Ural Yekaterinburg v Krasnador, Sunday 25th July 2021, 7.30pm

After last week’s Super Cup curtain-raiser the Russian Premier league has started its new season. I wanted to see a game that would tie in with a weekend away and that gave us options for fixtures at Rostov, Kazan or Yekaterinburg. The flight schedules made Yekaterinburg the most attractive destination and on that basis Jen and I headed nine hundred miles east into the Urals.

Yekaterinburg is probably best known as the place where the Russian royal family were done away with after the revolution. It a shame that we haven’t done the same. Whilst I wouldn’t advocate turning the machine guns on our own parasites I’d be happy to let each of them pick something out of the Argos catalogue and then send them into retirement.

The building where it happened was knocked down years ago with the site marked by a cross. There’s a big church near it but we were happy to view it from outside. I’m all churched out.

One of the more popular attractions in Yekaterinburg is a museum with tanks, planes and vintage cars. I’m not that taken with the military stuff as all tanks look the same to me but I was a little envious of the fellas who were rebuilding a large airplane from a pile of bits. I imagine that as it doesn’t have to be able to fly they could do what I used to do with Airfix models and just throw away any bits that were tricky to glue together.

The cars were better to look at. I’d guess that there were around a couple of hundred of them showing the evolution over the years. As someone who has no real knowledge about cars I was surprised how interesting I found them. The highlight was one with a snakehead horn. These should be standard for every vehicle.

Something else that struck me about Yekaterinburg was that there seemed to be a bit of street art around every corner. We were quite surprised to find a statue of Michael Jackson. You’d think that it would have been given the Romanov treatment. Mind you, it’s not as weird as Fulham having a statue of him outside of Craven Cottage. Although I think that has gone now with the change of ownership. Perhaps they should have doubled down with ten-foot-tall bronze likeness of Jimmy Savile outside the Cottage Pavilion.

Our hotel was only about half an hours walk away from the Centralny stadium. The route took us through a graveyard which was a bonus. I like the Russian practice of putting photos on the gravestones to show who is underneath. The section that we walked through was pretty well kept, at least near to the path where access was easy.

Krasnador were the visitors for the opening weekend fixture and I’d bought a couple of tickets for the match for a fiver a go earlier in the week. They were for the upper tier, along the side of the pitch. If I’d remembered the stadium layout from the World Cup I’d have opted for seats behind the goal as it’s the stadium with the temporary scaffolding seating. My recollection is that they were installed in order to meet tournament capacity rules with the intention of dismantling them once the World Cup was done.

We initially turned up at the wrong side of the stadium and had to do a half-circuit to sector C. There was a crowd outside of the entrance gates and upon trying to get in we were told by a steward that it was season tickets only due to covid. An online check revealed that earlier in the day the Yekaterinburg Mayor had issued a decree limiting admission to five hundred corporate tickets only.

As we’d travelled nine hundred miles I inquired about buying a couple of corporates but they were sold out. We had little choice but to retrace our steps and pop into a nearby Irish bar to watch the game in there. Or at least we would have done if the match had been on the telly. The clash with the Olympics meant that gymnastics was being shown instead.  Oh well. For what it’s worth Krasnador won three-nowt.

The failure to get inside the stadium means that the fixture joins that reasonably small tally of games that got a blog post but not a tick on the spreadsheet. It would have been ground number 372. I will therefore leave Russia having seen thirty-six matches in thirty-one different venues over the past twenty months. That’s not a bad effort considering there were two winter breaks and a lot of covid restrictions in that time.

Russia often gets a bad press in the media, but I’ve found it a great place to live and to watch football. I’ve not encountered any over-zealous policing, hooliganism or racial abuse of the players. I wish I could say the same for everywhere that I’ve gone along to a game.

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