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

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.

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