Arsenal Tula v Krasnodar, Sunday 11th April 2021, 2pm

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.

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