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

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.

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