Sochi v Rotor Volgograd, Friday 7th May 2021, 8pm

Sochi is somewhere that a few of my colleagues have visited for a holiday. As a seaside resort it didn’t really have much appeal to me until I realized that I could combine a weekend away with a trip to a match. I wonder if that was part of the thinking of the old Soviet leaders when they would visit their summer dachas there and dip their feet in the Black sea. In the souvenir shop windows there were miniature busts of Stalin. It’s hard to imagine seeing similar ones in Cambodia for the likes of Pol Pot.

Despot tat aside Sochi was well worth a visit. It’s a two and a quarter hour flight from Moscow and Jen and I had a hotel at the beach where we were able to take our pick of the bars and restaurants that stretched out for a mile or two in each direction.

The game was at the Fisht stadium. It had been built for the 2014 Winter Olympics and at that time it had a fully enclosed roof. It was modified for the 2018 World Cup with a section of roof being cut away to make it open to the air. We’d bought tickets in advance for 1500 rubles, which is quite expensive for Russia, but I could probably have got cheaper ones if I’d selected seats at the end.

Our taxi dropped us off with more than an hour to go to the 8pm kick-off and so we went for our tea in a restaurant within a fairground nearby. You could see the stadium from there.

Whilst I’d read that the stadium design was meant to be based upon snow-topped mountains it looked more like a jellyfish to me. With the Black Sea shores nearby that seemed highly appropriate too. The stadium lighting changed colour frequently which again seemed right for a jelly fish theme although I haven’t the foggiest if jellyfish do change colour. It seems like something that they would do but I’m no marine biologist.

Incidentally, I had bathroom lighting that changed colour like that about fifteen years ago. It was like having a bath in a seventies nightclub. There was an mp3 player built into the bath as well so that I could add the appropriate music if I wanted. I really cannot imagine what possessed me to agree to that whilst in the bathroom shop. I can only put it down to the fact that I was a dickhead in those days. Although no matter what point in life I’m at if I look back x number of years I always think what a dickhead I was in those days. Whilst I’m currently sure that my dickhead days are behind me I expect that in ten years time I’ll look back to now and conclude that I was a dickhead in 2021 as well.

We had quite good seats for this game, although at fifteen quid they should have been. They were midway between the penalty box and the half-way line and fifteen rows up if the first tier. We had some Rotor fans above us with the singing Sochi fans to our left. There were also lots of small children present but with it being a Friday night it was an ideal time for them to be staying up late.

Sochi were in white with Rotor in blue and with two games of the season to go Sochi were fighting for a European spot. They were in fifth place but a point would take them back into the top four as this was the first of the weekend games. A win was vital though to their chances. Rotor were third bottom and looking to try and avoid slipping into the bottom two relegation spots.

Sochi thought that they had opened the scoring after about five mins, but with the teams lined up ready to restart the ref was still stood waiting with his finger to his earphone awaiting the VAR decision. No goal – offside. A couple of minutes later we had the same scenario after the ball had been bundled into the net and the keeper clattered by either a striker or his own defender.  This time it counted and Sochi were one up.

As a fan I hate VAR. I want to be able to celebrate a Boro goal after no more than a quick glance at the lino. Although I’m more tolerant of it if it succeeds in chalking off a goal against us. As a neutral I quite like it. There’s the initial fun of watching people celebrate until the VAR sign goes up to toy with their emotions. Then the brief pause and if you are lucky you get a ref sheepishly recalling someone he has sent off from halfway down the tunnel.

Both teams created a lot but were struggling to finish. Rotor equalized on the half hour with what looked like a goal from nothing, so much so that sensing no threat I’d briefly glanced away to check out the altercation between the steward charged with enforcing the mask wearing and an old bloke who insisted that covering his chin was sufficient. From the reaction of the Rotor team the goal must have been a bit special.

At half time I had a wander, the queues for the food and drinks were long enough for me not to bother but I was able to get a photo from behind the goal. In the second half both teams had their chances. As time went on it was clear that Rotor were settling for the draw with plenty of time wasting.

Temperatures dropped a bit in the second half and as it had been too hot earlier to bring coats I wondered if we would last until the end. At eighty minutes I was tempted to clear off but suspected that there was drama to come. There was. In added time a Sochi player shot through a crowded box to angle the ball in to the corner. His team mates celebrated by diving on top of him in a way that it wouldn’t surprise me if that was his season done.

I felt sorry for Rotor. They deserved a point but that’s how it goes in a relegation battle. Sochi moved temporarily into third whilst they waited for their rivals to play their own penultimate games.

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