedlington Terriers in blue.

On the side of the pitch to my left were what looked like old bus shelters which one of the Bedlington defenders managed to clear twice in the first five minutes when wellying clearances into the car park. Esh Winning took the lead around ten minutes into the game with a cracking shot from twenty-five yards that may well have taken a deflection.

A further ten minutes in and Esh Winning were two up when one of their centre-halves turned in a corner at the back post. On the half hour the hosts made it three with a right-footed shot across the keeper into the far corner.

I worried for Bedlington at this point as all the Esh Winning goals had come whilst playing up the slope and with the advantage of kicking downhill after the break I did wonder if we might be on for double figures.

The second half was better for Bedlington and they won a pen which was a clear error from the ref. The Esh Winning players appealed to the elderly lino for his help but he just kept repeating ‘I didn’t give it’ or when asked to intervene ‘only if he needs me’. The ref, who I suspect would be asked for ID in pubs for at least another twenty years or so, had incorrectly overruled the same lino on a throw in the first half and clearly was in no mood to seek a second opinion, especially a dissenting one.

The home keeper saved the initial spot kick but couldn’t keep out the rebound and Bedlington reduced the deficit to two. With twenty minutes remaining Bedlington gave the ball away out wide and the subsequent cross was easily tucked away to restore Esh Winning’s three goal advantage.

It finished four-one, with the only other incident of note being a Bedlington striker getting his marching orders in the final moments for something that he said to the ref. The miscreant, who should have seen red anyway for his man-bun, looked very much like one of the fellas who works in my local butchers. If he was the same bloke, or as equally handy with a meat cleaver, I think the ref may have made another error in not overlooking the late indiscretion.