Archive for July, 2021

Zenit St. Petersburg v Lokomotiv Moscow, Saturday 17th July 2021, 7pm

July 26, 2021

I didn’t even know that Kaliningrad existed until it hosted some games during the Russia World Cup and on the admittedly often disproved theory of mine that if I don’t know something then it’s unlikely that anyone else will, I should probably give some details.

Kaliningrad is an enclave of Russia on the Baltic coast between Poland and Latvia. Russia got it as a prize at the end of World War 2 and so it meant that Jen and I could fly there for a weekend on a domestic flight without any of the immigration restrictions or requirements arising from Covid.

Our flight from Moscow took just over an hour and a half and so by lunchtime on the Friday we were there. It’s an interesting place. Whilst a lot of the city was destroyed in the war that led to it changing hands some parts of the old city walls remain. We had a look around some of the parts of it, as much to keep out of the sunshine as anything.

There are plenty of areas for eating and drinking with one of the better places being alongside the rivers near to some famous cathedral. There’s a definite German feel to a lot of the buildings which on one hand isn’t surprising given the history of the place but apparently most of the town was flattened during the bombings and so it seems slightly odd that rebuilding by the Russians would be influenced by what had been there before.

And why Kaliningrad? Well, that’s easy. It was hosting the Russian version of the Charity Shield, the Super Cup curtain-raiser for the new season between Champions Zenit St Petersburg and Cup winners Lokomotiv Moscow.

It had been an arse-on getting a ticket. I’d initially got one through Zenit by downloading their App and registering as a fan. Unfortunately, they required me to collect the ticket from St Petersburg so I needed a Plan B.

After registering with Lokomotiv I bought a ticket for their section. A bargain for a fiver but behind the goal, in a singing section and with the possibility of having to watch the game through netting. When tickets for the neutral centre sections went on sale I bought one in the lower-tier near the half-way line. It was more expensive at twenty- seven quid but likely to be a much better view.

The stadium was only around a half-hour walk from the apartment we had rented following a lot of the route along the river that we’d walked earlier in the day. Long before I saw them I heard the Zenit fans chanting and letting off fireworks. As I reached the river I could see their support marching to the ground, waving flags and flares.

I stuck to the opposite bank for as long as I could, but eventually had to join the convoy. By now the flares were exhausted but the Zenit supporters continued the singing and flag waving until they reached the turnstiles.

I had another five minutes walk to reach my entrance, where despite having my temperature taken and my body scanned I wasn’t asked for a ticket. That didn’t happen until I was inside the stadium and ready to enter the concourse area. If anyone fancied the sort of shenanigans that we saw at Wembley for the Euro final it would have been a lot easier for them at Kaliningrad.

The stadium had been built for the 2018 World Cup and it’s where England lost their group game to Belgium. Baltika Kaliningrad of the second tier National League use it these days and I doubt that they ever come close to needing the thirty-five thousand capacity.

By the time I’d got a coke and was ready to take my seat there were around five minutes to kick-off. By coincidence that was also the time when a gaggle of cheerleaders were heading into the stand. I found myself caught up in the line of them before I took my seat on the edge of the aisle. In revenge, the one stationed just in front of me nearly had my eye out with one particularly reckless waft of a pom-pom.

In addition to the risk to my sight, the Plan C seat that I’d bought was situated in the only part of the sunshine still bathed in light. It wasn’t until the start of the second half that the sun had dipped sufficiently behind the opposite stand for me to benefit from some shade. At one point I thought about nipping around to behind the goal and using my Lokomotiv ticket instead.

The game itself was pretty good. I’ve no idea of the extent to which the teams used fringe players but there were some decent moves from both sides. Zenit took the lead in the first half and Lokomotiv should really have equalized early in the second. The chance was spurned and Zenit went straight down the other end and doubled their lead. A real sliding-doors moment.

The second goal opened things up as Lokomotiv tried to get back into the game but despite some chances to pull one back it was Zenit that notched the third and final goal. They were deserved winners.

I didn’t stay for the trophy presentation but as I skirted the stadium perimeter on the way back to the eating and drinking area by the river I could hear their fans singing along to ‘We are the Champions’. Fair comment.

Ryazan v Zenit St Petersburg, Friday 9th July 2021, 6pm

July 22, 2021

I’m leaving this job at the end of the month and as I’m in wind-down mode have been taking the opportunity for some three-day weekends. They are so much better than the one-day weekends that I’ve put up with over the last twenty months.

The extended time off makes it easier to head out of town and this weekend Jen and I took a train to Ryazan. It’s just over two hours to the south-east of Moscow on the Kazan line. Most of the trains are sleepers but I found one with a seated carriage and booked tickets for a fiver a go. The train looked a bit on the old side but I quite like that. What I was less keen on was the lack of adequate air-conditioning. When it’s thirty degrees outside you want something functional. I spent most of the journey with sweat running down my body and hoping that the train for the return journey would be a little more modern.

Ryazan is worth a visit, particularly with Moscow having imposed more covid-related restrictions recently. There were plenty of bars and restaurants, a lot of them in the same pedestrianized street.

The highlights included a walk around their Kremlin. Until living here I hadn’t realized that it wasn’t just Moscow that has one. There was some welcome shade and whilst we didn’t go into all of the buildings, what we saw was interesting enough.

We also visited Pavlov’s house which has been preserved as a museum. One building is supposed to be as it was in his day and I liked this one best. I wandered around making mental notes of the things that would improve the look of our house and the winner was a bear skin rug complete with its head in one of the bedrooms.

In the other building were photos and explanations of Pavlov’s research. You’ve probably heard about it. In a nutshell, he rang a bell whenever he fed his dog and the dog came to associate the bell with food. He proved this by collecting increased amounts of saliva at bell-ringing times.

I’m not convinced that the research was of much use but he won plenty of prizes for it. What surprised me was that the dogs had a tap inserted into their bodies for the fluid collection. I’ve had dogs that slavered so much at the prospect of food that a bucket worn under the chin would probably have been sufficient to collect the required data.

Anyway, the match. It was a fixture in the Womens Supreme League between Ryazan and Zenit St. Petersburg at the Spartak Stadium. We were initially turned away at the turnstile for not having tickets which are usually just handed out for free nearby. We were directed to a ticket office where we were charged one hundred rubles each for a ticket. That’s around a quid and it’s the first time we’ve paid for a women’s game in Russia.

I’m not sure if it’s a good thing to charge admission. On one hand it might price some fans out, but there are plenty of free games outside the top two tiers of the men’s game and I don’t see too many people turning up for those matches. It also adds to the worth of the league if you have to pay to get in, so on the whole, I think I’m probably in favour. Mind you, with only around one hundred and twenty people watching it probably cost more to print the tickets and staff the office.

The Spartak stadium had a large and uncovered stand along each side with nothing behind the goals. A running track meant that we were further from the action than I’d prefer to be. Fortunately the ground was orientated so that one of the stands provided shaded seating and that’s where we sat.

Below us were the home ultras. There were around ten of them including a couple of kids who had been sat quietly with the dad and grandad but who made a break for it to more actively support their team.

Zenit had brought some fans too. It’s around six hours on the train so I hope they selected one with air-conditioning. There were around fifteen of them to start with but having selected the unshaded stand their numbers dropped as the game went on. By the end there were six but they kept up their shirtless support despite the heat.

Ryazan were in blue with Zenit in a white kit. It was a scrappy first half with neither side managing to keep possession for more than a couple of passes. Zenit had a free-kick that was well tipped over and Ryazan’s best chance ended with the visiting keeper turning a low shot onto the post.

At half time we moved to the other end of our stand in the hope that the distance from the Ryazan ultra’s drum would lessen its impact on our enjoyment. It did, but unfortunately the sound was replaced by that of a kazoo blown by a home supporter every few minutes. It’s a toss up as to which is most irritating.

Zenit took the lead ten minutes into the second half with a penalty that sneaked under the diving keeper. You could see the keeper’s frustration having guessed the right way to go but just not getting to ground quickly enough. There weren’t too many other decent chances for either side and the single goal was enough to settle matters.

The result didn’t change anything in the table with Zenit in staying second and Ryazan eighth of the ten teams.

Rosichfk Moskovskiy 2 v SShoR Kuntsevo, Thursday 8th July 2021, 7pm

July 18, 2021

This game was in the fifth-tier Moscow division B league. My futbology app suggested that even in the rush hour we could get there in under an hour and so Jen met me outside of my office for the twenty kilometre south-westerly taxi ride out of Moscow to Rosichfk.

It was actually a bit more effort to get there than usual as Yandex didn’t recognise the location of the MSA Stadium and so we had to head for the nearby Dodo Pizza place. It’s a chain with sites all over Moscow and I think our driver struggled to understand the point of us heading miles out of Moscow for a pizza that we could have got much nearer home.

The stadium was actually two grounds with a new artificial pitch tagged onto a grass pitch with a running track and one old stand. This game was on the artificial surface but the stand from the grass pitch made for an ideal vantage point.

We decided to try the seats in the single stand that ran most of the length of the sideline. It wasn’t an ideal view as there were stanchions and netting between us and the action. The worst part though was the clear Perspex roof that made it feel like we were sat in a greenhouse. That would have been ideal for a lot of the year but with temperatures in Moscow exceeding thirty degrees we didn’t last long and soon moved to the shade of the stand from the grass pitch.

Rosichfk were in blue with visitors Kuntsevo in Boro tops. No difficulty picking a team in those circumstances. Nothing of note went on in the first half but it wasn’t long after the restart when Kuntsevo opened the scoring.

The home keeper had spent the game berating his defenders for, I suspect, no other reason than he thought that’s what goalies should do. He misplaced a pass out and when the ball came back in he was beaten to the ball by a Kuntsevo player who nipped in and turned it into the corner. The chastened goalie sensibly chose not to double down and bollock the full-back and for a while eased up on the yapping.

I’d counted the crowd in the first-half and it added up to forty-one. A few more arrived during the second half so it probably eventually amounted to around sixty. As the sun dipped behind a tall building and cast a shadow over the pitch we moved back to the greenhouse stand for the remainder of the second half.

The Kuntsevo players were happy to try and run down the clock by going down very easily. The home goalie took out his frustrations on a strker by standing over him and yelling at him. I wasn’t sure what he was saying but it sounded like something to do with the name of the striker’s team. By the time the fella got up play had moved on and the goalie gave him a bit more stick and shoved him open-palmed in the face.

With the striker back on the ground it should have been a definite red for the keeper and I initially thought that he had started to walk off. If any of the officials had seen it though they decide to turn a blind eye. Fair enough really in the circumstances.

The fallen striker had the last laugh though with a few minutes remaining when he switched feet in the box throwing off his marker and then drove the ball in to the top corner to make it two-nil. Not a word from the keeper.

SPbGUPTD St. Petersburg v Druzhba Krasnoye Selo, Saturday 3rd July 2021, 1pm

July 15, 2021

I think that you can generally divide people into two categories, those who will seek out the sun and those who will seek out the shade. Jen and I are in the latter group, but despite that regularly seem to find ourselves a shade of lobster red.

As the temperatures in St. Petersburg were in the thirties and there was barely a cloud in the sky our plan for this day had been to travel by taxi to the Peter the Great Museum, marvel at the two-headed calf, take another taxi back to our hotel, have some lunch nearby and then do the same for getting to and from the match, a sixth tier game around a fifteen minute drive away. Not much chance of a tan in those circumstances. Or a reasonable step-count.

Plans change though and as we headed out we thought that with the museum only being half an hour away on foot we would just walk it. After all, if you stick to the shaded side of the street than it should be fine. So far so good. We made it to the museum and gawped at the skeletons, foetuses in jars and calves that can wolf down their feed twice as quickly as the rest of the herd.

On leaving the museum I mentioned to Jen that we were only about half an hour’s walk from the Baltika Stadium where the game would take place an hour and a half later. It seemed logical to walk it. What I hadn’t factored in, apart from the heat was our capacity for getting lost. I marched off in the wrong direction towards the Peter and Paul fort and fifteen minutes later we had to retrace our steps.

We eventually made it to the ground with ten minutes to go to kick-off and found shaded cover on a bench at the side of the clubhouse.

The fixture was in the sixth tier Saint Petersburg Liga 1 between SPbGUPTD St. Petersburg and Druzhba Krasnoye Selo. Once again I’ve no knowledge of the seemingly random capitalization and life is too short to find out.

Baltika stadium has a capacity of two hundred. You could fit maybe six on the bench we were on and another hundred and fifty on the uncovered seating at the half way line with perhaps twenty on some dirty seats where the view of the game was obscured by a couple of five a side goals. They were under a tree though so had some takers. I presume the remainder of the potential capacity was made up by the option of sitting on the floor and leaning back against the perimeter fence.

Despite their being room for two hundred spectators, we never got above twenty and I doubt any of those remained for the entire game. There was also a Doberman that had some problem with his ears sufficiently serious to sport a bandage on each of them. Perhaps he was just covering them up from the sun.

SPbGUPTD were in light blue shirts and dark blue shorts with Druzhba in maroon shirts and black shorts. The home side started well and were two up after eight minutes. When a free-kick was curled into the top corner to make it three after twenty minutes it looked as if a rout could be on the cards. Druzhba managed to avoid conceding any more by half-time and as at that point we had lost our shade we moved to the far end of the ground and sat on a raised manhole that had some trees above it to avoid the sun.

In the second half SPbGUPTD quickly added two more before the visitors pulled one back. The scorer, bless him, didn’t celebrate but instead grabbed the ball and sprinted back to the centre circle. We only need five to win lads.

There might have been another goal or two but I got distracted by trying to hand feed a pigeon with cheesecake crumbs. He wasn’t quite brave enough to feed from my hand but ended up with everything anyway in the end.

With the bird fed and the Earth rotated sufficiently for us to be out of the shade once more we headed off with ten minutes to go. I haven’t checked the eventual score but I can confirm that both of us were a lot redder than we’d have preferred to be.

Spain v Switzerland, Friday 2nd July 2021, 7pm

July 7, 2021

I’d had my eye on this quarter-final game at St. Petersburg ever since I’d picked up a ticket for one of the earlier group games. I was confident that there would be a release of tickets close to match-day, confident enough in fact to have booked flights and a hotel.

Sometimes a plan comes together and the day before matchday the game appeared in the UEFA ticket portal. There were a variety of tickets and I picked up a category three seat for seventy-five euros. Not bad at all.

Friday morning Jen and I flew from SVO airport. The flight took sixty-five minutes but with the airport being situated to the north of Moscow the overall journey from our apartment to the hotel took just over five hours. It was still slightly quicker than total duration of the four hour ‘fast-train’ that we had taken last time and a lot quicker than the nine-hour overnight train from the trip before, but I think both of those journeys were more enjoyable. I seem to have less tolerance for crowded airports these days.

We didn’t do too much in St. Petersburg prior to the game. A walk to the Peter the Great Museum was about as much as we managed. The queues were sufficient to make postponing going inside for a day seem like a good idea and once we’d had some lunch it wasn’t far off the time for me to head to the match.

Everyone is given a specific entry time in order to try and stagger the admission to the stadium. It’s an admirable objective but possibly a little pointless when you consider that everyone will be mixing in their seats once inside. My time was between 4pm and 4.30pm and despite arriving as late as I could I still had two and a half hours to wait for kick-off.

For a few moments it looked like I might not even make it inside. The photo on my fan-Id was about three years old. Maybe slightly older. It was easier than having another passport style picture taken. The first fella on the gate stared at it. Then he stared at me. Then he called a colleague over who did the same. Then they both called for their supervisor. All three of them did a bit more staring before the supervisor made a managerial decision and waved me through.

Once inside I sat around for a while before making my way in to the stadium proper. It’s generally quieter outside and even though I’d brought earplugs I had no desire to be trapped in my seat and forced to listen to whatever noise someone else saw fit to play at ear-splitting volumes.

With an hour to go I took a chance and made my way towards my seat in block D105. It’s the fourth time I’ve been to the Gazprom Arena, but the first time in the lower tier. I was behind the goal to the right of the dugouts and it’s the best view I’ve had so far.

The stadium was starting to fill up as I ate a cheese and pesto sandwich from the stand in the concourse. I’d had a hot dog on my previous visit and this was a definite improvement. The area that I was in must have been one of the blocks sold to Swiss fans as there was a large group of them below me. As the game went on others joined them and as they worked their way through the full-strength Heinekens all thoughts of social distancing were left behind.

Many of the Swiss supporters were ringing cow bells. I’m amazed that they got them in as the security searches were incredibly thorough. I’d even had my shoes checked.

When the anthems were played the Swiss one had three different language sub-titles on the screens. Despite that their manager didn’t seem to know the words in any of them. A quick check online revealed that it actually has four different languages worth of lyrics. What an absofuckinglute racket that must be when all sung together.

The team colours didn’t seem right to me either. Spain were in all-white which would have been fine if they fielding a team of Madrid players but with none of them even making the squad I’d have preferred them in their traditional red kit. Instead, it was Switzerland who got to wear red. They should have completed the look by having a small white cross on their shirts with a toothpick down one sock and some tweezers in the other.

Michael Oliver was doing the reffing. I’ve not seen much of him lately as I don’t watch Premier League games on the telly but he seems to have developed a very calm style. At first I though it was similar to Clattenburg, who gave off an almost disinterested vibe in his latter days, but its better. I’ve no idea how he speaks but I imagine it to be in the smooth and measured manner of an airline pilot.

“This is your referee speaking, we are currently half-way through the second half and you made an out of control tackle. In approximately one minutes time you will be descending down the steps to the changies where you will be taking an early bath”.

I thought he had a good game and clearly was not going to let anything turn into a drama. Even a red card.

My main interest in the game was whether former Boro player Adama Traore would get on. The Euros would have been the perfect place for him to announce himself to the world with an accelerative break from inside his own half that took out half the opposition. Sadly the only time he moved from his seat among the subs was when it looked like he’d dropped his phone down the side and on to the floor.

No need to say much about the game because you’ve probably seen it, but I enjoyed the prolongation into extra-time and penalties. A swift getaway after the final kick got me efficiently back into town where we watched what was left of the Italy-Belgium game in a Serbian bar.