Thursday, November 6, 2014


CSKA Moscow V Manchester City  
21st October 2014

“Moscow Moscow what a lovely town”

So, the draw was made and my wish for 3 new Countries to visit was not to be realised. This was always going to be a long shot but Germany, Italy and Russia again! To be fair Germany is a great place to visit, football or otherwise. Munich is fabulous, end of.  Rome in December? What is there not to like about that? Apart from the potential to have some part of my anatomy punctured with a sharp implement, I can’t wait for that fixture. As inviting as both Germany and Italy are to me I went to Moscow last season, and yes I had a fabulous time, met some great new friends and discovered a whole new culture of which, though, a large part of the population still harks back to the 50’s, 60’s & 70’s. This time around I was not as apprehensive about getting around the place, the food, the people and most importantly the match and ground itself. After all I knew what to expect.

I booked my flights and hotel not long after the draw was made. Thanks to Stelios airways I got a great deal on flights, so I thought I would splash out on a decent hotel round the corner from the Kremlin. Rude not to really I thought, especially as the Metro system is not that easy to understand and if I can walk to many places of interest then that would be preferable. The Visa application form I have to admit I did find easier this time round, however I did have to do it again after deciding I was Ukrainian and not from the United Kingdom. Well they are next to each other on the drop down menu. On my return from the game in Munich said form was sent off and returned within the week. In the words of one of my friends, “What could possibly go wrong”?

As with most teams CSKA have a minority of idiots that support/follow them. This had already led to a meeting of UEFA to decide that they must play a game behind closed doors with the possibility of more sanctions if there were any further problems with their fans. Unfortunately further problems were exactly what they had in Rome the same night we played Bayern. A few days later (now less than 2 weeks to the fixture with us) UEFA decided they must play OUR match behind closed doors in Moscow.

Well, nothing that UEFA do these days should surprise me, but to make this decision days before I was due to fly out beggared belief. So, ok…this means that UEFA will refund the £700 I have paid out I assume? Er…no, of course not. Although it is UEFA, who have refused me entry to the ground and the reason I have paid out my hard earned money, arranged holidays from work and generally turned my life upside down for UEFA to say they have no responsibility for what now would be a pointless trip.

Merci, Monsieur Platini.

Although I am fortunate enough to travel to all the European games I am in no way a financially comfortable individual. I do not have what most people would call “Normal” holidays throughout the year. These trips following City are my vacations, or Vocation if you prefer? 
I never for one minute imagined that UEFA would reimburse me so splashing £700 for absolutely no reason but to now sit on my backside at home was never going to seriously be an option for me.

A few days prior to flying out, City sent out an email invite to attend an event at the Stadium on the afternoon/night of the match. Food, drink, entertainment etc was all paid for and the match would be shown on a big screen. Now considering this decision to play the game behind closed doors had nothing to do with the club, personally I thought this was a decent gesture, it was however never going to make up for not being in Moscow to see Gods Own Club. Several emails passed between myself and the club and there was a 30 minute phone call two days before I was due to fly. As much as I appreciated the time they took to try to encourage me not to go to Moscow, lets face it….Not going was not really an option.

4 am Sunday 19th October 2014, the alarm goes off which in the big scheme of things is normally what it should do. Unfortunately it is 30 minutes after I have already woken up, which in turn is probably only a few hours since I managed to get to sleep. Every European trip follows the same giddy routine. I’m like a kid on the way to Disneyland. The night before I have checked, double checked and checked several more times that I have my passport in a place where I cannot miss it in the morning. So when I get up I check it is still there, well just in case the passport ghost has come and nicked it, you can’t be too careful.

Taxi turns up and at 05:30 I’m on my way to Manchester Airport for this morning’s direct flight. I’m not expecting many Blues at the airport, most will have been able to cancel the trips they had organised, mine was non refundable. Once boarded I reckon about 20 or so City are on the flight, some I know and a few I recognise but only on nodding terms. Flight goes without hitch, and remarkably lands 40 minutes early! Not bad on a flight that was only going to take 3 hrs 40 mins anyway. Captain speedy pants makes a good landing and its off to get the Aeroport Express.

My first encounter with the locals is a lovely young Russian Lady called Anna. (see photo above). She had just landed from Kuala Lumpar where she had been working for three months and was on her way home to just outside Moscow. We got chatting and it made the 40 minute direct train journey into Moscow most enjoyable, well it did for me anyway! My hotel was only about 15 minutes walk from the station and thanks to the wonders of Google Earth I had “virtually” walked the route several times. Weather wasn’t too cold at this point, which was just as well as I had not packed a “big coat “. The intention was to buy one out there, best laid plans and all that. Checked in, hotel was as nice as it looked on the interweb and chilled for the rest of the afternoon and evening.

Monday 20th October 2014 proved to be probably my favourite day of the trip. I woke up refreshed and took full advantage of the inclusive breakfast. It had snowed overnight which added to the giddiness. I decided over another pastry that I would make today my “out all day/night” day. I left the hotel at Midday and headed out into the cold, snowy air.

The walk into town along the river although very cold and wintry is simply outstanding. Every turn brings a new view of a domed shaped building. The Kremlin walls getting closer and the iconic St.Basil’s looking like a giant Christmas tree decoration. In reality R*d Square is much smaller than when you see it on the television with the parades and various Presidents of the past giving the salute. No matter your opinion of the Russian’s and the government’s views on things that normal society would find abhorrent, it really is a moment to just stand and look around at this place in history.

I decide to do the Kremlin tour. This is a must if you ever get the chance. An outstanding array of several buildings of architectural wonder. My favourite place was the Armoury, truly spectacular artefacts fill the place. As a tip, use the audio guide but then when it’s finished walk round again at your own pace. Several hours later, tour done it’s now getting dark outside and food is on the agenda.

When I visited last year I went to a Mexican restaurant La Cantina, the food was great last year so I thought I might as well give it a try again. Seemed a safe bet and I wasn’t to be disappointed. Although it was difficult trying to explain I wanted the Draught Guiness in a “long glass and not one that was the type used in “The Indoor League”. One for the oldies there. I settled for a Desperado!

Another aspect of the place that hadn’t changed was the delightful young lady who visited the table enquiring if I would like a “shot”. I do hope she didn’t get a chill in those what can only be described as ever disappearing denim shorts!  Food and drink consumed it’s time to head off into the night. Even though It’s a 30 minute walk round the strange streets of Moscow, I settle for heading to the Hard Rock Café where I know a few blues are meeting up.

I get to the Hard Rock but unfortunately they are not there, I remember the John Bull is close by and head there. Again, they are nowhere to be seen. I go in for a Guiness and a few blues are in who invite me to join them at their table. I can only thank them for their hospitality for the next hour or so. Times ticking on and I am at least an hour’s walk from my hotel but they mention they are heading round the corner to a 24 hour BOGOF sports bar where there are other blues. A few names I recognise and decide to join them. When in Rome and all that, well Moscow anyway.

The rest of the night is a mixture of laughs, and well….having a few drinks. In the bar was our Russian organiser Alex, Giant of a man whose broken English bordered on robotic but the bloke is quite simply first class. He has organised the office block which the Bayern fans have used 2 weeks previously. For this we will pay a deposit of 500 roubles. The remainder will be paid on the coach the next day. I left about 3am with Cheryl and Col in a taxi. They get out at their hotel and I am then left with a Russian Lewis Hamilton. Not in looks but I’m glad I had my seat belt on!

Always a sign of a good night when you miss breakfast, I eventually get mine at 1pm in the hotel bar. Much needed it was and time to reflect on the previous day’s events and look forward to what was supposed to be a day to remember. However, it soon becomes clear on social media that the police have put a stop to our plans. This is not how the day should be going. 
"What do you mean we can't get in?"

I leave to meet our Alex at about 4pm for the 15 minute walk to the bus. A Russian television crew come on board and want an interview. Neil C takes up the microphone on our behalf and in his best telephone voice gives an assured performance.  After an hour’s wait the coach leaves for an unknown destination and we embark on a crawl through heavy traffic around the back streets of Moscow. We eventually arrive at the bar. It is situated next to the banks of the river and first impressions are not positive. Sited near an industrial estate and the bleak windswept river surroundings does not bode well. Across the river we see the forlorn disused floodlights of the old Torpedo Moscow ground. We cross the road to “Jimmy’s Bar” where we find the aforementioned television crew are waiting to film our arrival. A few smiles for the cameras later and we make our way into the bar.

The old saying of never judge a book by its cover is very true. The previous year in Moscow we stumbled across a hidden gem of a bar near the Khimki Arena called Platform 13. This time “Jimmy’s” has stepped up to the plate….and glass. Fabulous inside with several rooms for dining and a giant screen in the room that we are to use. Alex has done well. The next couple of hours are quite flat for me. As we watch the game it becomes apparent that some CSKA fans are in the ground. This leaves a sour taste. And of course the match itself ends poorly for us.

The 2nd half performance is hard to understand. The TV crew film the remaining hours we spend watching the game. I do hope they did not put subtitles on for the Russian viewers! The night is punctuated by the dulcet tones of Neil C and Paul giving renditions of “Moscow, Moscow what a lovely town”. This little ditty sticks in the head for several days.

"Houston, we do not have lift-off..."
We leave at about 22:30 to catch “a bus” back into Moscow. 30 minutes later and in temperatures that are now on the edge of freezing my wotsits off and the bus arrives. After endearing ourselves to the locals on board for 10 minutes we get back to Pavalatskaya. I decide to head back to my hotel whilst the rest get a Metro back to the BOGOF bar. On the walk back I notice a few more unsavoury characters out and about than the previous night and its fair to say my steps are a little quicker! Couple of drinks in the bar and due to the time difference I get to watch one of the later Champions League games.

Wednesday morning, unlike the the previous day I am up in time for breakfast. My mood after last night’s result is a bit flat but I am determined to get out and about later. Being of a certain age space travel was something always in the media in the late 60’s and 70’s and has always fascinated me. So, a trip on the metro to the Cosmonaut museum is on the cards today. I navigate my way there at lunchtime and without getting lost which in itself is worthy of a mention. Houston Control would be proud.

The temperature has dipped even further today so even though there is a vast park area around the museum it’s not somewhere I spend too long. Inside I find space geek heaven and several hours later I leave happy in the knowledge I made it my choice of venue for the day. Table for one in the evening at the hotel restaurant and a couple of drinks and a relaxing night.

23rd October and it’s the day to set off home. I go back into R*d Square for one last time and it’s dropped to -10. Really pleased I didn’t bring my big coat at this point. I head for the Peoples Museum on the edge of the square. Apart from anything else it’s warm in there. An hour or two later after looking at Lenin, Stalin and WW1 artefacts it’s time to leave. The hotel is vacated around 4pm and it’s on to the return leg on the Aeroport express. This time Anna is nowhere to be seen and the 40 minutes journey is accompanied by Tracy, John and of course Cheryl and Colin are on board. Back in the airport I use the last of my roubles on some chocolate and its homeward bound. All in all, a trip that has been interesting, fun and surprising.  Interesting for the places I have visited, fun for the people I have met along the way, old and new, and surprising for the fact I get slightly drunk for the 2nd time in about 15 years. Did I mention I don’t drink much?

I leave with a sense of anger and disappointment to the hierarchy within the walls of UEFA who have deprived me of watching City in Europe through no fault of my own. Their lack of thought and compassion for travelling supporters is quite frankly disgraceful. They should hang their heads in shame.

прощай Moscow, until the next draw.

Moscow Moscow what a lovely town

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