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

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.

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