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

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.

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