Part 5: Moscow calling
The amount of U-turns this tournament has been hilarious.
So I wasn’t coming out till the third match but did a last minute U-turn to head to Volgograd.
My characters were planning to do the Belgium game then from the quarter finals onwards if we got through the group.
But with England winning and the quarter-final being in relatively easy-to-get-to Moscow, it was a no brainer really.
Myself and Obi had gambled – buying a flight on Polish airline LOT for the Quarter final (which we had tickets for). I paid a bit more money for (not as much as the flights went up to admittedly) but as the flight was cancellable (for a small fee) if we didn’t beat Colombia, I wasn’t too worried. The flight was also flexible meaning I could move the date if needs be either end.
With England now in Moscow, all it would take was a quick phone call and the U-turn would be complete. I would be in Russian capital a couple of days earlier to take in the first knockout match.
Have you ever tried calling LOT customer services?
Don’t do it.
As well as waiting on line for well over an hour (that’s if you didn’t get cut off), they wanted to charge loads to change the flight even though I had bought what I thought was a super duper more expensive flexible ticket. So after trying again and again and getting nowhere fast, I took the cancellation option and booked with another airline.
Anyway, sorted … and a few days later it was a hop up to Luton to jump on a plane to Budapest. Hang out there for a few hours (lovely airport Budapest airport it has to be said) watching Mexico v Brazil – watching the game with a couple of Ameri-Mexicans (why weren’t they at the game?) before hopping on a flight to Moscow.
I was quite surprised how empty this flight was I have to say. I booked it only the day before flying and it cost me less than £150. There were maybe 20 England fans on the flight with loads of spare seats. I would have thought people would have jumped at the opportunity of coming over to Russia now that England were through to the knockout phases and the vibes coming from Russia were that the people were lovely.
But maybe not.
A short hop, skip and a jump later – via the metro system and it’s deep staircases and wonderful architecture – and I’m sitting in a bar with Puns who decided to stay on after Kaliningrad. And who had returned my (lucky) hat that I had left in Gdansk
Superstition was starting to kick in and losing that hat was a disaster. I ended up arranging fore the hat to be delivered back to Kaliningrad from Gdansk where Puns was staying.
Moscow was a different vibe.
Very London-esque in the fact it was huge. With obviously lots of pockets of places to go. Overwhelming for some.
A few swifties in craft beer hall Craft Station was followed by a walk down to the main street.
This street was just off Red Square and was buzzing with a South American flavour. There were hundreds (even thousands?) or Colombians down here. Partying. Playing music. Dancing. It was 5 O’Clock in the morning and they didn’t care. They were friendly. But also super SUPER confident that they would beat England.
I barely saw one England fan since I had been here. It was like the South American take-over.
Argentinians. Millions of them. They were everywhere
Some Brazilians. Not many as they were probably out of town
Even a few Peruvians
This was their World Cup and they were here in numbers to prove it
After a bit of street banter, I headed off to last cheeky swiftie in Cuba Libra – a bar which was to prove to be my Moscow late night go-to bar this trip – where I had a few interesting conversations with some Argentinians (Blimey. They don’t like England .. at all .. and they made that very clear. Not one or two. This was quite a few fans including girls).
6am. I decided to call it a night. Big day ahead.
A quick BBC interview then picked up tickets from the FA Hotel then headed off to do the must-do thing when in Moscow. Head to Red Square.
I had picked up a Brentford flag on the way out the house. It was actually a tablecloth at one of our previous Beesotted socials. Little did I know this flag would become such a Russian magnet.
Red Square. Flag comes out for the money shot.
Next minute people are queuing up to get their photos taken with the flag.
It was the same here in Moscow as it had been in Kaliningrad and Volgograd. Yes there were more tourists. But the locals just couldn’t get enough of the English. Or the football fans in general.
We hooked up with Piara from the Anti-racism organisation FARE and he took us down to Diversity House – a space they had taken over for the world cup place to celebrate diversity and explore the history, people and movements that are creating change. The place was quite buzzing with fans from all over the world.
There was a lot of lofting of the World Cup taking place by various international characters – even myself and Puns had a go.
Little did we know …..
Had a really interesting catch with Pavel who is one of FARE’s officers and who keeps tabs on racism across Europe and in particular in Russia and the Ukraine.
“Little do people know .. the nazis and the hooligans are here. They haven’t gone away. They’re down Nikolskaya Street taking photographs with the Argentinians and the Colombians. They are just holding it down for the tournament.” he told us
What a strangely peculiar situation.
Basically … these guys … who pride themselves on being strong … and hard and fighting anyone … actually really can’t stand not being a part of the ‘party’ and are secretly delighted they have the opportunity to mix and take photographs with real football fans from around the world that who actually have (deep down) a lot of respect for (in a football fan supporting way).
I don’t know if that makes sense.
Pavel gave myself and Puns the clues as to how to spot these guys. Clothes. Shoes. Tattoos. Hats.
An hour later we’re back on Nikolskaya Street and we’re playing ‘Spot the Russian hooligan’. It was hilarious. It gave us a whole new outlook on the World Cup.
England fans had taken over only one bar on Nikolskaya Street pre-match. The fans were outside the bar while the Russian public and tourists were lined up – cameras at the ready – a few feet back filming the singing.
Me and Puns looked around.
“He’s not English” – guy singing “Footballs coming home again” but not knowing the lyrics
“He’s not English” – Stone Island gear. Lots of hand gesticulation. Absolutely clueless to the words of any song
“He’s not English”. Absolutely bladdered. Stumbling around the place. England shirt on. Smiling a lot.
“He’s not English”. Just standing there. No smile. Watching
But it was all good. The police had things completely in hand. And everything was calm as you like.
We headed up to the food court on Nikolskaya Street. Decent it was. A possible fans meeting venue if we were to come back here later on in the tournament. Lots of TV screens. Lots of food and beer huts.
Sweden had just beaten Switzerland. The mood was building.
Time to make our way to the stadium
A fairly easy journey by train. An hour later we’re inside the stadium.
And an impressive stadium it was too.
We were reminded by a few Russian fans standing in our end that we were standing in Spartak Stadium … we reminded them that for the day, it was England’s stadium … they smiled .. but not sure how well it went down ….
There were less England fans here than were in Kalingrad. All the fans behind the goal clumped together in one section to ensure they could make the most noise.
The Colombians were everywhere. They had taken over the stadium
But the big noise was from the England end
“Oooh ay ooooh. England’s off to Moscow
Ooooh ay oooooh. Driving all your vodka
Ooooh ay ooooh. England’s going all the way
1 – 2 – 3 – 4”
England played well in the first half without scoring
Then second half. Harry Kane. Bang. Goal
The England end goes ballistic.
If ever there was a case for safe standing, this was one. People going over chairs left right and centre. But they didnt care.
The second half was a cauldron of noise.
“Looking back to when we first met
I can not escape and i cannot forget
Southgate you’re the one
You still turn me on
Football’s coming home again”
The Colombians. There may have been 30k of them. But you would have never know it.
England were nervous this second half. And no surprise really when in time added on, Colombia somehow worked their way back into the game with some sort of lucky lobbed goal.
They were back in the game.
My face was beamed back to the UK as that fateful goal went in.
Cry on the telly.
Extra time was stomach wrencher. Colombia had their tails up. Their fans had now found their voices.
Penalties it was.
This was even more gut wenching.
Having witnessed every single one of England’s penalty misses over the past 28 years from the stands, I did have it in the back of my mind .. I was some sort of unlucky omen.
But I had to remove that skeleton from the cupboard sometime.
Was today the day?
It came down to two penalties.
Colombian player steps up. Pickford made a save which made him looks like superman.
The crowd goes mad
Then up steps Dier. My heart was in my mouth. My stomach in knots.
He steps up
Bang. Back of the net.
The England end erupts.
The rest is history. The celebrations went on for hours.
“Football’s coming home again”
We didn’t actually get back into town until 2am. And by that stage we were knackered.
The night carried on being one long celebration as a bunch of tired, weary Brits celebrated being in the World Cup Quarter Finals for the first time since Japan in 2002.
We bumped into Colombian fans. They were not happy and believed we cheated them out of a semi-final place with a referee who favoured us.
I politely reminded them of their diving and time-wasting but it didn’t go down well
The next few days were relaxing. Discovering Moscow.
It’s amazing how much of a difference complexion you get on a World Cup quarter-final when you are actually still part of it.
Not that we were counting chickens … but we’d booked our flights to the next city before the match had taken place. So we were sorted.
Samara here we come
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