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

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.

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