Tuesday 19th of June – Poland 1 Senegal 2 – Spartak Stadium
After another crazy and somewhat hazy night sharing our collection of Space Food with the bar staff, random guests and anyone else we could find; it is fair to say that we were all a bit frayed round the edges the following day. Although, ever safety-conscious, the missus and I felt that pre-breakfast was the ideal time to check that Paul and Glenn were still up-to-speed with the evacuation procedures we had studied the previous day, so decided to hold an impromptu fire drill. This basically consisted of using the courtesy phone in reception to call the rest of our party and shout: ‘Fire! Fire! Evacuate! Evacuate!’ down the line…suffice it to say that the response we got ending in ‘off!’ suggested that even if there was a real fire it was of less concern to them than trying to recover from the excesses of the night before!
Such was the state of us that Paul went back to bed after breakfast, Glenn went looking at some sights and the missus and I managed to drag ourselves out for a mooch around the park opposite the hotel with more monuments than we had ever seen before and boasting a nice little café-bar for a spot of lunch.
By 2pm it was time to rendez-vous back at Beer-Pub (where else?) to catch the opening minutes of Japan – Colombia before heading off to the Spartak Stadium for our second match of the tournament to watch Poland take on Senegal; Paul finding it absolutely flabbergasting that not only were we enjoying a pint before departure, but that this wasn’t our first of the day!
We got to the ground or at least the area around the ground, fairly easily, cursing our efficiency as the metro train we had been on actually had a live stream of the match on monitors scattered through the train; however our timing had meant that the majority of our journey coincided with half-time. Access to the stadium was via a round-the-houses walk that took us all the way to the far side of the stadium when logically an entrance near the station would have made everyone’s life easier. Still this was Russia and we were learning not to question things!
While not as grand as the Luzhniki, the recently opened Otkritie Arena, to give it its official title, or Spartak Stadium as it was called for the purposes of the tournament, has an outer shell that looks like a huge red and white football. It is a modern-feeling, well organised stadium that wouldn’t be out of place in the Premier League.
After suitable refreshment, read more beer in light-up cups, we settled down to watch the match. Just before kick-off the main Senegal support arrived in the lower tier blocks adjacent to our vantage point behind the goal. They may have been significantly outnumbered but they were highly vocal and didn’t stop for the entire match adding a vibrancy, energy and colour to the proceedings. There was however something eerily spooky about the seven chaps who had painted themselves white, each bearing a letter of their country name on their chest and wearing dictator-style hats.
With most people anticipating a fairly routine victory for Poland, it was a bit of a surprise to see Senegal match them throughout the first half, the opening goal, albeit via an own goal off the Poland centre back, was no more than they deserved.
The Africans then doubled their lead on the hour mark when Niang seized onto an under hit back-pass and slotted home. The boisterous celebrations all around the stadium suggested that the neutrals, ourselves included, were well and truly on their side. Poland pulled one back through Krychowiak with four minutes remaining, briefly sparking the hope of a late fightback, but the Senegalese held firm for a famous victory.
Back at the Hotel Cosmos I made another fateful food-ordering error by deciding to try out the pizza while we watched Russia dismantle Egypt, after another hour and a half wait I finally lost my rag and queried the whereabouts of my order in frustrated, angry tones, only for it to finally arrive and not look anything like I had ordered! The lessons learned were: (1) never order what I order if you find yourself in Russia with me, and (2) don’t complain before they have actually cooked your food!
Wednesday 20th of June
It was an early start for us the following day as we were due to get the train to St Petersburg for the second leg of our adventure at silly o’clock in the morning. Thankfully both having remained sober the previous evening, Paul and Glenn had checked where the train was going from, which turned out to be a different station from the one on our tickets, of course it was, this was Russia!
Relieved to actually be at the right station, Paul, the missus and I having paid more for our tickets on the promise of some refreshments over the course of the four hour trip, adopted a slight feeling of superiority towards Glenn as he made his way down to his carriage, little did we know his selection was to prove way wiser than ours!
Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of passengers on the train were football fans, mainly Brazilian, and having spent a few days being ‘World-Cupped’, the shared way of dealing with the journey was to pop your shades on and try to sleep as much of the way as possible. It has to be said that it was a far from unpleasant way of passing the time. For those unwilling or unable to sleep there were screens throughout the carriages showing tourist films, strange documentary pieces and what looked like quite possibly the scariest children’s movie ever made!
Approximately an hour outside of St Petersburg, Glenn came to visit our carriage, apparently it turned out he had struck gold and despite only booking a few weeks previously and paying less than us, he was in First Class. Whereas we had been given a dodgy sandwich and bottle of water by means of refreshment, his came with 2,000 Roubles (approximately £20) worth of snacks and there was no option but to use your full allocation. As a result he had a huge collection of random snacks back at his seat. No word of a lie, when we got off the train we were greeted by the sight of Glenn with a huge brown paper bag containing enough snacks to get Paul through the rest of the afternoon and a fair way into the evening!
After some discussion between the missus and I about how we would have utilised such untold refreshment riches; Paul, having been drinking with us/ watching us drink over the best part of four days suggested that without question we would have used it all on beer and spent most of the journey drinking and singing with the Brazilians in the buffet car! It was a fair cop and we could muster no defence to the contrary.
Upon arrival into St Petersburg, as we headed for the station exit, it was time for our travelling party to break up temporarily, as the guys were staying in an apartment a bit out of the city centre, the Hotel Vera, Mrs Football Nerd’s selection for the accommodation for this second leg of the trip being unsurprisingly fully booked.
Upon heading our separate ways with an agreement to meet up at the Fan Park later in the day, Paul made Mrs Football Nerd and I promise: ‘Not to get p**sed before we checked in!’; we suspect he may have had every anticipation of us disappearing into the nearest bar for the afternoon and then turning up at the Fan Park with our luggage still in tow!