Riga v Riga Futbola Skola, Saturday 12th November 2022, 1pm

Now that Jen has her visa, it’s a lot easier for us to travel outside the UK. We don’t have to worry about whether the border force fella is having a bad day and might refuse her entry just because he can. I’d been looking at the various options for heading off for a game somewhere and ended up picking Riga. We took cheap flights from Newcastle and spent four days wandering around the old part of town.

The weekend coincided with the final fixtures in the Latvian leagues and on the Saturday we made our way to the Skonta stadium. The route took us along the recently re-named Ukrainian Independence Street which, by remarkable coincidence, happens to be the street where the Russian Embassy is situated.

There’s a great view of the Paul Stradin Museum from the side windows of the Russian Embassy, although the diplomats and staff may not appreciate the image of Putin that has been fastened to the wall of the museum. It’s a handy reminder for them though that there is little support for their actions in the rest of the world. If the Putin image wasn’t enough, a small group of protesters maintains a presence across the road and visible from the front windows.

Whilst the route to the Skonto stadium went past the Paul Stradin Museum, it’s a place that we’d intended to visit anyway. It had a lot of historical scientific stuff, but it was a ‘two-headed dog’ that had drawn us in. I’d been expecting some sort of mutation, similar to calves and lambs that I’d seen elsewhere, but this was actually a scientific experiment with the head of a small dog grafted onto the upper back of a larger one.

Back in the fifties someone had thought it a good idea to see what would happen if the head of one dog was attached to the body of a larger one and connected into the host circulatory system. Apparently, the small dog was able to see, hear and smell as well as drink and respond to the transplant team. Hopefully it gave some of them a vicious nip. Both dogs lived for four days and in future experiments other dogs lasted for over a month.

Interesting as all that was, we had a game to see. As the museum is only ten minutes or so from the ground I’d usually expect to be able to follow the crowd. However, despite it only being half an hour to kick-off, there wasn’t anyone that I’d readily identify as being on their way to the match.

The reason for this is primarily that football isn’t very popular in Latvia. It’s an ice hockey country. I’d checked the fixtures for that sport in advance but it was a blank weekend.

The Skonto stadium was built in 2000, but it has aged quickly. I’d have dated it as being twenty years older than it actually is. We did a lap around the ground, cutting through the car park behind one goal where the stand has been demolished. I paused for a photo from the far corner which is where the away fans would be situated. The ground holds over eight thousand but I doubt the capacity is ever threatened.

I’d bought tickets online the day before for five euros each. They were general admission and we had the choice of the main stand or behind the goal to our our left, which housed the local ultras. The forty of so of them kept up their drumming and chanting throughout the game and then let off a few flares at the end.

The game was in the top tier, between Riga and local rivals Riga Futbola Skola. They went into the final game of the season in second and third place in the table respectively. FS were marooned in third, but Riga still had a chance of the title if they won and the team in first place did no better than a draw.

You’d think with a title at stake that there would have been more people there than the two to three thousand that showed up but, as I mentioned, it’s a hockey town.

Riga were in sky blue with FS in navy. There weren’t too many chances in the first half apart from one FS shot that hit both the bar and post but somehow stayed out. FS were probably the better side in a game where they had nothing to play for other than denying another Riga team a chance of winning the league.

There were a lot of people around me watching the other game that affected the title race on their phones and it remained unsettled until well into the second half. The league leaders went ahead in their game and then Riga went behind when an FS sub rattled one into the top corner within seconds of having come on. Riga attacked frantically towards the end but couldn’t force an equalizer.

The defeat meant that the score in the other game didn’t matter and Riga’s chance of the title was gone. Nobody seemed unduly disappointed, and I’ve seen more annoyance at the outcome of mid-table Boro games. Maybe they save all the anguish for the hockey games.

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