So the dust has settled on another controversial World Cup bidding campaign, and as I look past the allegations of bribery and collusion at planet FIFA, I can already appreciate how wonderful a World Cup will be in Russia in 2018. (Qatar 2022 is another story entirely…)
The Russian government announced some impressive initiatives to win the vote, including waiving all tourist visas through the WC period, and even more staggering, free train travel between the bidding cities for ticket holders!
Still, if you don’t want to wait 8 years, and want to avoid some of the skyrocketing hotel prices and all associated World Cup madness, I found recently there are good football experiences to be had in Russia already…
I was at the conclusion of the Back in the USSR trip last July, and with a free afternoon on my hands, I shunned the countless museums and art galleries St Petersburg has to offer to go to the top of the table clash in the Russian Premier League! Zenit St Petersburg vs Rubin Kazan (household names I am sure). Tickets for the big match at the small Petrovksy Stadium (soon to be replaced for the World Cup by something resembling a spaceship) were as rare as hen’s teeth, but thanks to some black market manoeuvring from our Russian partners, we were on our way!
The immediate thing I noticed on the walk to the stadium was the hundreds upon hundreds of riot police, which gave the fantastic impression we were in some kind of danger, when in reality nothing could be further from the truth. On closer inspection a large proportion of the ‘riot police’ appeared to be aged 16-18 years, and were busy playing jokes on each other, smoking, or chatting on their mobile phones. All was well.
The atmosphere at the match was as good as anywhere I’ve seen in Europe (props to the Kazan fans who made a 2500klm road trip only to see their team lose), and I soon got involved in a deep football related conversation (using hand gestures and my one word of Russian – ‘niet’!) with a lunatic sitting next to me.
With their pockets fat with oil money, clubs are attracting some of Europe’s best players and football is just one avenue through which Russia is keen to show the world it is re-emerging as a superpower.
If nothing else, I found going to a game is a fair exchange for sitting through what seemed like 17 hours of Swan Lake the previous day….