Archive for September, 2020

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.