Archive for June, 2021

Zvyagino Pushkino v Saturn Ramenskol 2, Saturday 26th June 2021, 5pm

June 30, 2021

It has been ridiculously hot in Moscow lately and as I’d made my way back to our apartment on the Saturday lunchtime the thermometer on the side of the building was indicating that it was 37 degrees. It felt hotter.

The temperature had been sufficient for me to rule out any of the games listed to kick-off at noon and instead I selected one with a five o’clock start and with photos of covered stands on the home website. The game was at the Torpedo Stadium at Mytishi, which is a little out of town to the north east of Moscow.

We arrived a good fifteen minutes before the scheduled start despite having to travel through central Moscow. The fixture was in the fourth-tier Moskovskaya Oblast Liga A, which I always think of as being for teams on the outskirts of Moscow, although it seems odd to group the central teams together and then put all those on the edges in their own separate league. Maybe North and South would be a better way of grouping them.

The kick-off times at this level seem fairly flexible and it was seven minutes past five when the teams made their way on to the pitch. Hosts Zvyagino Pushkino were in a terrible combination of luminous green shirts with grey shorts and socks. Visitors Saturn Ramenskol 2 had a more acceptable blue and black kit.

Despite the delay to the kick-off it was mainly wives and girlfriends that made up the crowd. There were a few people sat around the edges on benches but many of them looked to be grandparents carrying out childcare duties and I suspect most of them had no prior knowledge that a match was taking place.

Zvyagino opened the scoring nine minutes in. I missed it as I’d been watching a bloke doing Olga Korbet impressions on some parallel bars behind the goal. Maybe everyone else had been looking his way too as there were no cheers. It was only as I saw the teams heading back for the restart that I realized someone had scored.

The pitch was grass which is increasingly rare at this level. It wasn’t the snooker table surface that you see at the top level but had enough undulation for the ball to bobble around when passed along the ground. Clumps of clover and a flock of birds picking for worms on the edge of the penalty box added to the charm.

In addition to the covered stand that we were sat in behind the dugouts there were two covered stands opposite, also with five rows of seating.

On the hour Zvyagino doubled their lead with a shot from outside the box where the bounce beat the keeper and went in off the post. Again, nobody raised a cheer. Not even the home wags, although most of them were looking at their phones.  Ten minutes later Saturn pulled one back and we got a few shouts and some applause, although it may have come from their own bench.

It got a bit lively in the final moments, with Zvyagino intent on scoring a third when I’d have thought they might have been better running down the clock. I was half expecting them to be punished for their efforts but with the last kick of the game they restored their two-goal advantage for a three-one win.

The win moved Zvyagino up to sixth in the table whilst Saturn remain rock bottom having failed to pick up a point from any of their twelve games to date this season. A quick check revealed that the last time that they won a game was back in September 2019. It was a different world back then.

Smena Moscow v Letniy Dozhdik Moscow, Tuesday 22nd June 2021, 7pm

June 26, 2021

The teams in the  top three tiers of Russian football have finished the 2020/21 season but there is still plenty of action in the lower leagues. I knocked off work bang on six and Jen and I took a taxi towards Kotelniki which is about twenty kilometres to the south east of Moscow.

Our destination was the Trud Stadium at Kapotnaya for a fourth-tier game in the Moscow Division A League and the driver did his best to get us there in less than the fifty minutes forecasted. Taxis are cheap in Moscow, with this ride coming in at around a tenner and in rush hour the opportunity to take advantage of bus lanes gives them a big advantage over regular cars.

Good as the taxi driver was, he just failed to reach the ground by seven. We got lucky though as something had delayed kick-off by five minutes and so we arrived just in time to see the teams lining up. The main stand wasn’t subject to Covid restrictions despite the eighty of so spectators being twice the number that was at last week’s third tier game PFL game where the stand was closed.

Smena were in yellow and black with Letniy in white. It was another of those clashes between the generations with the home players all looking to be under 17s or so whilst the visitors sported the usual range of a non-age group team.

Perhaps having such a young team would explain Smena’s lowly league position of fifteenth in a sixteen team league and their haul of just three points from their ten games to date. Letniy were more comfortably placed mid-table and with Smena having been on the receiving end of a few pastings lately I was looking forward to seeing the old blokes enjoy themselves.

It didn’t quite work out that way though as within four minutes Smena had scrambled an opener. The home fans around us in the main stand were delighted and perhaps sensed a second win of the season. The lead lasted until the half-hour when a curling cross surprised everyone, including I suspect, the bloke who delivered it and Letniy levelled.

At half-time jen and I moved from the main stand to what turned out to be a stand of our own behind the goal. It’s always good to maintain a distance these days and with a gap in the netting nearby I was able to more easily take a few snapshots of the game.

I’d been keeping an eye on a couple of the visiting players, mainly due to their ages. The centre half looked like Mr. Baxter off Grange Hill, or rather what Mr. Baxter probably looks like now. He struggled for pace and so had to sit a lot deeper than was necessary making the linesman virtually redundant as far as offside was concerned.

Star of the show though was the Letniy skipper. He had to have been fifty but was probably one of the more active players on the pitch. He started the game on the left of a front three before dropping back to right midfield. As the second half progressed he took over at right back and I was half expecting that as we approached full-time that he would finish the game in goal.

Neither side looked like scoring in the second half and my main interest centred on the Smena sub goalie. The proper keeper had taken a knock and the overly shouty Smena coach had instructed the spare keeper to warm up. He diligently did so, despite looking terrified at the prospect of coming on in a game where his team had a real possibility of picking up at least a point.

In the absence of an instruction to sit down he stretched his way through the final half hour of the game whilst watching every other sub get his big moment. At the final whistle his relief was obvious. The draw took Smena’s points tally to the season to four and moved them a point further from the single relegation spot below them.

Metallurg Vidnoye v Kvant Obninsk, Tuesday 15th June 2021, 6pm

June 23, 2021

The train from Saint Petersburg got us back into Moscow at three o’clock and as I was off work for the day it meant I had an easy opportunity to get along to a six o’clock game. The traffic at that time of day was busier than normal as a ‘non-working’ week had been announced as a covid response, meaning that everyone was out and about all day and not just during rush hours.

Even so, I had time to drop my bag and Jen at the flat and head off in a taxi to the Stadion Metallurg in Vidnoye for one of the games in the final round of fixtures in the third tier Professional Football League.

The covid restrictions had impacted upon the game and spectators were not allowed in the main stand. It made little difference to those who had turned out to watch as everyone just lined the four feet high perimeter fence and watched from the other side of the pitch.

I suspect that it made little difference to the spread of covid either with people bunched up in a way that was less likely if they had been in seating distanced from each other.

There wasn’t anything resting on the match with Metallurg sitting third from bottom of the table but safe from relegation. Visitors Kvant were a place above but couldn’t be caught. One of the sides was in red with the other in white and maroon but I had no idea which was which. Usually this is resolved when someone opens the scoring but as I couldn’t see the scoreboard I was destined to remain in the dark regardless.

Even if I had been able to see the scoreboard it wouldn’t have helped as both sides were struggled to get shots on target, never mind into the net. Mid-way through the second half the thunder started and with no cover available I called a cab and cleared off. A bit of online checking revealed that it finished up as a 2-1 home win.

That’s it for the third tier for this season. It’s a strange league. The security is as strict a a G7 summit despite it always being free to get in and t falls under covid restrictions despite generally fewer people watching than would travel on a bus or eat in McDonalds. It has provided some decent entertainment though despite not ending on a high.

Poland v Slovakia, Monday 14th June 2021, 7pm

June 21, 2021

A week after our visit to Saint Petersburg Jen and I were back again. This time we took the high-speed Sapsan train rather than the more leisurely overnight option. The reason for the quick return was that I’d been browsing the ticket portal for the Euros and noticed that there were tickets available for the games that had been moved from Dublin to the Gazprom Arena.

There were plenty of Category 3 seats available for the Group E clash between Poland and Slovakia and at just fifty euros it seemed madness not to get one.

We’d arrived in Saint Petersburg just after lunch the day before and I’d planned to watch England’s opening fixture on a big screen that I’d noticed being built in the large square in front of the Winter Palace. That didn’t happen as it was still being erected a week later. Plan B took us to the fans park just behind that Spilled Blood Church.

As Plan B’s go it wasn’t the best. The only seats available were a long way from a big screen. I may have had a better view watching it on my telephone. After half an hour and a couple of Heinekens we moved closer and watched the remainder of the first half from a standing viewpoint.

Once the half-time whistle blew we headed out and followed the remainder of the game on a telly in a restaurant. That was far more comfortable.

On the morning of the live match we paid a visit to the Peter and Paul Fort. Combination tickets for 750 roubles got us into just about nowhere. We used them to see a few tombs inside a big church but everywhere else required a separate ticket.

We paid to go inside a torture museum which was worth the money. If I ever get a choice in how I am to be tortured I’m going to pick water torture. Having a constant drip onto my head seems a lot less stressful than being stretched on a rack, jabbed with spikes or having my skull crushed with a super-sized walnut cracker.

By late afternoon it was time for the game as my ticket required that I entered the ground between five and five-thirty. I was able to use the match ticket for free travel on the subway and arrived at the stadium in good time. It’s a long walk around from the subway station to Gate 7 but once there my Fan ID, ticket and temperature were checked and I was soon inside.

My seat was in the upper tier diagonally back from the corner flag. It looked as if far more Category 3 seats had been sold than Category 1 seats along the side. I checked the portal before kick-off and seats were still available.

The stewarding was attentive. People were moved to their correct seats to preserve the gaps between each other. Anyone who let their mask slip was soon reminded to re-cover their nose and mouth. I was surprised by the extent of the noise with only a quarter of the seats having been made available. There were clusters of Polish fans at each end and before long a group of Slovakians to my right got a few chants going

You may well have seen the game on the telly. Slovakia took the lead with a shot that bounced in off the post and the keeper’s back before Poland equalized within thirty seconds of coming out for the second half.

A second yellow for a Polish guy swung it Slovakia’s way and they deserved their eventual two-one victory. At full time it was again very well organized and I was back in the town centre around thirty-five minutes after the final whistle blew.

It’s good to see a game at the higher levels every now and then and I’ve currently got my eye on the quarter-final at Saint Petersburg. If tickets appear for that one I might very well pop back again.

Sporting Saint Petersburg v Almaz Antey, Saturday 5th June 2021, 1.30pm

June 18, 2021

It was a last minute decision to pop along to the Stadion Krasniy Treugolink for a fourth-tier fixture in the LFL Severo-Zapad league. My new ground hopping App had revealed that there was a game scheduled five kilometres from our hotel and whilst kick-off was imminent, I was happy to arrive late and see whatever we were able to.

Stadion Krasniy Treugolink is in a park, with a river around three sides of the ground. Jen and I arrived about twenty minutes after the scheduled one o’clock start time and spent around ten minutes walking through the park to find the entrance.

Sunbathing seems a popular park activity in Russia and we noticed a few people lying around in just their underwear. I don’t think anyone in England would consider sunbathing without changing into a swimming costume, despite swimming not being on the agenda. Simply stripping down to a pair of baggy Y-fronts has really never struck me as an option when the sun is out.

In a stroke of luck we arrived at the ground just as the game was starting, some half an hour or so after the scheduled start. Maybe whoever was using the pitch beforehand wouldn’t clear off. The home side were in black and white with the visitors in a blue and white kit. It was Almaz Antey who took the lead early on with a tap-in that looked offside to me.

The ground had a capacity of two hundred and all the seats were down one side. The three rows accommodated all thirty-five spectators plus most of the subs who for some reason had abandoned the dugouts.

The first bit of drama came when the home goalie sent a clearance straight into the river. Jen and I had a good vantage point to see a fella try and tape around eight sections of pole together in an attempt to retrieve it.

In the second half a further ball was lost to the river on the other side of the pitch. My first thought was that it must have been difficult to see where that ball had gone as one of the subs spent a lot of time staring through the fence and bushes as if trying to locate it.

The sub was soon joined by a few more from the bench including his manager and they ignored the game whilst appearing to be trying to spot the ball. It was only when Jen and I left the ground at the end that we noticed the real reason for their interest. An attractive young lady was sunbathing around ten yards beyond the fence wearing nothing more than a flesh-coloured thong. The ball could have floated half-way to Moscow for all the interest that the subs had actually shown in it.

Back inside the crisis deepened when ball number three went missing and with no more on the bench a player had to be despatched to the club-house for further supplies. I initially wondered if he would be sent to a sports shop to buy some more but he was able to find extras somewhere inside.

The overall standard seemed quite poor, well below the third tier game we had watched the day before and probably lower than the fifth level games that we’ve seen in Moscow. There were plenty of missed opportunities for both sides and with ten minutes remaining the Sporting keeper was chipped to give the visitors a second goal and a deserved three points.

Zenit St Petersburg 2 v Leningradets, Friday 4th June 2021, 7pm.

June 16, 2021

I’d visited Saint Petersburg during the 2018 World Cup and watched a couple of games at the Gazprom Stadium with Paul. Jen had never been though and so I took a couple of days holiday and we went for a long weekend.

I imagine that you can probably fly to Saint Petersburg from Moscow in around an hour or so. There’s a fast train too that takes you there in under four hours. Instead Jen and I decided to travel more slowly on the overnight train which departed from Leningradskiy station in Moscow at 23.40, getting into Saint Petersburg around nine hours later the following morning.

We had the poshest category of cabin on the train, complete with our own shower and toilet. It wasn’t as luxurious as the Blue Train in South Africa where I’d enjoyed a bath, but it was pretty good. We were served with dinner at midnight in our cabin and then shunted over the table to make space to fold down the bed. There was also a bunk above but we both fitted fine on the pull-down lower option.

We had a decent view of the countryside leading up to Saint Petersburg as we had breakfast the next morning and then a driver met us at the train door to take us to our hotel. It was a pleasant way to travel.

As our hotel room wouldn’t be available until later we dumped our bags and went for a wander around. First stop was the Saviour on the Spilled Blood church. I’d seen the outside of this place on my previous visit, albeit covered in scaffolding. It looked as if the restoration work remained ongoing as the upper section of the building was still hidden by protective wrapping.

The inside of the church was impressive. Maybe the best I’ve been in over here with mosaics on a lot of the walls. The paintings on the underside of the dome were better than I could have done, which is always my starting point in assessing the merits of artwork. In fact, they were much better than I’d have done, maybe because there are fewer things that I dislike more than painting ceilings.

Jen and I also had a look around the State Hermitage Museum in the Winter Palace which is somewhere that Paul and I had queued for back in 2018 but then given up on due to the time taken to get inside. This time nobody was in line and we were able to waltz straight in.

It was ok as museums go. I can usually see what I want in these places without hanging around much and the highlight of this one was a tapestry depicting various jungle animals eating each other.

Or at least I thought the highlight was the tapestry. As we were heading for the exit our route took us through the Egypt department. I like Egyptian stuff anyway but on this occasion they had excelled themselves by having the mummified corpse of what they claimed was a priest. I’ve no idea how they knew and to be honest I didn’t really care what the bloke had done for a living three thousand years ago. It’s just good to have dead people on display.

The trip had originally been built around the third-tier Professional Football League fixture between local rivals Zenit 2 and Leningradets. The new football App that I have threw up a few alternatives but in the end we stuck with the original plan and took a taxi to the Smena Stadium.

A lot of the route looked familiar and I soon realized that it was the route that Paul and I had walked three years ago after confusing the ground used by Zenit’s second team with the World Cup stadium that usually hosts the Zenit first team’s fixtures. Fortunately, on that occasion we realized our mistake in sufficient time to avoid missing out on seeing Brazil play in a World Cup game.

On arrival at the Smena Stadium we joined the queue for free tickets, then the queues to get in and finally the queues for scanning. Jen got turned back in order to deposit her backpack in the left luggage store whilst I got asked to switch on both my phone and camera. It was stricter than an airport and all for a game in the third-tier game with no more than a few hundred attendees.

We had been given tickets for the main stand. There were a few away fans in the stand opposite and some vocal Zenit fans behind the goal to our right. There was a particularly vocal Zenit fan a few rows in front of us too. He seemed to struggle in enunciating his words with each song or chant blurring into nothing more than noise.

After a while he was warned by the stewards not to be an arse and he responded by making a dash for it to a seat around ten yards away. The steward went for another word and he did the same thing again. Eventually he was left to make his noise.

Zenit took the lead just before half-time but it didn’t take long for Leningradets to equalize after the break. It became apparent that there were around equal numbers of fans of each club in the main stand where we were sat. Or people who are happy to cheer a goal no matter who scores it.

Conceding an equalizer seemed to piss off the home bench and after a few minutes of giving lip to the officials one of their coaches was shown a red. He disappeared down the tunnel, perhaps after considering the security measures that he would have had to go through if he had wanted to watch the remainder of the game from the stand.

Jen and I had seen Zenit play in Moscow the previous week and had noticed a fella with an impressively twirly moustache. At the end of that game he went down to the front to chat with one of the players. On seeing the two of them together it appeared highly likely that the player was his brother, different only by being clean shaven.

Moustache fella was sat just behind us for this game and well into the second half his centre-half sibling scored a fantastic goal with an on the angle volley whilst falling backwards. I turned immediately to see the joy on moustache fella’s face.

Sadly, that effort didn’t turn out to be the winning goal with the visitors scrambling an equalizer with just four minutes to go for a two-all draw.

Dinamo Moscow 2 v Zenit St. Petersburg 2, Sunday 30th May 2021, 4pm

June 1, 2021

Jen and I had planned to have a wander around inside the Kremlin a couple of weeks earlier but had been sidetracked by the chance to go into Lenin’s Mausoleum. The Kremlin wasn’t going anywhere though and so at the weekend we went back to try again. It was busy outside, with a crowd of people gathered to watch the changing of the guard at the eternal flame memorial. We looked on from a distance as we walked towards the Kremlin ticket office and were rewarded with a view of the guards goose-stepping towards us.

There were a variety of tickets on sale and without really knowing how it all worked we picked one that appeared to get us into a few cathedrals. We can always go back and do the Armory Museum and the Bell Tower on a different occasion. It was much quieter inside the Kremlin grounds than it had been outside and we had a mooch around a few different buildings. Some housed artifacts, pots and pans or coins, others were more regular churches, but full of fancy stuff and paintings.

I wasn’t allowed to take photos inside the buildings but they were just as fancy churches always are so you can no doubt imagine how it was. Something that did strike me though was how bad some of the paintings were. I know that most artists in the olden days couldn’t accurately depict the likes of horses, but some of these paintings had people without faces. I can only assume that leaving out the face was acceptable in those days.

The other thing that most of the artists struggled with was babies. Everyone knows that babies have proportionately larger heads than adults, or at least they know now. Back then the done thing was to depict babies, usually baby Jesus, with adult proportions. It invariably looked like he had been replaced with an Action Man doll.

After a late lunch just off Red Square we took a taxi to the Rodina Stadium at Khimki. I was a little concerned as we passed by the Khimki Arena and I wondered if we were going to arrive at a wrong location yet again. Fortunately, it was just a quirk of the route and a few minutes later we were dropped outside of what turned out to be the correct ground for the third-tier PFL Group 2 game between the second teams of Dinamo Moscow and Zenit St. Petersburg.

We headed for the nearest gate but were turned away on the basis that we didn’t look like we were Zenit fans. Fair enough, and a good job it was too as we would have been confined to a far end of the stand.

Further up the road we were handed free tickets and guided towards a different gate. I’m not really sure what the deal with the tickets is. Maybe it is to limit attendance in that once all of them have been given out then that’s it, no more admittance.

It took a while to get through the gate, mainly because I had my Barbour on and the security guy kept finding things in the various pockets. I explained away various bulges as being an umbrella, a camera, a pen and finally half a packet of old cashew nuts for feeding squirrels. It would have been much simpler if he had adopted the approach taken by the fella at the Kremlin earlier in the day who was content to ask me if I had any knives or dangerous objects.

Once inside we found seats close to the half-way line and in the back row. This was high enough for us to be able to watch the game over the top of the fence that separated us from the pitch. We also had a running track between us and the action. On the far side was the only other stand which looked to be for VIPs and a church that chimed out at irregular intervals.

The away fans were to our far right, with the home supporters at the other extremity. Both sets of fans kept up the singing throughout and whilst I couldn’t see the Zenit fans too well, a lot of the Dinamo supporters finished the game without their shirts on. It was a cold day too.

Dinamo were in white and blue, whereas Zenit were in blue and white. I’m not really sure why they couldn’t have worn different colours or even just their away shorts.

A quarter of an hour in the Dinamo keeper missed a cross and so pretended that he had been clattered. No sooner had he recovered he failed to take a touch on a back pass and it rolled beyond him heading for the far corner of his goal. He frantically chased it down and just managed to clear it off his own line. I suspect if he had let it in he would have gone down clutching his hamstring.

He didn’t do much better on the half-hour when he left an inswinging corner that bounced in off the thigh of a Zenit player for the opening goal.

The second half had barely started when a Zenit player picked up his second yellow. Both challenges had been needless and were clear bookings. The ref was left with no choice but to send him off and there were no complaints from anyone, including the player himself. Maybe he had somewhere else he needed to be.

A man to the good it didn’t take Dinamo long to draw level with a free header in the six-yard box. The old fellas in front of me were ecstatic. Actually, on reflection, they were probably younger than I am. Still old fellas though, I suppose.

Dinamo were on top at this point and soon added a second when a diagonal ball behind the defence was tucked across the keeper into the opposite corner. At this point there only looked to be one winner but Zenit threw a few people forward as we approached full-time.

With what seemed like just about everyone in the Dinamo box a Zenit player was able to convince the ref that it was the defender who had initiated contact with him, rather than as it looked to me, him running into the defender. The Dinamo Keeper very nearly got to it to the resulting penalty despite it being right in the corner.

Zenit might even have nicked it right at the death with a penalty shout for handball. It looked more of a pen than the one that they had just scored from but the ref took the easy option and instantly blew for full time instead. The Dinamo fans in front of me had clearly expected it to be given and were as happy to see the game finish as they had been with their two goals.

Footnote: I’ve just noticed that this is the five hundredth post on the blog. Blimey. That’s a lot of wasted time.

I’ve enjoyed keeping a record though of sporting events that I get along to. When I started eleven years ago it was only Korean games that I posted about but once I left there in 2013 I widened it to cover whatever I got up to. It’s handy for me now to be able to look back and see what we did when living in South Africa, Australia, Malaysia and now Russia, although I can appreciate from the low number of visitors that fairly dull groundhopping blogs have little interest to anyone bar me.

Anyway, here’s to the next five hundred.