Archive for the ‘Dead people and stuff’ Category

Morecambe v Middlesbrough, Tuesday 19th July 2022, 7pm

July 25, 2022

I’d not been to the Mazuma stadium before and so I was pleased when the Boro announced a pre-season friendly at Morecambe. With nothing going on in the afternoon of the game I had plenty of time to drive across, taking a scenic route via Askrigg, Hawes, Ribblehead and Ingleton. I should have left even earlier and had a wander around at the viaduct as it looked magnificent in the early evening light.

My knowledge of Morecambe is limited. If I’ve given it any thought whatsoever, I suppose I’ve considered it a sort of Blackpool-lite. I arrived early enough to head for the seafront and have fish and chips for tea, near to the statue of Eric Morecambe. Whilst a lot of the country had been staying indoors to mitigate the impact of the forty degree heat, Morecambe residents were out on the beach.

I still tend to think of Morecambe FC as a non-league side, despite it being fifteen years since they reached the Football League. It turns out that they are actually in League One these days, just one step below the Boro.

I did a lap of the ground before finding the correct turnstile and took a seat towards the back of the Boro section. Around six hundred fans had made the trip and after a while the majority took the rare opportunity of sitting at an away game.

Boro had Ryan Giles at left-wing back, and he picked out a player in the box to gain an assist for each of our three first half goals. If we can attack effectively down both flanks this season, then it will hopefully deter teams from doubling up on Isaiah Jones.

There was some neat, quick passing through the midfield as we built from the back with Tav involved in most of the moves. He’ll be hard to replace if the rumoured Premier League does happen this summer.

At the interval I went downstairs for a drink. The queue was slow, probably on the basis that there was a big demand for their award-winning pies. They looked to have a decent beer selection too.

Morecambe had Conor Ripley in goal. He’s a player that I’ve kept an eye on since he left the Boro and it looks as if he should get some game time this season after his bench-warming at Preston. He took some stick from some Boro fans over his weight but reacted good-naturedly. He put in a good performance, pulling off some decent saves and wasn’t at fault for any of the goals.

The tempo slowed in the second half as the effect of playing in the heat and the impact of the substitutions took its toll. Overall though, we looked good and whilst the squad still needs to be added to I’m hopeful of a good start to the season proper.

Lubbock Matadors v Irving, Saturday 25th June 2022, 7.30pm

July 2, 2022

After the week in Colorado, it was time to head south for another family celebration in a weeks’ time. Our first stopover was two nights in Lubbock, Texas. It was a six-hundred-mile drive and we managed it in around ten and a half hours. We stayed on a horse ranch on the outskirts of the city.

Lubbock was as hot as it had been in Nebraska, with the temperature beyond 100F. I was glad of the air-conditioning.

I didn’t really know very much about Lubbock, other than it’s the place where Buddy Holly was from. With that in mind we went along to the Buddy Holly Centre to look at some of the memorabilia. There was a house in the grounds of the museum that had belonged to one of the Crickets, Jerry Allison, and where he and Holly had written ‘That’ll Be The Day’.

Apparently, the reason that it is Allison’s house that was transported to the centre and not Holly’s is that the Holly family home been knocked down long before anyone thought of cashing in on it.

We also went to the City of Lubbock Cemetery to visit the grave. It was well signposted and easily found. Some people had left trinkets and glasses. There was even a Christmas tree bauble. I reflected on how strange it seems to me that Buddy Holly had actually played the Globe in Stockton. Twice, in fact, on the same day in his only tour of England in ’58.

He’d been to my town and now I’d been to his.

As we left the cemetery, we spotted a prairie dog on sentry duty by its burrow. There were a few others just outside the gates. I stopped the car so that Jen could take some photos, clearly bemusing the driver behind us who may very well have seen prairie dogs on grass verges by the road every day of his life.

After exhausting the Buddy Holly options Jen and I went along to Lowery Field, home of the Lubbock Matadors football team. They had a home fixture against Irving in the Lone Star Conference of the Western Division of the National Premier Soccer League. Lowery Field is another stadium used predominantly by an American Football team, but utilised for soccer in the offseason. It has a capacity of 8,500.

I’d bought tickets online a few weeks in advance for ten dollars a pop plus taxes. As we showed the fella on the gate the tickets on my phone, he offered us a dog bib if we could show him a photo of our dog. We don’t have a dog but I had a recent photo of me with my brother-in-law’s dogs that earned us two extra small bibs. They might fit the shiatzu belonging to Jen’s sister.

We had seats on the forty yard line, directly above around twenty or so singing ultras. They made a racket with a megaphone throughout the game, supplemented by drums and two trumpets. The crowd was later announced as over four thousand, which seemed a little high to me. Maybe they count tickets given away whether the recipients turn up or not.

There wasn’t much action in the first half, but the game came to life in the second when Irving went a goal up. This sparked some aggression from both sides and the visitors were soon a man down. Lubbock equalized with twenty minutes to go and the game then petered out to a draw with the focus moving to settling scores and accumulating yellow cards rather than any real attacking intent.

Atomic Pork Chops v Winnipeg Goldeneyes, Saturday 11th June 2022, 6.30pm

June 12, 2022

After Buckingham, Jen and I drove up to Newark to swap the hire car for the one originally booked and then headed to the Keystone State Park for three nights. We had a ‘modern cabin’ booked. I think ‘modern’ refers to it having a bathroom, something that didn’t strike me as being particularly modern at all. It was an enjoyable place to stay, as most accommodation with a firepit tends to be, although there wasn’t much in the way of wildlife nearby other than rabbits and squirrels.

In an effort to try and see bears and snakes, or at a push some deer, raccoons or muskrats, we went for a hike around the lake and up into a forest. It was a good way to spend a morning but despite wandering around for six miles we didn’t really see anything other than birds and butterflies.

Next stop on the trip was Chicago. It’s somewhere that I’d picked mainly because I thought there would be good opportunities for sporting events. It’s also somewhere with a bit of family history in that one of my grandads visited it in the 1920’s and saw someone shot dead whilst walking down the street. He was in the merchant navy and travelling cross-country from New York to San Francisco to join his next ship. I don’t know how long he and his shipmates spent in the city but I thought it interesting, particularly when walking around some of the historical areas, that they might very well have walked the same streets getting on for a hundred years or so ago. We didn’t see anyone shot dead, so maybe Chicago is a bit safer than in the 1920’s.

One of the things that I’d like to do sometime is see a baseball game at Wrigley Field. Whilst it’s not quite the oldest, it’s probably the best known of all the baseball stadiums. The Cubs were out of town though and so we had to make do with a tour. It was very informative and we started off with some general info whilst sitting in various parts of the stands, before moving down to pitch side to stand in the outfield.

We then moved on to the locker room used by the visiting team and at various times over the years by Paul McCartney, Pele and Michael Jordan. It was strange to look around and imagine each of them preparing to head out into the daylight.

We then went up to the press box and finished up by sitting in the home dugout. I’ll get back for an actual Cubs game at some point.

Whilst there was an option of going to a MLB White Sox game across town, I decided to head for some lower league action instead at the Midwestern Medical Field. It’s a stadium that dates back to 1991 and has a capacity of almost eleven thousand.

The game was in an independent league for teams too far from others to be allowed to play in the AA or AAA leagues. The Kane County Cougars were taking on the Winnipeg Goldeneyes. Although for some reason the Cougars were playing as their alter-egos, the Atomic Pork Chops. This may have been a ploy to sell different shirts and more bacon products. Who knows?

We opted for central bench seats at fifteen dollars, although we could have paid ten dollars to sit on the grass. Or even ten dollars to walk past the grass and sit in the fifteen dollars seats. I had a hot dog which didn’t look as good as the hot dogs that I saw some other people eating so there must have been some selection option that I hadn’t noticed.

Jen went for a funnel cake. I’d not heard of it and tried a bit. It’s just mis-shaped donut really. It tastes ok but I can’t see it catching on.

Winnipeg Goldeneyes are a Canadian team, from approximately eight hundred miles to the north. I doubt that you get many away fans in this league. A father and son duo who had been roped in to sing the Star Spangled Banner also trotted out what I presume was the Canadian anthem. It’s not particularly catchy and maybe something like ‘I’m a Lumberjack’ would have gone down better.

For additional between innings entertainment we were treated to stunt dogs. These were collies that had been trained to catch frisbees and run between their owner’s legs. It was better than it sounds and but unfortunately none of them took a piss against any of the bases.

We also had races between the mascots and small kids around the bases and something called battle ball where small children put their upper bodies into an inflatable ball and then tried to concuss each other. They also sang Happy Birthday to those celebrating that day. Jen asked me if the song triggered any particular thoughts, which it didn’t. Turns out it was her birthday and I’d forgotten. Again. I like being married to someone who doesn’t make a deal about something like that. I suspect that some fellas in a similar situation may have ended up in a worse state than the battle ball kids.

Goldeneyes went three up early on and then twice finished an innings with the bases loaded but without adding to the score. It looked as if this might come back to bite them in the arse when the Pork Chops hit three single home runs, two of them in successive balls to level at three all in the sixth. The Canadians got away with it though running out five-three winners in the end.

Reading United AC Reserves v Ocean City Nor’easters Reserves, Saturday 4th June 2022, 2pm

June 6, 2022

After our stay at Richmond Jen and I headed further north. The two hundred and eighty-five mile drive to Kempton in Pennsylvania seemed like nothing after the nine hour stint from Bryant to Richmond and the shorter trip meant that we had time to break the journey at Gettysfield.

There’s a museum there which is mainly outdoors. If you wanted to do it justice you’d have to drive around the twenty-four mile suggested route, but as we only had a couple of hours we limited our involvement to wandering around the cemetery where Lincoln made his famous address and having a look at a couple of the battlefield sites.

There was a lot of interesting info and with it following on from a visit to the Civil War Museum in Richmond I’m starting to get a better understanding of what went on in the 1860s over here.

Kempton is pretty quiet and we’d picked a remote place to stay in the countryside. Our cabin was off-grid in that it had no electricity or running water but all of that was available at the bottom of the hill.

We had a firepit though and once it got dark, a fantastic view of the stars.

I was hoping to see some wildlife and we weren’t disappointed. A deer paid a visit early morning and then returned at dusk. I regretted not buying the deer corn advertised at many of the petrol stations that we’d passed as we might have been able to tempt it closer in.

As ever, I looked to see what games were going on locally and there was one forty minutes away in Reading. The town sounded familiar and when I checked I discovered that it was the town where John Updike grew up and was thinly disguised as Harry Angstrom’s Brewer in the Rabbit novels.

Even better, Updike’s childhood house in the suburb of Shillington has been turned into a museum and we called in for a mooch around pre-match. It was well-presented and restored to the way it looked in his childhood with lots of photographs and memorabilia. Nearby was Updike’s old school and the inspiration for Rabbit’s High School basketball career. I’d have liked to have seen a game there and imagined it in the fifties.

After the house visit, we headed for the game at Alvernia University Stadium. The fixture was between the reserve sides of Reading United and Ocean City Nor’easters. Both of the regular sides play in the fourth tier USL League 2 and this game was a curtain raiser to the full fixture later in the evening.

Reading were in yellow and black with Ocean City in light and dark blue. The standard wasn’t too good but if it’s players who can’t quite make the fourth tier then that’s not unexpected.

I spent some time watching three buzzards circling the pitch. If I were a player, I doubt I’d go down easily and then play dead. There might be consequences that you wouldn’t get elsewhere.

The Alvernia University Stadium holds around five thousand with uncovered seating down one side of an artificial pitch. Once again, the pitch was marked for a variety of sports and this time the American Football posts were still in position with the soccer goals fitting beneath.

Jen and I found a table with a parasol to the edge of one of the stands. It wasn’t the best view in that I had to look through railings and had no sight of the far goal, but you can’t turn down a spot out of the sun.

My groundhopping rules were put to the test when I noticed that there were no linesmen. In the past I’ve not counted games in those circumstances. However, it was clearly a ‘proper’ match and on the basis that if something as important as the Ministerial Code can be revised or ignored when it proves inconvenient then I’m happy to change my no linesman rule to being just something to take into account when deciding the status of a game rather than an absolute deal-breaker.

The visitors went three up in the first half. Whilst I saw the crosses going in, I didn’t see any of them put into the net due to my poor view.

Nor’easters continued to dominate in the second half and added a fourth goal fifteen minutes from time after a break down the left. A fifth came soon afterwards with a calm finish from around ten yards out. With the goals coming at ‘my’ end, I was able to see them both in full.

On the drive out through Reading I tried to imagine it as Brewer. The area that we passed through had a more suburban feel than I’d imagined in Rabbit, Run, but fitted the later novels much better. I’d like to return sometime and take a longer look around.

Richmond Kickers v Chattanooga Red Wolves, Wednesday 1st June 2022, 6.30pm

June 6, 2022

After leaving Alabama we drove up to Richmond, the state capital of Virginia. It’s a fair distance between the two and the five hundred and sixty odd miles drive took the best part of nine hours.

We stayed in a quiet district, where a lot of the houses were more than a century old. That, as the janitor mentioned to me, is a big deal over here. I told him that St Mary’s church at Norton is around a thousand years old, but graciously highlighted that we rarely get hurricanes twirling their way across the Green.

There wasn’t a great deal that we wanted to do in Richmond, but we did call into a civil war museum that had some interesting exhibits. After our epic drive north, I was surprised to learn that Virginia fought with the South but as in England I suppose that your perception of where north changes to south depends on where you are from.

One of the reasons that I’d picked Richmond was that there was a football game scheduled for the time that we were there. Richmond Kickers were taking on Chattanooga Red Wolves in the third-tier USL League One.

The Kickers claim to be the longest continually existing football club in the US. I’ve no idea if that’s true or what qualifiers might apply to it, but a quick check suggests that their history goes back to the nineties rather than the seventies and what might be regarded as the golden era for US soccer.

It was $20 dollars to get in, although we could have paid less if we had booked in advance of the matchday. As the City Stadium was only a half-hour walk from where we were staying we were able to have a drink. Jen got wine in a can whilst I had a couple of pints of IPA. Unlike at the supermarket, we weren’t asked for ID. Presumably I look over twenty-one when outdoors.

Our general admission tickets entitled us to sit in the shade up against the back wall. I was pleased to see that it was a grass pitch with no markings other than those necessary for a proper football game. There were two main uncovered stands, but only one was open, restricting the potential capacity from around twenty-two thousand to nine thousand.

Pre-match announcements included a description of the ref as the ‘Head Referee’ and adverts for partners such as the Official Pest and Termite Control Affiliate. I wonder if the likes of Man United have one of those.

Kickers were in white with Red Wolves in red. I think the policy in this league might be that in the event of a clash, the home team is the one to switch kits. There were probably around four hundred people watching including a lively group with drummers and flares.

It was a fairly even contest until around ten minutes from half-time when Kickers went one up with a header from a corner. A couple of minutes later they repeated the move to double their lead. A curler from outside the box made it three before the break and effectively sealed the points.

At half-time I toured the food trucks and got us some pulled pork and tater tots, which are a sort of chicken nugget sized hash brown. I also had a different IPA from one of the stalls. There was certainly a much better choice of beers than I’m used to at the Boro.

Both teams had the odd chance in the second half but with Kickers happy to keep it tight and Red Wolves keen to avoid a hammering there were no more goals and it finished up three-nil.

Zenit St Petersburg 2 v Leningradets, Friday 4th June 2021, 7pm.

June 16, 2021

I’d visited Saint Petersburg during the 2018 World Cup and watched a couple of games at the Gazprom Stadium with Paul. Jen had never been though and so I took a couple of days holiday and we went for a long weekend.

I imagine that you can probably fly to Saint Petersburg from Moscow in around an hour or so. There’s a fast train too that takes you there in under four hours. Instead Jen and I decided to travel more slowly on the overnight train which departed from Leningradskiy station in Moscow at 23.40, getting into Saint Petersburg around nine hours later the following morning.

We had the poshest category of cabin on the train, complete with our own shower and toilet. It wasn’t as luxurious as the Blue Train in South Africa where I’d enjoyed a bath, but it was pretty good. We were served with dinner at midnight in our cabin and then shunted over the table to make space to fold down the bed. There was also a bunk above but we both fitted fine on the pull-down lower option.

We had a decent view of the countryside leading up to Saint Petersburg as we had breakfast the next morning and then a driver met us at the train door to take us to our hotel. It was a pleasant way to travel.

As our hotel room wouldn’t be available until later we dumped our bags and went for a wander around. First stop was the Saviour on the Spilled Blood church. I’d seen the outside of this place on my previous visit, albeit covered in scaffolding. It looked as if the restoration work remained ongoing as the upper section of the building was still hidden by protective wrapping.

The inside of the church was impressive. Maybe the best I’ve been in over here with mosaics on a lot of the walls. The paintings on the underside of the dome were better than I could have done, which is always my starting point in assessing the merits of artwork. In fact, they were much better than I’d have done, maybe because there are fewer things that I dislike more than painting ceilings.

Jen and I also had a look around the State Hermitage Museum in the Winter Palace which is somewhere that Paul and I had queued for back in 2018 but then given up on due to the time taken to get inside. This time nobody was in line and we were able to waltz straight in.

It was ok as museums go. I can usually see what I want in these places without hanging around much and the highlight of this one was a tapestry depicting various jungle animals eating each other.

Or at least I thought the highlight was the tapestry. As we were heading for the exit our route took us through the Egypt department. I like Egyptian stuff anyway but on this occasion they had excelled themselves by having the mummified corpse of what they claimed was a priest. I’ve no idea how they knew and to be honest I didn’t really care what the bloke had done for a living three thousand years ago. It’s just good to have dead people on display.

The trip had originally been built around the third-tier Professional Football League fixture between local rivals Zenit 2 and Leningradets. The new football App that I have threw up a few alternatives but in the end we stuck with the original plan and took a taxi to the Smena Stadium.

A lot of the route looked familiar and I soon realized that it was the route that Paul and I had walked three years ago after confusing the ground used by Zenit’s second team with the World Cup stadium that usually hosts the Zenit first team’s fixtures. Fortunately, on that occasion we realized our mistake in sufficient time to avoid missing out on seeing Brazil play in a World Cup game.

On arrival at the Smena Stadium we joined the queue for free tickets, then the queues to get in and finally the queues for scanning. Jen got turned back in order to deposit her backpack in the left luggage store whilst I got asked to switch on both my phone and camera. It was stricter than an airport and all for a game in the third-tier game with no more than a few hundred attendees.

We had been given tickets for the main stand. There were a few away fans in the stand opposite and some vocal Zenit fans behind the goal to our right. There was a particularly vocal Zenit fan a few rows in front of us too. He seemed to struggle in enunciating his words with each song or chant blurring into nothing more than noise.

After a while he was warned by the stewards not to be an arse and he responded by making a dash for it to a seat around ten yards away. The steward went for another word and he did the same thing again. Eventually he was left to make his noise.

Zenit took the lead just before half-time but it didn’t take long for Leningradets to equalize after the break. It became apparent that there were around equal numbers of fans of each club in the main stand where we were sat. Or people who are happy to cheer a goal no matter who scores it.

Conceding an equalizer seemed to piss off the home bench and after a few minutes of giving lip to the officials one of their coaches was shown a red. He disappeared down the tunnel, perhaps after considering the security measures that he would have had to go through if he had wanted to watch the remainder of the game from the stand.

Jen and I had seen Zenit play in Moscow the previous week and had noticed a fella with an impressively twirly moustache. At the end of that game he went down to the front to chat with one of the players. On seeing the two of them together it appeared highly likely that the player was his brother, different only by being clean shaven.

Moustache fella was sat just behind us for this game and well into the second half his centre-half sibling scored a fantastic goal with an on the angle volley whilst falling backwards. I turned immediately to see the joy on moustache fella’s face.

Sadly, that effort didn’t turn out to be the winning goal with the visitors scrambling an equalizer with just four minutes to go for a two-all draw.

Dinamo Moscow v CSKA Moscow, Sunday 16th May 2021, 2pm.

May 21, 2021

The top two divisions in Russia concluded their league programmes this weekend and as I’ve not seen a derby fixture yet I thought I’d better get along to the Premier League finale at the Lev Yashin stadium. I’ve been to see Dinamo at home a couple of times previously and it’s an easy fixture with the metro stopping right outside of the ground.

It’s also handy for visiting somewhere on the way as there is a change of line close to the centre that makes popping above ground an easy option. This time Jen and I called in at Red Square, intending to have a look around inside the Kremlin. The square itself was a lot quieter than usual, maybe as a result of it being early Sunday morning, but more likely due to fewer foreign tourists being in town.

There’s always something going on though and whereas last time there was an ice skating rink blocking the views of the historic buildings this time it was the stage for a concert being erected. If there is ever a time when it is empty then I’m tempted to turn up at about 5am to try and get the place to myself.

As Jen and I walked towards the Historical Museum at the top end we noticed that the doors to Lenin’s Mausoleum were open and people were heading in. Previously it hadn’t opened on Sundays but maybe they have changed the hours for the summer. There was a queue at the far end of Red Square and so we joined that. Half an hour later we had passed through the scanner and we were into the Mausoleum grounds. There are a few monuments to other unknown fellas, but they didn’t detain us for long and we were soon inside the chilled and badly lit building.

Jen had done a bit of checking and she reckons that there are five dead leaders with their bodies on show to the public. Apart from Lenin there are the two Kims in North Korea, some south american bloke and Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam. We saw what was left of Mr. Minh when visiting Hanoi a few years ago and so if we were to start ‘collecting’ embalmed leaders then today would take us to forty per cent along the route to completion.

As you might expect no photography was allowed, but there are plenty on the internet. Jen reckoned that his right eye looked a bit ropey and his fingers had a brown tinge to them. Maybe he had been creosoting a fence in his final days. I thought he looked just like Sean Dyche, but more serene and without the mental scars from that Chesterfield semi-final. Overall though he was in decent nick considering his circumstances. I know people still alive who look rougher.

On the way out we were directed past busts of other important dead people. I recognized the fellas from the eighties, but nobody before apart from Stalin. He had extra flowers on his marble base, so is clearly still fondly remembered by some people in these parts. I understand the belief that things were better in the olden days, we get plenty of that in the UK and there is still a certain nostalgia for the CCCP even among Russians too young to remember it, but come on, Stalin? Really?

As we were back at the bottom end of Red square we decided it was probably a good time to have a look inside St. Basil’s Cathedral. That’s the famous one you always see on the telly and currently obscured by concert scaffolding as above. It was a tenner for foreigners to get in and a fiver for locals. Fair enough. If you can afford to be travelling around you can subsidise the locals.

As we went in we passed a group of worshippers singing away in a side room with an altar. I doubt that they had paid and I was a little surprised that we were allowed to mosey around at the same time as a service was taking place, I don’t think that it would have been too difficult to limit admission to those times outside of services. The cathedral was actually four churches inside the same building with each in different states of repair or restoration. Some were pretty fancy.

Other areas seemed to be partially restored, whilst some areas had been painted over with a fake brickwork pattern. Who would think that is a good idea? Just leave whatever was there previously and then restore that if you want, but don’t add another layer of nonsense that will also no doubt be removed at some point.

With the culture done we had some lunch before heading to the stadium. I don’t really care what I eat and the place that was handy turned out to be a Jamie’s Italian. I though Mr. Oliver had gone bust and if our lunch was typical of what he does elsewhere then I’m not surprised. I can forgive my pizza being cold and the tv screens that showed him and the old bloke he worked with sticking their fingers in every thing they cooked. What was just about unbearable though was the same crap Ed Sheeran song being played on a loop non-stop. The same song. Once was bad enough but we had to listen to it all the way through our lunch. Jen had a theory that the management must have been trying to get their staff to quit. I certainly wouldn’t have lasted a day if it had been me, one lunchtime was enough.

After scoffing our lunch as quickly as we could we took the metro to the ground. It was busier than previously with a lot more police. I suppose with it being a Moscow derby that could be expected. Lots of the fans were dressed in black, particularly those from CSKA, with many of them sporting the Stone Island gear that I’m told suggests that they might be up for a bit of trouble.

We had quite posh seats for this game. Previously I’ve been in the upper tier but by the time I got around to buying tickets all that were left were tier two seats at forty five quid. We shared an entrance with people in executive boxes but that’s as posh as it got, although I suppose the concourse was less crowded.

Visitors CSKA had to win if they were to have a chance of a top four European spot, albeit in the new third tier UEFA Conference competition. Even then they needed results for the two teams above them to go their way. Dinamo had nothing to play for apart from local bragging rights and I did wonder whether they might mentally already be on their holidays.

It seemed as if I’d called it right when CKSA took the lead in the first half. The goal revealed just how many of their fans were located outside of the designated area behind the goal. They wouldn’t have got away with celebrating like that at many English grounds.

The atmosphere in general was very good, with both fans having singing sections behind the goal and the twelve thousand attendance around double that I’d previously experienced under covid restrictions. As there were only a handful of tickets left a week before the game I assume that the game had sold out.

With results elsewhere favourable to CKSA it looked for a while like their European dream might be on. Dinamo were keen to make a game of it though and equalized in the second half before quickly taking the lead.

CKSA levelled late on but when pushing for the winner conceded a third to end their hopes. The loss left them in sixth and free to do whatever they like on Thursday nights next season. Maybe there is a Russian version of The Bill for them to watch. The win for Dinamo brought them level on points with their local rivals but also outside of the European spots.

Torpedo Moscow v Spartak Moscow 2, Sunday 15th November 2020, 5pm

January 23, 2021

Keepers wear just about anything they fancy these days but back when I was a kid green was the order of the day and the colour that you naturally associated with goalies. There was the odd exception in that if you think of, say, Dino Zoff, it’s grey that comes to mind. Steve Sherwood was red, which sadly just about killed that colour off as a credible option for keepers. Shame really, as I’d thought that it looked pretty stylish when I wore it between the sticks for Freddy Natt in the 1974-75 season.

Jim Platt often turned out in blue for the Boro in his early days and I’ve got a vague recollection of seeing mid-seventies photos of Peter Shilton in an all-white kit. Not as convenient as green for getting grass stains off the elbows though.

The most iconic goalie kit though has got to be all-black combo worn by Lev Yashin. I checked him out recently to see if he’d played for Russia at Ayresome Park in the ’66 World Cup but he’d sat that game out with an injury. Something I did discover though was that he was buried in the Vagankovskoye cemetery. Coincidentally, I’d had a mooch around in there on my way to a Dinamo game, but hadn’t known about Yashin’s presence.

As the cemetery was about an hour and a half walk away from this week’s game at Luzhniki I decided that I may as well go back there, look for the grave and then walk along the river to the game.

It all seemed easy enough, particularly as I found photos of the grave online so that I knew what to look for. It’s an engraving, possibly life-sized, of a bloke holding a football. How difficult could that be to spot? Well, very difficult is the answer.

Vagankovskoye cemetery has lots of small paths dividing it and between those, some even smaller paths. I tried to be methodical but couldn’t spot the stone anywhere. After an hour I gave up and headed out towards the river.

It’s getting cold in Moscow now and with the temperature around freezing there were flurries of snow as I followed the loop of the river northwards before doubling back on myself in the direction of Luzhniki Park.

I passed the area where Kiyevsky station is located and where I’d briefly stayed in a hotel a year ago. There seemed to be fewer people around but I suppose the weather was more conducive to staying indoors.

The match I was heading for was my third visit of the season to the Luzhniki Sports Camp. Whilst the first two games had featured Chertanovo, this one was a home fixture for their ground-share partners and fellow second-tier team, Torpedo Moscow.

Torpedo must be a lot more prestigious than Chertanovo as my seat in the central area of the main stand had set me back 1,200 rubles, considerably more than the 300 rubles that Chertanovo charge. Even at the higher price I felt fortunate to get the ticket as they were only being sold to those already registered as a Torpedo fan. I’d signed up a couple of months previously but then opted for a game elsewhere. Luckily that past registration was enough to get me in.

On my way around to the main stand I stopped for something to eat. There weren’t a lot of options and I ended up with a hot dog that was garnished with crispy onions and what was probably a whole gerkin cut into half a dozen slices. It wasn’t the best, but hot dogs rarely are and at three quid it was a tenner or so cheaper than last one that I’d had at a Philadelphia Union game last year.

Spartak’s second team had their Boro strips on and if you squinted hard enough the home side could have passed for Darlo. The other sartorial matter of note was that the linos were wearing tights. I should have done the same really as a pair of jeans wasn’t much protection against a temperature that was slipping further below zero.

Torpedo broke the deadlock around half an hour in with a shot from outside the box that just sneaked into the corner of the net.

The second half was notable mainly for my legs starting to freeze. Nobody else seemed to be bothered by the cold, but perhaps they were all wearing tights too.

If people had started to head for the exit I’d definitely have done so too but I didn’t want to admit defeat if nobody else was.

Spartak’s reserves had two good chances in the second half, one where their number 66 went around the keeper but a defender got back to cover and the game ended with just the single goal in it.

Viettel v Binh Phuoc, Saturday 29th September 2018, 3pm

March 19, 2019

In our time over here we’d only been to Vietnam once, a trip to Saigon a year or so earlier. It was an interesting place so we thought we’d see if Hanoi was just as good.  Turn out that it is, with the added benefit of being to gawp at the actual remains of their former leader Ho Chi Minh, rather than just wander around somewhere like his 1970’s decorated palace searching in vain for the advertised elephant’s foot umbrella stand.

The walk through Mr. Minh’s mausoleum was very well-managed. The queue snaked through the grounds for a few hundred yards but under covered walkways. It was kept moving at a good pace by some very smartly dressed soldiers and once inside, as you might imagine, there was extremely chilly air-conditioning. You weren’t allowed to talk or take photos, in fact you weren’t allowed to do anything but walk. Jen was told off for crossing her arms whilst I did my best to stifle a cough.

The route eventually ended up in a dimly-lit room with a corpse in a bed. He looked a bit like his photo on the main stand at the game we went to later, but a little waxier.

Other highlights were a big lake near to our hotel surrounded by eating and drinking establishments. The roads were closed off for the weekend to allow people to stumble around with less chance of being killed by the traffic.

We walked to the match on the Saturday afternoon and had to dodge scooters on the pavement as well as cars on the roads. We also had to dodge a bloke smoking a bamboo pipe that was at least a foot long.

The Hang Day stadium is pretty run down, but that’s the way I like them. We arrived about an hour before kick-off and there were lots of people milling around the main entrance. Vendors were selling snacks that may have been cooked a while ago and were unprotected from flies. You could wash them down with something cold. Or at least you would be able to if the cans and bottles weren’t just sitting in the sun rather than a cool box or fridge.

As we had sufficient time we did a circuit of the stadium. It was quieter around the back and we spotted a couple of soldiers. They seemed much more relaxed than the ones on duty at the funeral home.

If we’d been inclined we could have had haircuts at the back corner of the ground. That’s something the Boro should start offering during matches. I reckon there would be a decent queue of people keen to escape watching the soul-destroying set-up of five centre halves and four defensive midfielders taking turns to lump the ball forward to a single striker ill-equipped to do anything with it.

Anyway, this game was free to get in to and the sounds of partying that we’d heard coming from inside were due to the home side Viettel having already clinched the second division championship with a couple of games to spare. Not quite Charlton’s Champions but you take what you can get.

There were two tier stands down each side, with open terracing to our right and a wall to the left that backed on to housing. Potential there for “Once more and we’ll stick a knife in it”. The home fans were celebrating their promotion with their band and by waving a variety of flags. The carnival atmosphere was mirrored on the pitch where Viettel, in white, seemed to be applying the ‘Tuncay’ rule whereby the build up to any chance must include at least one fancy but ineffective flick. Binh Phuoc were in green shirts with a red band. Or red shirts with a green yoke. Hard to say really. Either way the best chances in the half went to the hosts, but poor finishing and some decent keeping kept it goalless at the break.

Our first half viewpoint in the stand opposite the tunnel had become less attractive as the sun got lower. When it began to shine through the gaps in the structure on to the backs of our heads we were forced to move to an area where the sun was blocked by a stairwell. At half time we took the opportunity to move upstairs and take advantage of the better shade provided by the roof.

The excitement level rose soon after the restart when the away coach was sent to the stands. Maybe the sun had been a bit much for him too. It didn’t seem to change much on the pitch though as the champions continued to press ineffectually for a goal to complete the coronation.

With a quarter of an hour to play it was the turn of the players to lose their composure. We had a minute or two of argy-bargy before Binh Phuoc switched off from the subsequent free-kick and an unmarked header put Viettel a goal up. It sparked just the sort of celebrations that you’d expect.

A few minutes later another header doubled their lead and we sloped out leaving them to it. Game and season over.

England v India, Sunday 9th September 2018, 11am

October 30, 2018

At the end of our UK holiday, Jen and I had a Sunday evening flight back  to Malaysia. This meant that if we made our way down towards Heathrow in plenty of time we could watch most of the third day’s play at the Oval in the final test of the series with India. So that’s what we did.

Rather than just rattle all the way down the M1 at once, we broke our journey overnight at Eyam. No, I’d never heard of it either, but in looking for somewhere to go for a walk in the Peak District I discovered that four and a half centuries ago Eyam earned it’s fame as a ‘plague village’.

Apparently, a load of flea infested clothes arrived from London, bringing the plague with them. It caused devastation among the villagers who, very thoughtfully in the circumstances, agreed for the village to be quarantined until they either all died or someone invented antibiotics.

Eyam is an interesting place to stay. Most of the period buildings are still standing with a lot of the plague-related history detailed on signs around the village and then expanded upon in a visitor’s centre. There are also a few footpaths, one of which goes past the boundary stone where food would be left by folk from the next village and coins would be placed in holes filled with vinegar by the Eyam residents.

I’ve no idea how effective vinegar is against plague but I used to work with a bloke who swore by it as the answer to all of life’s ailments. He’s dead now so it looks as if it may not quite cure everything.

We followed up the Eyam stopover with a night in Richmond. The London one. That made it easy enough to take a train into the Oval the next morning where the touts were out in force. The prospect of seeing Alistair Cook’s final innings for England meant that they were frantically trying to hoover up any spares, although I didn’t see any actual buying or selling taking place.

I’d bought our tickets a couple of months earlier, at eighty-five pounds a pop in the Lock Laker Stand and even at that stage there weren’t many available. I imagine Cook’s retirement announcement quickly shifted any that had remained.

There were brass bands playing as we arrived, although probably not specially for us, and our early start allowed us to watch the teams warming up. England, somewhat controversially due to the past injuries that have been sustained, were playing five-a-side football. Or maybe six-a-side. Stuart Broad didn’t look to have much of a first touch, whilst Moeen Ali appeared to be able to waltz through the opposition at will.

Whilst our seats were nominally in the Lock Laker stand, they weren’t really. We were actually sat in the curved section close by to the side nearest to the gasometer.

India resumed their first innings about a hundred and fifty behind, with just four wickets in hand. For most of the crowd, or at least those supporting England, it was just really a matter of how long it would be before Cook batted for the last time.

It reminded me of when Juninho made his comeback after a long-term injury in his third stint at the Boro. He’d been named on the bench with the consequence that until he finally got onto the pitch every movement in the dugout commanded far more attention than anything happening on-field.

We had a long wait for the England opener though as India eked out their innings until mid-way through the afternoon session and reduced the deficit to just forty runs. From the moment the last wicket fell all eyes were on the pavilion until such time as Cook made his entrance to another standing ovation. It continued long after he’d arrived at the wicket and stopped only as the bowler commenced his run-up. I think I may have had something in my eye at that stage.

Our flight time meant that we had to leave at five, with still another hours worth of batting to come. I was unsure, somewhat selfishly, whether I’d have liked Cook to have been dismissed before we left, so I could be part of the clapping off. That wasn’t on the cards though and he batted out the session in our absence before returning the next day to complete one more daddy ton.

By the time the former England captain was out for not far short of a hundred and fifty, we were back in Malaysia where I watched his dismissal and departure as it happened on the telly in our house. It’s not often you see a batsman’s innings start and finish from locations more than six thousand miles apart.