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

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.

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