Archive for April, 2021

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.