Archive for the ‘Football’ Category

CSKA Moscow U19 v Lokomotiv 2 U19, Sunday 18th April 2021, 1.15pm

April 21, 2021

This was another bonus ground hopping game, my second in the past fortnight. Jen and I had turned up at Oktyabr Stadium for a CSKA Moscow women’s fixture and I’d spotted a match going on at the pitch next to the main ground. It’s great when something like that happens. An additional ground on the list with no more effort other than strolling around to the gate and passing through the unmanned and unplugged metal detector.

The game was twenty odd minutes into the first half and a youth team game between CSKA and Lokomotiv 2. I’m guessing that the 2 meant Lokomotiv’s second-string team and I’m also guessing that it was Lokomotiv Moscow. Not that it really matters.

The home side were dressed up as Barcelona with the visitors in white. There were fans down one side of the ground, some in a small stand, others leaning up against the perimeter fence. I imagine most had a family connection to someone on the pitch.

We only stayed for around ten minutes as I wanted to maximise our chances of getting into the main stadium for the next game. CSKA had mentioned online that capacity was limited due to covid and that latecomers might miss out. Nevertheless, the visit still counts and it took the total of different grounds where I’ve attended a match to three hundred and fifty-six.

Arsenal Tula v Krasnodar, Sunday 11th April 2021, 2pm

April 18, 2021

In the time that I’ve been out here I’ve limited my games to the Moscow area but this weekend there was a game in Tula which is about two and a quarter hours away if you take a reasonably speedy train. I’d booked rail tickets online for about a tenner each way and rocked up at Kurskaya station with around half an hour to spare.

It’s as well that I did leave plenty of time as the official checking everyone’s documents wouldn’t let me board. When she realized that we didn’t have a common language she summoned a colleague.  He was able to explain that my ticket didn’t show my passport number and so he would have to scan the photo page and issue a supplement. Two quid and a receipt later they waved me on to the train.

My carriage was full with the mask wearing contingent comprising of around half of the occupants. I’ve been vaccinated so I’m not too concerned but I doubt many of my fellow travellers had gotten around to having their jabs yet.

It took a while to pass through the suburbs and I spent the first hour looking at lockups, garages and industrial units. There was the usual crap graffiti that seems compulsory next to railway lines and more stray dogs than I’ve seen elsewhere in the whole time I’ve been in Moscow.

As we moved further out of the city there were occasional villages, one with a cemetery that must have been a mile long. The wooden crosses at the new end were almost all accompanied by flowers whilst the older graves were partly hidden within a wood. I suppose they gradually blend in until they are absorbed back into the undergrowth.

I arrived at Tula with two and a half hours to spare to kick-off. The attendant who had initially prevented me boarding very kindly made a point of letting me know that I’d reached my stop. I suspect that she thought anyone incapable of bringing a valid ticket was unlikely to be bright enough to know where he was.

There were a couple of Krasnodar fans getting off with me and they photographed themselves next to the statues at the station.

With plenty of time in hand I walked to the Arsenal Stadium. It should have taken an hour, but I found a long-cut through a park that made the walk more scenic than it would have been. I stopped to photograph a squirrel and then watched as an old lady enticed it down the tree trunk to take a hazelnut from her hand. I resolved never again to go to a park without a handful of nuts.

It was a pleasant day and I took the opportunity to sit on a bench in the sun and give my Mam a video call. It’s not often she gets to have a nose around a Russian park by proxy so it made a bit of a change for her.

I could see the floodlights before I left the park and before long there was a steady stream of fans making their way to the ground.

I was searched and had my 650 ruble ticket initially checked at a main entrance. Inside there were food stalls, programme sellers and a band playing. I only caught the tail end of what turned out to be their last song, but even from that limited performance I got the impression that the singer hadn’t done much performing previously. It’s possible that he might have been someone who was famous for something other than singing, maybe a past player, or even a competition winner or karaoke participant.

Once into the main ground I was searched again and made my way up to my seat in row twenty, the back row. It was close enough to the pitch to give me a decent elevated view, but was spoilt somewhat by the design of the roof which had placed the stanchions in row 16. I could see both goals but there was a mid-pitch section where the action would remain a mystery.

My section continued to fill up even after kick-off and I realized that I was in the home singing section. Fortunately the fans who chose to stand were in the block to my right, but I was close enough to the drums to make me wish that I was on the opposite side of the ground.

Tula were togged up in what I always consider to be Melchester Rovers colours with Krasnodar in white. The two lads at the station had green scarves so presumably white was their away kit.

There wasn’t a lot of action in the first half. In fact I’m not sure that there were any shots on target that troubled either keeper.

Second half I moved to the other end of the stand. It was a lot quieter there and I was able to maintain a distance from everyone else that I felt comfortable with.

My move also enabled me to observe the away fans to my left. They were required, as is the custom in Russian grounds, to watch the match through a fence. I’ve not seen any trouble yet at any game that I’ve been to so it all seemed quite unnecessary to me.

The Krasnodar supporters were quieter than the home fans too, so I readily warmed to them.

There was finally a bit of attacking intent just after the hour when a home player flicked the ball up and volleyed it in from twenty-five yards. It was a moment of skill that was worth a two hour plus journey, although maybe the lads behind the fence to my left might not have felt the same about it.

Nobody else came close to scoring and Tula took the points to ease their relegation fears. I successfully caught a cab back to the station and by virtue of my seat on the same side of the train got a repeat viewing of the cemetery, graffiti and stray dogs that I‘d looked out at a few hours earlier.

Dinamo Moscow v Ufa, Saturday 3rd April 2021, 7pm

April 7, 2021

It’s getting more difficult now to find grounds in Moscow that I haven’t previously visited. But it doesn’t always have to be about another tick on the list, sometimes it’s good just to get out and watch a game and so on Saturday I popped along to the Lev Yashin stadium for Dinamo’s Premier League game with Ufa.

One of the advantages of going to see Dinamo is that it is easy to get there and back on the subway, with a station right outside the stadium. You have to change between lines six and two though and as I had plenty of time I thought I’d come back above ground at that point and have a mooch about.

I found myself fairly central with the river and St. Basil’s Cathedral a few hundred yards away. There were a few old churches nearby and a street with bars, restaurants and tat shops, but overall there wasn’t much to look at. Some of the buildings were fairly run down but had interesting brickwork. I hope they keep them rather than flatten them for office blocks.

After strolling around for three quarters of an hour it started to rain and as I wasn’t planning on taking advantage of the bars and restaurants or even the tat shops, I got back on the Metro and finished my journey to the stadium.

Incidentally, I learned from a train announcement that Dinamo is pronounced Din-armoh. ‘Din’ as in dinner rather diner, ‘arm’ like that long thing attached to your shoulder and ‘oh’ like a debt. It’s sort of two syllables, rather than the three that I’d previously thought when saying it in the way that I would if referring to the self-powered lights on a bike.

I’d bought my ticket online for 650 roubles which is just over six quid at the current rate. I underwent the usual temperature check and search before taking the escalator as far as the lower tier. From there it was stairs only to get to my upper tier seat. I bought a bottle of fake fanta and the fella serving me asked if I wanted a cup for it.

“Do I need one?” I said, glancing over at the stewards guarding the steps up to the seats.

“Not if you hide the bottle inside your coat” he replied. 

I like that kind of service.

Dinnarrghmoe, as I now say it, are up near the top of the table whilst Ufa are looking odds-on to be in the second-tier next season. The home side went a goal up about ten minutes in when one of their strikers turned off the shoulder of a visiting defender and accelerated away like little Mickey Owen in ’98 before tucking the ball away.

The fella behind me muttered something like “Poirot” every time anything good happened, perhaps comparing the excellence of a perfectly weighted pass behind the defence to the moment when the Belgian detective reveals to the occupants of the drawing room which of them was responsible for putting the wheelie bin out a day too soon.

Diiiiiiiiinaaaaarmo notched their second after half an hour when a bloke who was determined to shoot from distance even when nothing looked on managed to clip the arse of one of his team mates to wrong foot the keeper. A keeper who by virtue of his green top, black shorts and green socks could have pulled off the Pele-Banks save and still looked non-league.

We were all reasonably well distanced despite there being more fans than were here on my previous visit. Ufa had brought twenty or so supporters with them, behind the goal to my right. Ten minutes from the end one of them suddenly started banging a drum. I’ve no idea if he had just arrived or whether he had only then remembered what the percussion instrument in front of him was for, but I was grateful that I’d had eighty minutes without the racket.

By that time Ufa had fallen four behind and despite the added noise that’s the way it stayed.

Spartak Moscow 2 v Tekstilshchik Ivanovo, Sunday 28th March 2021, 2pm

April 4, 2021

I’d had this ground on my list of potential places to see a game for a while. It’s pitch 4 at the Spartak Academy and I’ve previously seen it listed as hosting Spartak Youth and Women’s games. I’d even had a wander along to it a few months ago when visiting Sokolniki Park to check that it really did exist, so I suppose you could say that I’d done my homework.

I retraced my route from the park for this visit, pausing for a bonus youth game at Pitch 1 before rocking up just over an hour early. A friendly English-speaking steward pointed out the ticket office a little further down the hill and even told me which stand to ask for if I was not a fan of either team.

The woman in the ticket office found it quite amusing that someone who didn’t speak any Russian would want a ticket for a reserve team game in the middle of nowhere. Although not as amusing as when I tried to pass a thousand ruble note through to her to pay for a ticket that turned out to be free.

Ticket in hand I returned to the entrance gate where the metal scanner and the pat down search failed to discover the SLR camera in my coat outer pocket. Therefore if you inadvertently turn up at the game with a chainsaw in your handbag or a dozen rare turtle eggs strapped to your shins, I’d recommend using Gate A.

The steward told me that there were only two rules, ‘wear your mask and keep your distance from other spectators’. I like rules like those.

My ticket was in block A2 which was along the side with the dugouts. Four out of every five seats were taped off to make it easier for people to follow rule two, although as kick-off approached the later arrivals tended to ignore the tape. The stewards enforced a one seat gap between people and spent a disproportionate amount of their time reiterating rule one to those who were wearing their mask beneath their chin.

Stand B was behind the goal to my left and contained the Spartak fans. They sang for most of the time and even got the odd ‘call and response’ chant going with the people near me.

There were around twenty or so fans in the seats opposite me supporting Tekstilshchik Ivanovo. They too did their share of singing, but the most notable element of their support was the banner showing a skull in a top hat. I’ve no idea at all what it was meant to signify, but it’s a good look for a skull.

Ivanovo is a city around five hours drive north of Moscow, so I imagine a few of the visiting fans were based in the capital. As I run out of local new grounds Ivanovo might make for a realistic option as I cast my net a little wider, particularly if there is a convenient train service.

Spartak were in their usual Boro tops, whilst the visitors were in a strange black and grey combination, that if the grey bits hadn’t been stripes I’d have assumed was due to the kitman mistakenly putting them through a boil wash. Neither side gave their fans anything to sing about in the first half and I think there was half an hour gone before we witnessed a shot on target.

At half time I stretched my legs behind the stand before taking a seat at the other end when play restarted. There were fewer people in that section and I was able to keep a greater distance between myself and everyone else.

Spartak opened the scoring on the hour with a good finish before letting Tekstilshchik back into the game a few minutes later with a defensive mix-up. There were a lot of cynical fouls that earned yellows and a couple of tackles that I thought warranted reds as the game became increasingly ill-tempered.

Both sides had their chances at the death but failed to take them. The Spartak players slumped to the floor at the final whistle as if they had just been knocked out of a cup or suffered a relegation rather than drawn a meaningless mid-table fixture against a side one place above them. Maybe the academy does sessions on looking like you care.

Khimki v Krylya Sovetov, Monday 22nd February 2021, 2.30pm

March 7, 2021

The winter break is over and the football has resumed in Russia. It seemed a little premature to me with temperatures being as low as -24C recently. Apparently, it has been the coldest Moscow winter since Napoleon was up to his mischief. It’s certainly colder than last year which I was told was the warmest Moscow winter since the dinosaurs were wandering around Red Square in their shorts. Who knows? For what it’s worth, there’s been heavy snowfall and as it hasn’t got warm enough for it to melt all the authorities can do is pile it up around the corner from my flat.

I’d been busy at the weekend but a public holiday on the Monday tied in nicely with Khimki’s FA Cup last sixteen fixture with second division Krylya Sovetov. Khimki is up at about ten o’clock on the second Moscow ring road. I’m at near enough seven o’clock so it’s not a bad journey in a taxi.

I’d bought a ticket in advance for nine hundred rubles in the smallish stand down the side that faced the much larger main stand. It looked as if only one in ten seats or so were being sold which is a welcome Covid precaution in a city that often gives the impression that the pandemic is a thing of the past. I suppose that I could be a little less cautious for the game as I’d had my first Sputnik V jab although with the emergence of new strains and the effectiveness of the vaccines not yet certain I’m happy to try and keep my distance from other people for the time being.

There was snow around the stadium and with it being minus twelve when I got out of the taxi I was glad that I’d worn an extra pair of trousers under my jeans. Maybe I’m getting used to the cold as it didn’t seem that chilly. Certainly not as bad as at Highbury twenty-odd years ago in that New Year’s Day game that was cold enough for Robbo to decide not to ever pick himself ever again. Mind you I did have an extremely thick down jacket on, with a hat and a buff underneath the hood covering all but my eyes.

Once inside I loitered in the concourse with a coffee before making my way outside with five minutes to go to kick-off. There was a light dusting of snow on the pitch with the lines cleared. Over in the main stand I could see drifts that hadn’t yet been shifted to the stockpile outside my front door and there was sufficient ice on the floor for me to be wary whenever I stood up.

Khimki Arena was built in 2008 and has a capacity of just over eighteen thousand. I estimated that there were less than a thousand fans inside for this game which might have been due to ticket restrictions but more likely was as a consequence of most people preferring to stay indoors.

The home side were dressed up as AC Milan, suitably accessorized with hats, headbands, gloves and tights. The visitors were sporting light blue shirts, dark blue shorts and, when visible, pale blue flesh. In a nod to times past the ref had brought an orange ball with him.

The game was less than ten minutes old when we got the first talking point. A ball was played in for a Sovetov striker. Under pressure from a centre-half he lunged at it but failed to make contact and a goal kick was awarded. It took a while before that kick was taken though as the ref stood at half-way with his finger pressed against his earpiece with the scoreboards informing us that the Video Assistant Ref was doing the do.

The on-pitch ref was directed to take a look at the touchline-telly and he subsequently made the charades signal for a tv show and blew for a penalty which was converted to give the visitors the lead.

We had barely restarted when Khimki lost one of their defenders for a DOGSO foul. The red card looked harsh to me as the foul was barely in the attacking half of the field. However, unless the video ref had nipped out for a piss I trust that it will have been carefully reviewed. Sovetov had the better chances in the remainder of the first half but the ten men kept the deficit to a single goal at the break. I risked the ice underfoot to get a large cup of tea that was too hot to handle without gloves. Ideal really in the circumstances.

Sovetov doubled their lead on the hour with a well worked passing movement. Their fans behind the goal seemed pleased and someone a few seats away who was likely to be a Khimki fan rolled his eyes at me. A reciprocating eye roll response was the best I could manage with my eyes being the only part of me visible under all my clothing. I did my best to convey that I knew his pain.

With around fifteen minutes to go a second Khimki fella received his marching orders. It was the lad wearing the beanie and he saw a straight red for booting someone over on the far touchline. He stomped off down the tunnel slamming the door behind him. Luckily he didn’t get as far as the bath or his car before the ref was asked to reconsider and after looking at the telly called him back on to the pitch and swapped his red for a yellow. I’d hoped that beanie boy was already on a yellow, just to see his reaction at being called back (ideally wearing just a towel and his hat) only to be sent off again. He was free to carry on though and spent the rest of the game chirping away at the ref and no doubt reminding him of his mistake.

I dare say the ref will have given him a bit back when the visitors made it three as full-time approached and then added a fourth in stoppage time to rub it in and seal their quarter-final spot. Despite the cold it was good to see some live football, hopefully there will be further opportunities over the next few weeks.

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.

Esh Winning v Bedlington Terriers, Saturday 31st October 2020, 3pm

December 4, 2020

I was temporarily back in the UK for a funeral and after a fortnight’s quarantine I had a little bit of freedom whilst I awaited the results of a covid test that would allow me to return to Russia. As you might expect, I had a look at my football options and the ninth tier game at Esh Winning in the Northern League Division Two seemed my best bet for an afternoon out in the fresh air.

Esh Winning’s West Terrace ground is known for the countryside that surrounds it and I drove up a track as far as I could to the car park and then walked alongside woodland to reach the entrance. I handed over a fiver and left my name and telephone number in case I needed to be traced.

Once inside, I bought a coffee in the clubhouse where the fella behind the counter seemed thrilled to be able to tell me that they had milk before finding a seat high behind one of the goals in a wooden shelter.

The view from the shelter was as picturesque as I’d anticipated and it gave me a decent vantage point of a heavily sloped pitch that cut up quickly. Esh Winning were in a Norwich-style kit with opponents Bedlington Terriers in blue.

On the side of the pitch to my left were what looked like old bus shelters which one of the Bedlington defenders managed to clear twice in the first five minutes when wellying clearances into the car park. Esh Winning took the lead around ten minutes into the game with a cracking shot from twenty-five yards that may well have taken a deflection.

A further ten minutes in and Esh Winning were two up when one of their centre-halves turned in a corner at the back post. On the half hour the hosts made it three with a right-footed shot across the keeper into the far corner.

I worried for Bedlington at this point as all the Esh Winning goals had come whilst playing up the slope and with the advantage of kicking downhill after the break I did wonder if we might be on for double figures.

The second half was better for Bedlington and they won a pen which was a clear error from the ref. The Esh Winning players appealed to the elderly lino for his help but he just kept repeating ‘I didn’t give it’ or when asked to intervene ‘only if he needs me’. The ref, who I suspect would be asked for ID in pubs for at least another twenty years or so, had incorrectly overruled the same lino on a throw in the first half and clearly was in no mood to seek a second opinion, especially a dissenting one.

The home keeper saved the initial spot kick but couldn’t keep out the rebound and Bedlington reduced the deficit to two. With twenty minutes remaining Bedlington gave the ball away out wide and the subsequent cross was easily tucked away to restore Esh Winning’s three goal advantage.

It finished four-one, with the only other incident of note being a Bedlington striker getting his marching orders in the final moments for something that he said to the ref. The miscreant, who should have seen red anyway for his man-bun, looked very much like one of the fellas who works in my local butchers. If he was the same bloke, or as equally handy with a meat cleaver, I think the ref may have made another error in not overlooking the late indiscretion.

Lokomotiv Moscow v Chertanovo, Sunday 11th October 2020, 2pm

November 29, 2020

As I clock up visits to the various Moscow stadiums, my options for new grounds get fewer each week. In an effort to find a game for this trip I had a look to see what was going on in the Women’s Supreme Division. It must be difficult to try and come up with new titles for leagues and I think that’s the first use of ’Supreme’ that I’ve seen outside of Crufts.

My luck was in and there was a game taking place at the Sapsan Arena which appeared to be right next door to the main Lokomotiv stadium that I’d recently visited.

As I already knew how to get there I thought I’d also pay a repeat visit to the nearby Sokolniki Park before the match. This time I took the paths to the right of the main entrance gate and tried to skirt the edge of the park as much as possible. It wasn’t as busy as the other side which has the funfair, but it was a lot earlier in the day.

One of the reasons for staying to that side of the park was that I was keen to find the Spartak training complex with a future visit in mind. I crossed over a fairly busy road and continued for around twenty minutes, unsure if I was still in the park or not. I found the complex which had at least two pitches with stands and look forward to returning at some point for what will most likely be an under-nineteen game.

After a further wander around the park I took the subway up to the Lokomotiv stop and followed the smattering of fans who were heading past the main stadium, hopefully to the game. I passed a guard and then walked through a park with a couple of other adjacent pitches before arriving at the Sapsan Arena.

It was free to get in and I had the usually temperature and bag check, before being asked whether I was a Lokomotiv or a Chertanovo fan. I told them that I was neither, which temporarily flummoxed them, before being directed to sit in the central section of the only stand open.

Had I told them I was there to support Chertanovo I’d have been directed to the section to my right, with the dozen or so away fans. I’d no way of knowing if they were fans specifically of the Women’s team or whether they just got along to any Chertanovo game that they could but they had a few chants that seemed player specific.

The ten thousand capacity stadium had three stands, being spoilt only by there being nothing more than a five a side court behind the goal to my left. The pitch looked a bit odd. I’m sure that it was artificial but it seemed to be cutting up in areas, perhaps with too much of that black rubber that always ends up in your boots. Lokomotiv were in white with Chertanovo in blue.

Marina Fedorova stood out in central midfield for Lokomotiv. Her touch appeared way ahead of a couple of the Chertanovo defenders who looked as if they were using their wrong foot regardless of which one they used.

Half an hour in there was a pitch invader wearing a home shirt who almost scored. None of the players seemed to notice him and he nearly beat the keeper to a loose ball in the six yard box. After his goalmouth exertions he made his way towards the dugouts and was escorted away by someone who I presume was the stadium manager. They disappeared behind the stand and five minutes later three cops briskly made their way over, batons swinging from their belts.

Lokomotiv took the lead just before half time when Nelli Korovkina turned her marker inside the box and gave the keeper no chance. A second followed soon after when she ran on to a through ball and again placed it beyond the reach of the away keeper.

Five minutes after the break Korovkina got her hat trick with a tap in after a clever pass into the box that split the defence. It had been the best bit of skill of the afternoon and drew smiles and applause from all bar the dozen away fans. As a neutral it just what I hope to see in a game I attend and with another forty minutes for Chertanovo to try and keep the score down, a rout looked on the cards

Maybe Lokomotiv eased off after their third, because we had a spell where Chertanovo held their own and then, despite heading for their tenth defeat in ten games, the visitors pulled one back in the eightieth minute with a drive from the edge of the box.

With five minutes left Korovkina almost got her fourth against her former team but couldn’t quite get on the end of a cross from the right and it was her teammate Kristina Cherkasova who instead finished it to restore the three-goal advantage.

There was still one more to come a couple of minutes later and with Korovkina going nowhere, she was brought down for a pen. Former Betis and Metz midfielder Fedorova capped a commanding performance with a two step pen into the bottom left hand corner for a five-one victory.

FC Veles v Orenburg, Sunday 4th October 2020, 2pm

November 17, 2020

Veles play in Domodedovo, which is about twenty miles south of Moscow. I could probably have taken a couple of Metro rides and then a surface train but, conscious of Covid risks and if I’m honest the arseaboutery of having to head into the centre only to head back out again, I opted for a taxi.

I was dropped outside of the five thousand capacity Avangard stadium and noticed some football activity on an adjacent pitch. It was some sort of seven a side tournament with two games taking place simultaneously, crossways in each half. The pitch was next to a park area with a playground where groups of blokes stood around swigging vodka, despite it not being much past midday. We’ve all been there.

It was a little early for me to join them so I had a wander up to the stadium and then carried on along some kind of heritage footpath. Every couple of hundred yards there would be a star with a date on it commemorating the wartime history from that year. As I didn’t have too much time to spare it’s as well that the Second World War didn’t extend beyond 1945.

The footpath finished at a church that catered for the children of its parishioners with a playground and a few conker trees. If St. Mary’s in Norton had done that I might have shown more of an interest in religion when occasionally dragged along as a child

With kick off approaching I made my way back to the ground. It was a lot busier than when I’d passed it half an hour or so earlier with people milling around at the entrance and queuing at the ticket office. I was searched as I went in and, as usual, had my temperature taken.

I’d bought my ticket for the outer edges of the main stand for a hundred rubles in advance online. This choice was also made with Covid in mind as the centre sections seemed such good value at two hundred rubles that I anticipated that area being more densely populated.

Once inside I was pleased to see that my plan had paid off and that the outer edges of the stand were near empty. I exercised a little more caution and ignored my seat in section F in favour of one further out in Section G. There were a few people nearby but nobody within ten feet or so of me.

Veles were in light blue with visitors Orenburg in white. From what I could glean about Veles, they had only been in existence for a few years and this was their first ever season in the dizzy heights of the second tier National League.

They started well, going a goal up after three minutes from a corner where one of the Orenburg centre-halves firmly directed a header past his own keeper. I’m convinced that Veles aimed for him at the next few set-pieces that they took.

Orenburg had chances to equalize in the rest of the first half but the home keeper pulled of a couple of decent saves to maintain his side’s lead at half-time.

I spent the interval watching the stewards performing their now familiar ‘whack-a-mole’ strategy of singling out someone in the crowd with his mask in his pocket or under his chin and after making it clear that it needed to be worn correctly would then move on to their next target only for the original fella to quietly return his mask to wherever it had been.

I probably bang on about this every time I write about a game but come on, how difficult is it to sit and watch a game with a mask on? You aren’t eating or exerting yourself. Just comply and do us all a favour.

Mask moving aside, the crowd didn’t get up too much. There were a small number of vocal Veles fans at the opposite end of the stand to me but they seemed to spend more time waving their flags than they did singing. If Orenburg had brought any fans I hadn’t noticed them at this stage.

There was a certain symmetry to the Orenburg equalizer, with it also coming from a header and three minutes into the half. Or would symmetry require it to be three minutes from the end of the half? Probably, but it’s written now. The goal revealed that I’d underestimated the presence of away fans with a few of them to my right in the centre section and more to my left, standing low down towards the front of the stand in what I suppose was probably the area set aside for them.

The highlight of the second half was a ball boy being fired for leaving the taped off protected area to retrieve a ball. Someone important, possible the stadium manager, marched over to give him a bollocking and to demand that he remove his fluorescent vest. The poor lad was then escorted to the tape and spent the remainder of the game watching sulkily from a distance.

And if that was the highlight, you had probably guessed that there were no more goals. Orenburg should have clinched the points, but with an easy goal on the cards a striker in an offside position couldn’t resist getting involved and caused the effort to be ruled out.

One-all was probably about right in the end.

Olimp Dolgoprudny v Zenit 2, Sunday 27th September 2020, 4pm

October 9, 2020

My search for a game this week threw up the prospect of a third-tier match at Dolgoprudny, which is a town twenty miles north of Moscow. It didn’t look the easiest place to get to with the Metro falling too far short for me to walk the remaining distance and my reluctance to get on an overcrowded bus where few of the passengers wear masks. In the end I took the easy option and went by taxi. The cabs are cheap over here and my hour-long ride set me back a tenner.

I’d no idea if I would ever go back to Dolgoprudny, so I thought I’d better make the most of whatever charms it has. I checked on Trip Advisor and the number one attraction was the Church of St George. That didn’t really fill me with a lot of enthusiasm, but it looked to be an hour’s walk or so from the stadium and so I thought it would make a decent starting point for pre-match stroll.

As the taxi approached Dolgoprudny there was a spectacular looking church to the left of the highway. It had multiple turrets topped with brightly coloured onion bulbs. It left me with high hopes for Dolgoprudny’s number one church. On my arrival at the Church of St George a few minutes later though I was somewhat disappointed. It was definitely a church, but a lot less fancy than the one I’d passed two or three miles back.

Nevertheless I had a look around. It had a decent set of bells outside and a few pictures on what I presume were saints inside. No dragons. Normally I’ll pay a bit of attention to the floor tiles but they looked little better than standard shopping mall marble. If the weather had been poor I might have hung around a bit longer but it was a bright crisp day and so I thought I’d set off for the Salyut Stadium and hope to stumble across something better on the way.

Once outside I checked the map on my phone and discovered that the stadium was less than an hour’s walk away. A lot less. It was actually two hundred and twenty metres away. A tortoise could probably have done it in an hour. It gradually dawned on me that the taxi had brought me to the wrong church, possibly due to St George being a popular saint around these parts. By chance this wrong church was adjacent to the football ground whilst the right church was very probably the fancy one that I’d passed on the road a little earlier. It was difficult to feel pissed off about it as I’ve had far worse mishaps in getting to a ground and I suppose I should be grateful that I hadn’t ended up on the wrong side of Moscow.

With time to kill I had a wander around the neighbourhood, pausing for a while to watch some fellas tarmacing a road. I could look at that sort of thing all day, with the machine being fed lumpy stuff by shovel at the front before excreting a perfectly flat surface out of its back end.

I’m not entirely convinced that the workmen appreciated being photographed by some weirdo and so after a while I left them to it and made my way into the stadium.

I had the usual temperature check and was searched at the turnstile, although not so thoroughly to prevent me taking a couple of cans of coke in with me. Someone handed me a flyer in lieu of a ticket, although with no admission charge it seemed somewhat unnecessary.

The Salyut stadium holds five thousand when full, presumably just in its two stands, each situated along the side touchlines. There wasn’t any provision for spectators behind the goals, but as there was a running track around the artificial pitch that’s probably just as well.

Only one stand was open, the one on the tunnel side and I took a seat towards the centre and in the back row.

My half of the stand filled up significantly and I ended up with a bunch of kids to the front, left and right, some of them squeezed in together tightly enough for them to be sharing two seats between three of them. I thought all of that unnecessarily risky and so moved to the other side of the tunnel where the stand was virtually empty, maybe because it had been designated for the away fans. There were fourteen of them singing fairly constantly in support of Zenit and making a decent racket for the size of their turnout. Plenty of songs seemed to mention Leningrad, so maybe the past name for St Petersburg remains in common use.

There were still people coming into the ground throughout the first half and a lot of them were sensibly making their way through to the away section. It was possible to keep a good distance from everyone else though, even when the bunch of kids that I’d escaped from earlier made a re-appearance.

Olimp were clearly an older bunch of players with Zenit’s second team being a lot younger and probably a development side. Olimp went into the game at the top of the league, in this case Group Two of the Professional Football League, whilst Zenit were about halfway up the table.

The visitors had the best of the chances in the first half but it was Olimp that took the lead with a penalty just after the half-hour and they went in at the break a goal to the good.

Olimp added a second a few minutes after the restart when Zenit failed to take a couple of opportunities to clear. With the home side pressing forward it looked at that stage as if Olimp might put themselves out of reach. However, they got sloppy and gave away a penalty with a foul right on the outward corner of the box on a Zenit player who was going away from goal. It don’t think it was possible for the attacking player to have posed any less of a threat in that position. The Olimp keeper saved the defender’s blushes though by throwing himself to his left and turning the spot kick onto the post.

Zenit seemed re-energised by the penalty and pulled one back soon after before squandering a good chance to equalize a few minutes later in a goalmouth scramble where the ball was prevented from crossing the line by a defender lying flat out and blocking the ball as if saving a try at rugby.

Despite some late Zenit pressure, Olimp held on for the win to maintain their position at the top of the table.