In case you missed:
Wednesday 20th June (continued)
The hotel was only about a twenty minute walk from the station and after we had checked in, (stone cold sober we hasten to add!), we headed down to the bar to watch Portugal beat Morocco and sample some local delicacies, in this case sprats (yes you read that right – the tiny fish from the herring family!) on toast as it came with a compulsory carafe of vodka.
Fortified by our tasty snack, we set off on a walk towards the centre of town. After the heat of Moscow, the windy and cooler conditions were a bit of a shock to the system and we made it as far as an Irish pub a couple of blocks away from the hotel; well it was rapidly approaching the kick-off of Uruguay v Saudi Arabia! We decided that we were in need of more food, so Mrs Football Nerd ordered some more herring (yes it came with a vodka shot!) while I opted for the less adventurous option of chicken wings.
After the match had finished with a Uruguay win, we set off towards the river and Fan Zone, this time we made much better progress and didn’t stop until we reached a bar on the banks of the river a mere ten minutes or so from the Fan Zone.
We met up with the other guys, now including Paul’s father-in-law, Phil, who had found the prospect of a spare ticket for Brazil v Costa Rica sufficiently enticing to break away from some time at his holiday home in Alicante to make his way over to Russia for a couple of days. With a tangible football obsession like that he was to prove a welcome addition to the group!
We watched Spain just about beat Iran on one of the big screens on the periphery of the main arena, as it looked too chaotic and busy down by the main screen. The Fan Zone wasn’t set up as well Moscow but it was easy enough to get a beer and as long as you could hold your breath for the duration the porta-loos were just about useable.
After the match we decided that we of course fancied another few beers so kept our eyes peeled for a suitable venue, a sign pointing to the Loft Bar evoked memories of the Sky Lounge back in Moscow and so seemed perfect for our needs. Rather bizarrely the Loft Bar turned out to actually be a cellar bar, with karaoke and no beer, only cocktails. Seeing the look of horror that swept across our faces, Paul suggested to the manager that if they didn’t locate any beer we would be leaving, while Phil treated us all to medicinal Jaeger shots! Paul and the manager returned with what were reported to be the only two bottles of beer left on the premises. We duly shared these amongst us, in the cups we had secured from the Fan Zone of course, and decided to look for somewhere more appropriate.
Just round the corner we happened upon a hard rock bar with a statue of Freddie Mercury outside, this was more like it! In we went and were allocated the last table they had going right at the back of the place, to my great joy, although none of the others’, the whole of one wall was covered by a giant mural of make-up wearing glam rock superstars Kiss, I instantly felt at home! In contrast to the Loft/ Cellar Bar, our waitress assured us that they had plenty of beer, so much in fact that they could do us a full litre jug if we fancied? Phil and I being either brave, stupid or deprived of beer both immediately opted for a litre each while the rest of the party remained somewhat more restrained. We also opted for some snacks to go with our buckets of beer and ordered two portions of fries and one portion of crispy pigs’ ears, when in Russia and all that!
As the beer flowed we got talking to a couple of Argentinian fans seated at the table next to us, who claimed they had never heard of Harry Kane, Paul and I treated them to a couple of choruses of our favourite ‘We’ve got Harry Kane’ song and they claimed to remain none the wiser, writing these notes after Argentina’s exit and with Kane leading the golden boot race with six goals, we suspect they may have heard of him now!
When our food arrived the first surprise was to discover that we had actually got one portion of fries and two of pigs’ ears, and secondly the ears weren’t so much crispy as advertised but more cold and soft, so unappealing were they that even our new Argentinian mates weren’t interested!
Suitably ‘refreshed’ we bade our farewells and headed in search of some taxis, the missus’ and my driver spoke very little English but managed to communicate by speaking into his phone in Russian and letting it translate on his behalf. It certainly proved to be far more effective than our approach of shouting the names of random Russian footballers accompanied by a thumbs up!
Thursday 21st of June
Over breakfast the next day, which was accompanied by a World Cup preview show from the banks of the river in Moscow where we had been just days before, we witnessed quite possibly the most bizarre method of predicting results we had ever seen. You can forget Paul the Octopus, what every World Cup prediction show needs is a real-life bear in a football kit to predict the outcome of each game by dropping a ball into one of three barrels (one each for a win for either side, the other for the draw) on a football pitch carpet!
Once we had stopped laughing we decided that today was going to be the day that we were going to take in the sites of St Petersburg, which is another way of saying we were going to walk up slowly up towards the Fan Zone ahead of Australia v Denmark and wouldn’t stop for a beer until after 12! As it turned out our walk gave us the perfect opportunity to have a good look at the picturesque and opulent-seeming city and true to our word we only stopped for a couple of pre-lunch drinks in the older part of town.
We then set about finding somewhere for lunch, the first place we tried was packed, but across the road was a suitable alternative with an internal décor that made you feel like you were inside a Fabergé egg. Still it did the trick and after a plate of goulash for me and potato pancakes and vodka (of course!) for the missus and a brief photo opp on the completely over the top red velvet and gold throne (don’t ask, this is Russia remember!) we headed off to meet the rest of the gang at the Fan Zone.
Originally most of us had been planning on supporting Denmark just to annoy Glenn, but when it came to the crunch we decided that loyalty to fellow World Cup adventurers was stronger than any potential banter opportunities and we ended up on the side of the Socceroos. With the Fan Zone being much less crowded than the previous evening we based ourselves near the giant main screen and this brought the revelation that the porta-loos from the previous evening were intended for emergency need only and round the corner was a ‘P**sbus’! Yes that is exactly what you think it is: a bus that has been converted to a mobile toilet, ladies on one side, gents round the other!
Australia put up a decent show in the match and if they had made more of the chances they created they could perhaps have got the three points that would have given them a chance of progress to the next round. The rain had started towards the end of the match and was getting heavier so we decided the best option to watch France – Peru was somewhere indoors. It seems like we were not alone in reaching that conclusion, as the brilliantly titled Irish Bar O’Hooligans was full to overflowing with an eclectic mix of football fans.
To our collective massive relief we found a coffee shop come bar round the corner with a shelter outside, a TV, a free table and most crucially of all… draft lager! The weather played havoc with the TV signal and we found out via our mobile phones that France were already a goal up before we saw any of the match.
Just in time for the second round of drinks, the final two members of our party arrived when my Dad and Our Kid joined the fun and games of Russia 2018. The TV settled down a bit and all through the match the mass of Brazilian fans outside the bar next door treated us to a selection of Beatles classics on their stereo. In the spirit of international relations we encouraged Phil to exchange his green Russian hat, acquired only that morning, for the red, white and blue one a passing Brazilian fan wanted, it is probably safe to say this is a decision he is still regretting back in Alicante, such was the attachment he had developed to it!
After the France game, the rain had eased off so we decided to take my Dad and Our Kid to experience the Fan Zone, while the others went off to dinner. The queue was longer than anticipated, Mrs Football Nerd was thirsty and bought what she thought was a can of vodka and coke but actually turned out to be pure vodka, well we were in Russia!
We watched the first half of the match in which Croatia battered Argentina and then decided to call it an evening. After dropping my Dad and Our Kid off at their hotel the missus and I watched the end of the game rather surreally in a kebab restaurant across the road from our hotel, it was almost with relief that we greeted the news that they didn’t sell beer!
Friday 22nd of June – Brazil v Costa Rica – St Petersburg Stadium
So this was our final full day and the last of the three games that we were going to see, but what a way to finish off our trip: watching Brazil at a World Cup has to be on the to-do-list for any discerning football obsessive.
With it being a 3pm kick off it was a relatively early start for the missus and me as we strolled down into town to meet up with my Dad and Our Kid at their hotel. On route we encountered a number of Mexican tour parties who were packing up and heading off to wherever their next game was.
Even though the new Krestovsky Stadium has been built on an island 7 km to the north west of the city, the extension to the metro line means it is easily accessible and we got there much earlier than we had initially planned. Just like the Spartak Stadium this involved a walk round the circumference of the stadium to get to the entrance, it must be a Russia thing!
According to the most recent reports when the stadium finally opened in time for the Confederations Cup in 2017 it was 518% late and 548% over budget. None of us were sure it was worth the reported $1.1 billion that it cost to build but it is an incredibly impressive structure, imagine a space-age version of Wembley and you might be somewhere close.
We had initially planned to meet Paul, Glenn and Phil by the metro station, but as it turned out there were in fact two stations and the others, being earlier than us, had apparently positioned themselves at a fountain that we could not miss, assuming of course we had arrived at the same station. When Our Kid and I finally spotted said fountain, it turned out to be at the other end of a huge park with seemingly a significant proportion of the population of Brazil between us and them. So we selected a position on a hill near a statue as the new RV point.
Once assembled, we sorted out our tickets and headed in, the Moscow Crew finally having the chance to go to a game as a foursome as Glenn actually had a ticket for this one. The inside of the stadium was surreal, as Paul described it, it looked like an 1980’s Costa del Sol hotel lobby, and they had seemingly run out of money to furnish the concourses. However we managed to secure ourselves a perch round a table and did what we do best in these situations by having a few pre-match beers in light-up cups.
Running his engineering-based expert eye over the stadium, Glenn suggested that the combination of wide corridors and small archways seemed to him to be an architectural no-no. Although he reassured us that the temporary bleacher-style seats that we thought we would be sitting on ‘probably wouldn’t fall down!’ Upon further investigation we found that our row was thankfully in the actual permanent blocks of seats, although as Paul suggested it was actually slightly disappointing not to have the potential white-knuckle experience!
It was at this point that we saw our first and only bit of crowd trouble of the entire tournament when a Brazil fan carrying a beer in each hand and not looking where he was going bumped into a steward and spilled his beer. His instant reaction was to berate the poor steward, while Glenn commented: ‘All I am going to say is small archways!’
As we took up our seats, it turned out we were in a section next to one of the blocks of main Brazil support and the atmosphere was amazing. The game itself was one in which Costa Rica’s defensive organisation frustrated their more illustrious opponents; with Brazil seemingly wanting everything to go through Neymar and Marcello on the left which made them look very unbalanced in the first half.
Tite made a key change at the break: bringing on Douglas Costa for Willian, the Chelsea man having been largely peripheral throughout the opening 45 minutes having been positioned wide-ish right. Almost instantly Brazil’s shape looked better, and they were looking more and more threatening, Gabriel Jesus hit the bar with a header and then Neymar, not for the only time in the tournament was involved in a furore: going down in the area after seemingly being brushed by the Costa Rican defender. Referee Kuipers awarded a penalty only to be advised to review it on VAR, upon doing so he realised he had been deceived and reversed his decision, much to the annoyance of the massed Brazil support, but to the amusement of everyone else.
Finally, in added time, just when it looked like Brazil were going to be held to a draw for the second time in as many games, Coutinho seized upon a loose ball in the area and slotted home. Pandemonium broke out all around us, as much in relief as celebration, things then went up another level when Neymar doubled their lead minutes later. As we exited the stadium and headed for the metro the overwhelming feeling was that in their quest for redemption, Brazil had dodged a bullet in this one and their hopes were still alive, at least for the time being.
We headed back into town and after a brief break back at our hotel, we met up with my Dad and Our Kid for an excellent dinner, watched the second half of Switzerland v Croatia and then headed off to another Irish bar to round off what had been the most incredible week of football watching by drinking with some guys from Finland all dressed in Brazil shirts, of course they were … this was the World Cup in Russia!