Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Rubin Kazan v Spartak Moscow October 2011

Rubin Kazan 3 Spartak Moscow 0.

16th October 2011 23,650. Russian Premier.

Red buses, pubs and the Premier League on TV - it could be London but it is really the Republic of Tatarstan.

Kazan is 700km east from Moscow, an hour or so by plane, but its just up the road in this massive country.
And many fans from Moscow made the journey, lots seemingly for the first time.
Like me they spent time photographing the very impressive Kremlin with its mosques, towers and walls.

The Spartak red scarves thronged the main pedestrianised street with its mixture of part-demolished and newer buildings.

A fifteen minute stroll up the road was the Central stadium where the 4,000 or so away fans filled a large part of the left hand end of the ground.
They produced plenty of noise but their team failed to deliver much in return.

After a fairly cagey first half of few chances Rubin came out with more purpose in the second period and scored early through the excellent Ecuadorean Christian Noboa.
Ryazantsev added another soon after and Spartak got into more trouble when Nigerian striker Emenike was given a second yellow.

The Moscow side never looked like getting back into it and a deflected shot cum cross by Bibras Natcho in added time sealed their fate, much to the locals delight.

Rubin were in good form based on a solid defence and strong midfield but whether they will do as well against the likes of Tottenham in the Champions League only time will tell.

For Spartak the likes of Aiden McGeady and the Brazilian Welliton couldn’t produce much to endanger the home goal.

The atmosphere was enhanced by flares and smoke from both sets of ultras and in the city centre the fans seemed to get along OK, watched by the local police.

Afterwards I settled for a kebab served, in an overstaffed restaurant, by girls who would not have been out of place on a catwalk.

Most of the Spartak fans drank their beer and hung around McDonalds.
Some were still enjoying Grolsch in the airport prior to the 9.55 flight back to the capital.

As you would expect in Russia at this time of year the weather was not warm, especially when facing the wind, but Kazan is definitely worth a visit.

Back In Moscow, amongst the huddled masses, I travelled the metro to Arbat, visited Red Square and the impressive National Historical Museum (everything from mention of Bronze Age communes through relics from Napoleon’s 1812 visit to pictures of Brezhnev and Stalin)

Maybe Russia itself is becoming more inviting (once you have a visa and can afford the hotel prices) for visitors as the younger generation takes over more of the customer service - more inviting but not necessarily better or more informed.
However the security stays in evidence though perhaps more relaxed than previously.

Quite what it’ll be like in (say) 2018 is open to question with still few concessions to signage in English or indeed not that many people speaking any language other than Russian.

But the fascination remains with this visitor, of being in a vast, powerful and hedonistic country.

More pictures at

Monday, October 10, 2011

Montenegro, Germany and Croatia October 2011

Three games starting in Germany, from there to Montenegro and ending in Croatia.

Early Worms late Kickers.

Stuttgarter Kickers 1 Wormatia Worms 1 2,360.

Limited options on the way to Montenegro for the England game so I chose this Regionalliga (4th level) game in Stuttgart.

As it happened I had seen the Kickers play at the Neckar stadium some years ago when they were, briefly, in the Bundesliga

Their regular home is in the south of the city, easily accessible by U-bahn, and comprises medium sized terracing with one stand of seating.

The visitors brought about 50 fans and they were placed at the right hand end.

The weather was warm and dry and the pitch looked good.

Worms started well and scored after five minutes when Toch shot in from a corner routine.
As time went on the very young home side (oldest player - 24) passed the ball reasonably well and edged the possession without making many chances.

The best hope for the Kickers always seemed to be from a set play and so it proved when they equalised, via a header from a corner, in added time.

By then it was nine men versus ten as three had been sent off, two for a scuffle in the second period. That was when Worms had begun to frustrate with their apparent ‘injuries’.

I then travelled via Cologne/Bonn to Dubrovnik and on by car to Podgorica.

Rooney sees red.

Montenegro 2 England 2 15,000

And so we qualified for the Euros, as did Montenegro after Switzerland lost to Wales.

But the Montenegrins certainly enjoyed it more than we did with a pitch invasion and a celebration with some of their own players.

We came away looking somewhat ill prepared to go far in next years finals after losing a two goal lead and having our best attacker, Rooney, sent off.

It had seemed like a routine win after a promising start with an Ashley Young far post header and
a tap-in for Darren Bent.
But a response by Montenegro just before half time and a generally moderate second period performance by England allowed the home side to equalise in the last few minutes.

The rain increased as the match wore on and after the final whistle became torrential.
So this was one time when it was no bad thing to be kept in as the downpour had eased when we were finally let out.

I managed to negotiate my way back to my hotel through the flooded roads to contemplate where we had gone wrong.

As to Podgorica, well the city itself is not blessed with many impressive sites however the surrounding mountain scenery does tend to compensate.

No.21 scores.

Konavljanin 1 Jadran LP 0 c.70

On the Saturday, after the international, I chose a Croatian 3rd level match played in Gruda close to the Montenegrin border.

The basic ground (a few rows of seats and a small covered area for the cameras) is in a picturesque valley within an attractive mountain backdrop.
Unfortunately the valley does get rather windy so it was a cool watch.

The winner was scored by the best player on the pitch, the home sides no.21, a nominal left back who played more as a winger.

Konavljanin had more of the ball although the visitors had some decent chances, one blocked by their own player.
On a very poor pitch it was unlikely to be a classic.

more pictures at