Posts Tagged ‘Spartak Moscow’

Nizhny Novograd v Spartak Moscow 2, Sunday 2nd May 2021, 4pm

May 16, 2021

Weekends away have pretty much been off the agenda in the last year or so, but with Russia seemingly having put covid firmly into the past and with Jen back in the same country as me it was time for us to take a trip. A bank holiday weekend meant that me working on a Saturday wasn’t an issue and so late afternoon we took a taxi to Kursky station to catch a train to Nizhny Novograd.

Whilst waiting on our platform I noticed a few kids in track suits. Closer inspection revealed that they were the Spartak Moscow second team who were the opponents in the game that we would be seeing the following day. I suppose one of the reasons that they looked so young, apart from everyone looking so young when you get to my age, is that reserve teams are allowed to compete in the second tier and below and are development sides. There’s not much point packing them with grizzled old pro’s even if you could do.

One of the players got separated from his chums and ended up in our carriage. I’m pleased to report that he behaved himself.

The three and three-quarter hour journey was a pleasure. For a start we were facing in the direction of travel. Secondly, we had seats that seemed like business class and finally we were constantly fed and watered with good stuff throughout the journey. My recollection was that I’d just booked bog-standard tickets so every additional benefit was a welcome surprise. We were even given complimentary shoe-horns in case we struggled to get our shoes back on after travelling in the complimentary slippers.

I’d booked a hotel about ten minutes walk from the station. I’ve no idea why I did that as there was nothing going on in the area. I’d have been better off booking somewhere where the bars and restaurants are and avoided having to get a taxi everywhere.

Nizhny Novograd seems to be a city under reconstruction. We went for a wander around their Kremlin but couldn’t get inside due to ongoing refurbishment works. The building dates from around the eleventh century but in the wall repairs that were being carried out the replacement bricks were brand new and cheap looking. I wouldn’t have used them on a garden wall never mind a restoration of an historic monument.

With the Kremlin shut we walked around the old part of town hoping to cross the river in a chair lift but it was a public holiday weekend and I think that half the town had the same idea. Without the time or the inclination to wait in a fifty yard long snaking queue we skipped it and headed for the game instead.

The Nizhny Novograd stadium was built for the World Cup. One of the games that it hosted was the one where England put six past Panama. I remember watching that one in a Saint Petersburg bar with Paul, never imagining that I’d end up working in Russia a couple of years later. I think it might have been the afternoon when I spilled my pint on him.

There were sizeable queues outside the stadium. We had printed out our five quid tickets and were directed to a specific turnstile where we were temperature tested, scanned and searched as is normal these days.

One of the features at Russian games is that it is only me who thinks that the match itself will be enough, so there are often people walking around on stilts, dancers or bands playing. Today we were treated to a line of vintage cars as our added extra. We loitered a little too long and ended up missing the kick-off which is quite embarrassing when you consider that we had arrived in town the previous day.

The stadium wasn’t very impressive for a recent World Cup ground. The design stuck me as a bit dull and the concrete steps up to concourse were already crumbling away. I’d caught a glimpse of the old stadium that it replaced when arriving at the station and I’d have preferred to have seen this second-tier game there.

Spartak had a few hundred fans in the upper tier behind the goal. I’ve watched their development team twice previously and despite this game being outside of Moscow it was a bigger turnout from them than at either of those earlier games.

It was a quiet first half apart from a Spartak player being sent off. The ref had been planning a yellow but the reactions of the home players and no doubt some lino chat in his headphones caused him to pull out a red instead. It might have been the lad that was in our carriage. Perhaps he wasn’t so well-behaved after all.

Nizhny Novograd opened the scoring just before half-time with the fella almost walking the ball into the net. We spent the interval queuing for non-existent coffee and then missed the second Nizzy Novvy goal as we edged our way back to our seats soon after the restart.

There was a third goal right at the end from someone who turned his defender well, bore down on the keeper and then coolly tucked it away. A moment or two later the same bloke won a penalty. His captain wouldn’t let him take it though and someone else made it four. There was almost a fifth goal straight afterwards but someone shot instead of squaring it for an easy opportunity. The win kept Nizhny Novograd in third place with a play-off spot looking likely. Maybe they’ll have the Kremlin finished for a return to the Premier League.

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.

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.

Spartak Moscow v Krasnodar, Monday 9th March 2020, 4.30pm

April 20, 2020

Just before Christmas I accepted a job based in Moscow. I went out there for a short trip in December and then started properly after the Russian New Year in January. It had been a long time since I’d visited Moscow, thirty-three years in fact. On that occasion in 1986 I’d gone for a December weekend with a girl that I was trying to impress.

A lot had changed in that time. For a start, the GUM department store next to Red Square was selling Ferraris and Louis Vuitton handbags. The last time I’d been there it was all knock-off ‘Adidas’ tracksuits with just the two stripes.

Jen and I are living out in the suburbs for the simple reason that being able to walk to work beats using public transport or taxis every day. I can even pop home for my lunch. The Moscow winter was milder than I or any of my local colleagues had been expecting with occasional snow and sub-zero temperatures, but nothing like most previous years or the minus twenty-five that I’d encountered a few years ago in Kazakhstan.

Whilst the winter had been relatively mild, it still meant that there was no football. Up until relatively recently football in Russia was a summer game with matches taking place between March and November.  A few years back they changed things to align their season with most of the rest of Europe, but with the severe weather still preventing games from taking place between mid-December and March that time of year is now set aside for a winter break rather than the close season.

The winter break meant that for the first two months that we were here I just had to wait it out. I looked at the option of going to the Ice Hockey, but the 2019 season in that sport was drawing to a close and I thought I’d save that until next winter. Once the winter break was over I selected a Spartak Moscow game taking place on a public holiday as my introduction to the Russian Premier League.

Jen and I took the subway up to Spartak’s Otkrytiye Stadium just before lunch. It was easy enough, with just the one change of line as we travelled from a south western suburb to one at the north west of the city. The hour long journey cost us around forty pence each. There were a few people at the stadium when we arrived and also some local coppers keeping an eye on us.

I’d wanted to be there early so that we could sort tickets before the arrival of the match day crowd and we selected seats in the upper tier along the side for 1800 rubles a pop. At the current exchange rate of a very convenient one hundred rubles to the pound that’s around eighteen quid each.

With our tickets in hand we back tracked one stop on the Metro, also forty pence, had some lunch in the food court of a shopping mall next to the station and then went for a walk in a nearby park.  I discovered that Russian squirrels look a bit different to the ones in the UK. They are darker than the grey squirrels that we have and seem to be more in the shape of the red ones. They have bigger ears though. I only had my phone with me so the photo isn’t the best.

There wasn’t much else in the way of wildlife in the park, but we did stumble across a woman taking her cat for a walk. Or rather, she was doing the walking whilst the cat perched on her shoulder. When the time comes for the cat to ‘cross the rainbow bridge’ as pet deaths tend to be described these days, she should have the cat made into a stole and life, for her anyway, would be little different.

We headed back up to the Otkrytiye Stadium with plenty of time to spare. By now the area around the ground was a lot busier. There were more police than earlier and a few small concessions selling scarves or food and drink. Our tickets were for the far side so we did a lap of around three-quarters of the stadium before having our tickets scanned at the turnstile.

You might remember the Otkrytiye stadium from the last World Cup. It’s the ground where England played Columbia and went through on penalties. It was also the venue for the group game between Belgium and Tunisia that Paul and I had watched in a Fan Park in Saint Petersburg.

Once inside we noticed a tribute to Igor Netto. He was a former captain of Spartak and the Soviet Union, playing for the former for seventeen years. Netto had also found time to turn out for the Spartak ice hockey team too. He died around twenty years ago, but the display celebrated what would have been his ninetieth birthday.

We took our seats high along the side facing the tunnel and what looked to be an almost entire stand of media facilities and hospitality. I suppose with the stadium having been built shortly before the 2018 World Cup, there was always going to be plenty of provision for that sort of thing within the forty-four thousand capacity.  There are a lot of rich people in Moscow, but there didn’t seem to be much of a take up of the two hundred quid ‘Platinum’ seats opposite.

Before kick-off there was a further tribute to Mr. Netto with a huge banner to our right and his son and, I think, great grandson coming onto the pitch. I like sentimentality in football, I think it is has just as much a place in the game as winning trophies does.  Although as a Boro fan, you’d probably expect me to say that.

Once the home fans had put away their Netto display, they got out their normal match day flags and banners. There must have been around thirty flags, all waved non-stop throughout the game and accompanied by constant singing.

In the corner to our left were a couple of hundred Krasnodar fans. It’s probable that some of them will have been living in Moscow, but for those that had travelled from their home town, it was around sixteen hours drive each way.

Krasnodar were in black and third from top whilst Spartak were somewhere in mid-table. On the plus side though, they were wearing shirts that weren’t too far off being classic Boro tops. I may have just found my Moscow team.

There weren’t many chances in the first half for either side. Spartak had some decent build up play but weren’t clinical enough whenever they made it into the box.

At half time I went down for a tea and a hot dog. The beer of choice was Budweiser, but the American version rather than that from the Czech Republic. That made it easy to pass on it even before I noticed that it was zero percent alcohol, although I’m not sure it would have tasted a lot different from their regular version.

In the second half, the visitors missed a couple of sitters before a slick passing move twenty minutes from time gave them a man over and they drew the foul for a penalty. Ari converted to give them the lead. The goal opened the game up and a second for Krasnodar looked likely. It still hadn’t materialised by the time we decided to leg it with five minutes to go to avoid the subway crush and that’s the way it stayed.

The game took place straight after the weekend when most teams in England played their final game for a while. There was one more round of fixtures over here, which I kept away from, before all Russian football was shut down until further notice.