England were in the Quarterfinals. So it’s a trip to Samara – deep in the deepest of Russia. It was a proper trek. But it worked out to be the best of the lot so far. Full photo-gallery at the end of the article.
Where the hell is Samara?
Out came the google maps as the crew frantically tried to get their heads around where were were going to actually live for the next few days.
We had booked flights in advance on the presumption that England were going to beat Colombia. Normally that type of pre-planning never pays off. It certainly did this time.
If you know your history, Samara is deep in the South East of Russia and used to be known as Kuybyshev for years.
It the sixth largest city in Russia and was chosen to be the alternative capital of Russia during World War II.
It was a huge aerospace, firearms and ammunition manufacturer during the war and beyond.
Nowadays, it is a very cultural, picturesque city with the River Volga running straight through it – with a beautiful embankment and a beach which was the main hanging point for very many football fans during the world cup
As we arrived, the advanced party had already been here and settled a day or so – doing a recce of the best places to go.
We met Puns and the Dubai Bee Andy in a bar which was – it has to be said – absolutely jumping. They knew their market. English songs blaring out of the speakers. English and Russia fans (men and women) singing along to the likes of Oasis. And Three Lions. And Vindaloo.
Apparently Samara was the beer capital of Europe.
And this was our first opportunity to sample the different local ales on offer.
At 240 roubles (£3) a pint, it wasn’t cheap cheap. But it was sure relief from the Moscow prices of 350 and 400 roubles.
As I said before, the bar was lively – an understatement. There were people sliding all over the place.It was a fitting start to what was going to be a lively few days.
Kicking out time gave us our experience of what Russian police were really like (I guess).
The bar shut at 2am on the dot. We were outside chatting with a couple of Russian characters we met at the bar who were advising us on where to go next.
We weren’t being noisy. Or disruptive. We were just chatting.
The police came over. They spoke no English. Told us in no uncertain terms to go.
The Russians just told us to quietly move on and not argue. So we did.
We moved around the corner and continued the conversation. Where to go next?
Within a couple of minutes a second set of Russian police were upon us. Very aggressively telling us to move on and go home.
We tried to do the English polite “OK … we’re just trying to discuss a few things. We’ll move in a minute” but they were not having any of it.
Apparently in Russia you are not allowed to drink in the street (not that we were). That rule was relaxed during the World Cup for all cities … except Samara apparently.
That gives an idea of how strict they are here.
We decided to take our first option and go to this late night bar called Art & Fact.
Another place we didn’t realise at the time would be our go-to after-hours bar. This time in Samara.
We had a good night in there on the Thursday – two days before the game. It was busy but fairly quiet compared to the next few days. On Friday, it had got much busier. By this stage the whole crew had rolled in from all over the world.
Ralph Brown (you know him … the guy I go to all my world cups with … who has appeared in a movie or two here or there) flew in from New York. Phil had flown in from London via Istanbul. Martin had flown down from Moscow.
We spent Friday evening watching the football. First of all France dispatched of Uruguay. We watched that in a Serbian restaurant for some reason. We followed that by going to the fan fest to watch Brazil get knocked out by Belgium.
And I have to say it again. What another very impressive fan fest. To be fair to Russia. They know how to do fan fests. Massive. Interesting looking and with great backdrops.
Oh and loads of cheap beer.
The place was well lively. Samara had really embraced this world cup. You could imagine families saying “Lets go out the the fan fest for the evening for a night out”.
After the match, we were itching for an extended evening so we ended up back at Art & Fact (of course).
The place was fab. Open air. DJ behind the bar. Serving beer and all sorts.
Tonight there were quite literally hundreds of Swedes in the house. They were everywhere. And having a good time as well.
As per everywhere we went, there were not many English in the house. Maybe 20 at most.
And of course there were (like everywhere else) South Americans a-plenty. Loads of Colombians. And Mexicans (OK they’re central Americans) in particular.
We got the beers in and started fraternising with the punters.
Overall the Swedish were their usual friendly selves.But there was a slight twist with the Swedes this tournament.
Anyone who knows me .. know I love Sweden. I’ve been there maybe 15 times. I have lots of Swedish friends (you’ve heard that phrase before … it always ends in a “but ….”). And I think they are one of the best set of fans out there. They always travel abroad in decent numbers. But more to the point, there’re organised and suss out the hottest bars … and take over a venue and put on their own entertainment.
This World Cup was no different.
However, I have to say it was disappointing that a few of the Swedes in Art & Fact that night were a little bit ‘needly’ – something I had never encountered in the 10 or so times I have come across Swedes in the live matches I have been to against them.
One guy came up to me
“England are sh@t. We’re going to smash you 4-0”
I just nodded. And smiled.
“Fine” I said
Another Swede then came up to me and started goading me
I just shrugged …
Maybe it was the drink talking. And the fact that the English were outnumbered by about 50 to 1 that they felt a tad brave.
But we (I say we because there were a few of us) didn’t rise to it.
Even when the asked us how we thought the game would go, we said
“Dunno .. we’ll just see how it goes”
A friend of mine back in London also reported having a run-in with some aggy Swedes on the tube on the way home after the match. Again was surprised that the Swedes seemed to have a slightly nasty edge to them. Something that has NEVER surfaced in all the times I have been to Sweden (except when I went to a match and came across some AIK Blackshirts … which was a bit nasty .. but I put that to one side as a one-off).
Recently there was the situation where Swedish winger Jimmy Durmaz came under a load of racist abuse and threats following his late mistake in the World Cup match against Germany.
Fair play to the Swedish team and population. They rallied in support of Durmaz with their “F@ck Racism” protest – with Jimmy making a statement and the statement finishing with the whole Swedish team shouting “F@ck racism”.
How brilliant is that?
Would the England team ever go to those edgy lengths to make such a string point? I would like to think they would.
Anyway, my point being .. Sweden seems to be getting that same nasty edge that is popping up in countries all over Europe. And the clean, happy Swedes now seem to have been not all be as clean and happy as they used to be … just an observation.
As the Swedes tried to goad us in Art & Fact and we ignored them …
“This is a very different England this tournament” one Swede said to me looking confused. “You are much more laid back”
I interpreted that as “England fans are not taking the bait”.
And we weren’t. Why did we need to?
Like the players who we showing a less brash braggadocios attitude, the fans were taking two steps back as well.
Whilst “Football’s coming home” was the anthem back in the UK, the English fans in Russia were singing “Football’s coming home again” – a take on the Atomic Kitten track “Whole again”.
I saw some folk (mainly Scottish) were arguing that the English adopting the “Coming home” song was an example of their arrogance and high expectation. In fact it was the exact opposite.
The fact that an Atomic Kitten (yes … that Atomic Kitten) track had been adopted as a football anthem says it all. The whole thing had been very tongue in cheek.
And to be honest, it has actually made following England even more enjoyable.
Later on in the evening one Swede legged it across the dance floor and jumped over the wall with a load of bouncers chasing him. They jumped the wall too. Next thing you know, the Swede was being marched into the back of a police wagon by a load of Russian police. Apparently he had gone on a robbing spree in the club. He must’ve been really drunk to have risked a stint in Siberia for a few mobile phones.
Hanging with the Swedes and South Americans till 6am was fun. But it was time to get some kip and prepare for the big game
Match Day: Sweden
Today was a slow build. After midday meet at Beluga bar on the waterfront – a nice bar but struggling to deal with the crowds … and this wasn’t even a huge crowd. In fact it wasn’t busy at all. But they were struggling. After a good pre-match meal, we made our way slowly up to the stadium.
Up to now the words “It’s coming home” had been banned. English fans. Colombian fans. Russian fans. Whoever came up to us saying confidently “It’s coming home” was met with a “shhhhhhhh” … let’s not get ahead of ourselves …
Another stadium out of town. A proper trek for fans.
What are they going to do when the World Cup is over?
When the local club – with its FC Krylia fans – play there (I presume that is going to happen)?
Or is this going to be another white elephant. Gathering dust the moment the English and Swedish fans vacate it this evening.
Surely it would have been better to have a stadium in town accessible to all.
But that’s not my call.
This march to the stadium was littered with all manner of traditional Russian musicians making entertainment for the football fans. It was quite amusing it has to be said.
We had our traditional crew selfie in front of the stadium and then we got into the mixer.
There were far fewer England fans here than in Moscow and Kaliningrad. I would estimate it at around 2.5k at the most. Maybe even 2000.
Saying that, there were even fewer Swedes. I think we must have met all the Swedes who travelled to Samara in Art & Fact the night beforeas they couldn’t have had more than 1k fans at that match. They were lively. But there was an element of ‘coming on a skateboard’ going down.
The atmosphere was good behind the goal. And taking a fairly early lead always helps – Harry Maguire on the score-sheet again after half an hour.
The English crowd once again goes berserk. We’ve got one foot in the semi-final.
A goal from Deli Alli not long after half-time and it was game, set and match. England putting on a very disciplined display which – to be honest – never saw Sweden coming even close to getting a result.
I don’t want to sound ungrateful. But for such a big game, it was almost a disappointment that it wasn’t a usual England performance. One where you are hanging on by the scruff of your neck – biting your fingers.
Not this match. It was a walk in the park. And England breezed into the semi-finals to the sound of Atomic Kitten wafting from the England end.
We walked out of the stadium not singing and shouting. But in shock.
There was almost an eerie silence as we made out was back to the trams.
England had reached their first semi final in 22 years and didn’t quite know what to do.
We headed back to town which was jumping. Russia were playing Croatia in another quarter-final. Whoever won would play England. We were confused who we wanted to win to be honest.
The fan fest was overflowing by the time we got back into town.
All the bars were chocca.
Everywhere had run out of beer. Like everywhere.
We ended up watching it in a hotel on the Volga – a great match which saw Russians screaming as their team eventually went out on penalties to a dogged Croatian team.
Was this the right result for England? We will see ….
The night was capped off with an England fan sing-off in the hotel with myself and Martin The Hammer on the piano with England and Russian fans in fine voice – followed by a celebratory night in Art & Fact. The Swedes were a little less punchy tonight. Most of them. There were a few who claimed that we would not have won if Ivanovic was playing. I pointed out to be fair if they wanted to take that trail of thought, we may have scored more goals if Gary Lineker or Alan Shearer was playing.
We stayed classy and didn’t rub the Swedes faces in it.
Match was done
We had won
And we had silenced our detractors
We enjoyed our final couple of days in Samara – even managing to get in a bit of beach activity – before heading back to Moscow for the big semi-final.
This World Cup was going into overtime. Many people were having to cash in a few favours back at home by this stage.
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