A visit to Siberia, the Urals, Vienna and then five matches in Poland.
24th August Tom Tomsk 1 CSKA Moscow 2 Russian Premier 9,700 (300 away)
The Siberian city of Tomsk is now the furthest east visiting teams have to travel in the Russian Premier League, some four hours flying time from Moscow and three time zones away.
I made the overnight flight from the capital and arrived early on a quiet Saturday morning.
As I passed through the airport the CSKA 2nd team were booking in for their return to Moscow (having won 3-0)
Fortunately my hotel room was available after the bus ride from the airport.
After a rest there was time enough to look around, particularly along the main street (Lenina).
The man himself characteristically pointed the way forward, or not, from a central square.
Tomsk (motto ‘sui generis’) dropped down to the First division in 2011-12 and then subsequently won that league last season to get promoted to the top level again.
They have had financial issues in recent years.
Known as the ‘Siberians’ they were currently bottom of the Premier after losing their first five matches.
Some development is going on to update the Trud stadium which is typically open with just cover above the main stand and the press area.
Around 300 made the long journey from the capital and they were in a section to the left.
On the half hour Tomsk took the lead when a cross shot was parried away by Akinfeev and striker Portnyagin was there to convert.
The home side edged the first half and led at the interval.
But things changed after the break, first when Ivorian Doumbia headed in at the near post.
Then when his fellow striker Ahmed Musa followed up a Tosic effort to score the winner on 58 minutes.
Both Africans had been lively with Musa making the runs and Doumbia strong as a central striker.
CSKA as you would expect had more class.
The groans increased amongst the home fans following the promising first period as another defeat loomed.
With CSKA on top the home side had one last chance but a header went over and the crowd drifted away.
I finished with a mojito and a peach dessert in a pleasant central restaurant before negotiating the dark streets, past some of the famous wooden houses, to my hotel.
26th August Amkar Perm 2 Spartak Moscow 1 15,700 (700 away)
From Siberia to the Urals.
This was a fine win for Amkar.
The Zvedza stadium, again nearly all open seating, is a good thirty minute walk from the central area, passing the fun fare in Gorky park.
On a cool, but mostly dry night, the home side set about their visitors from the capital with some relish.
Playing fast and sometimes direct football Amkar deserved this win, scoring in the first half through one of their Bulgarians, Peev.
Although Spartak levelled soon after the break this was about their only threat in a very weak performance.
Amkar scored the decisive goal from a long ball that was driven home by Slovak Martin Jakubko.
Substitute Barrios added some presence to the Spartak attack but not enough to create any significant chances and the home side celebrated.
As usual Spartak had plenty of fans and they would make the long trip home without much to remember.
While the locals left chanting ‘Amkar’, ‘Amkar’.
Before the game (and to shelter from the rain) I had sampled some of the local beer, at about 90 pence per ‘pint’, in a traditional, very small, bar near the stadium.
The bar was like going back in time with barrels of wine on tap and a large selection of vodka - the latter taken at regular intervals by the locals.
Austria win (on aggregate)
27th August Austria Vienna 2 Dinamo Zagreb 3 (Austria won 4-3 on aggregate) Champions League 10,500 (500 away)
A long day flying from Perm to Moscow then on to Vienna for this Champions League play-off match.
The Generali (Austria) Arena is cosy but small comprising a couple of similar red & white roofed stands plus a two tier end stand for the local ultras.
The other end houses the away fans (although they were also in the side) plus a section of home fans.
Dinamo brought plenty though apparently most of the Bad Blue Boys were prevented from entering the country at the border.
Nevertheless those that made it brought flares, some thrown from outside the ground.
And it was not long before smoke enveloped part of the pitch.
Aside from the pyro this match was a good advert for the play-offs.
Austria, two up from the first leg, went further ahead when Mader headed in a cross.
So Dinamo had the proverbial mountain to climb and they set about the task with some purpose.
Scoring two well taken goals in the first half through Brozovic and Fernandes
They dominated possession as the home side conceded space.
The half ended 1-2 with the game well poised.
Austria showed less passivity in the second but still lost another goal as Montenegrin sub. Beciraj headed over the home goalie with twenty minutes remaining.
For a while it looked like an unlikely comeback victory until another substitute, Roman Kienast, just on, was there to convert from close range with eight minutes remaining.
It was a great aggregate win for the home side and much enjoyed by the local fans - generally starved of much recent European success.
I exited fairly quickly and went back to my regular hotel near the Prater via tram and metro.
The evening had been mild and dry in the south of Vienna.
Then a long rail journey from Vienna via Breclav and Katowice to Wroclaw, not helped by missing the connection in Katowice meaning I arrived two hours later than planned.
Add in getting on the wrong tram and you can understand I was a little strung out by the time I made my hotel at around 9,30 pm following 14 hours on the ‘road’.
Great fans very poor team.
Slask Wroclaw 0 Sevilla 5 Europa League Play-off second leg (Sevilla lead 4-1 from the 1st game) 41,955 (zero away)
Slask now play at the Wroclaw stadium, to the west of the centre.
It was used during the Euros and presents a very impressive exterior.
But impressive would not be a word used to describe this performance by the home side.
I guess Slask will get the benefit of the doubt assuming there were no irregular ‘betting patterns’ but it did make this observer wonder about the possibility of a fix.
Rakitic began the rout with a long shot that the Slask goalie should have saved.
Colombian Carlos Bacca added another before half time.
And the pattern of misplaced passes continued as Sevilla strolled to victory helped by further catastrophic errors.
But though their team was poor the fans were superb in a near sellout crowd (partly due to the low pricing).
All square in the Arena.
30th August Lechia Gdansk 1 Gornik Zabrze 1 24,276 (zero away ?)
The then current top two played each other in the Polish Premier at the PGE Arena.
The stadium is another that was used at the Euros and again it has a fine exterior, all covered, with similar sized sides and green themed seats.
Another big improvement on the old ground.
The first half ended goalless with Lechia having more chances though none were gilt-edged.
The general play had been fairly even..
After a period of stalemate Gornik went ahead on the hour when a delivery from the left found its way to Maczynski who had time to control and shoot in left footed.
Then we got some choreo with green & white flags and a large no.12 shirt from the ultras.
Gornik looked fairly solid in defence with Shevelyukhin heading away most crosses.
But with about ten minutes left the home got a penalty, presumably for handball in the area.
Pietrowski just about squeezed it past Steinbors in the away goal for the equaliser.
The noise stepped up a gear.
The fans, as at Wroclaw, had kept up the support throughout.
I took the first special train back to Gdansk centre and indulged in a beer in the Scandic before getting my return train to Tczew (nourished by some sushi from the station cafe)
There was time to see the later stages of the Super Cup between Bayern and Chelsea.
Legia go top.
31st August Cracovia 0 Legia Warsaw 1 13,212 (c. 800 away)
Nine hours or so on the train from Tczew and you can be in Krakow.
Historic Krakow and Cracovia are definitely worth a visit.
The ground is a short stroll from the old town, through the always atmospheric central area..
It now comprises a cosy, covered stadium of smallish sides with a larger ‘main stand’
Legia’s fans, all dressed in white, were in a corner of the ground while the main local ultras did their thing at the other end.
Cracovia as a name lends itself to song and their anthem was a fine pre-game introduction.
(Podbeskidzie Bielsko-Biala for instance would be harder to blend into verse)
One goal turned out to be enough to take Legia to the top of the Polish league.
Bosnian Radovic scored it, neatly converting after a series of passes from the left.
Legia should have scored more with Ojamaa a constant threat down the left.
For a while it seemed they might regret not getting another goal but Cracovia couldn’t develop enough pressure.
At the end. with the rain having stopped, I strolled back through the lively centre,still thronged with visitors on this Saturday night.
Slask not so slack.
1st September Piast Gliwice 1 Slask Wroclaw 1 5,136 (c. 20 away)
Slask improved substantially after their Thursday night debacle helped by a number of personnel changes.
Piast play in the updated Stadion Miejski, a fifteen minute walk from the station.
It has echos of a moderate Dutch ground with steps up to the seating.
A few fans from Wroclaw made the trip.
The home ultras, a small but very lively group, were at the right hand end.
The weather was starting to get uncomfortable especially in the wind and away from the sunnier parts..
In the game both sides created chances and each goalie produced some good blocks.
The home side went ahead in the first period somewhat against the run of play when a direct move gave Wilczek the chance to break through the middle.
But it seemed inevitable that Slask would reply and they did when one of the returning players, Marco Paixao, was left with an easy task to level on 75 mins.
Ex-Fulham forward Collins John came on for the last minutes but didn’t affect the outcome.
I took a convenient train back to my base in Katowice and enjoyed a pizza and some red wine.
One is enough.
2nd September Podbeskidzie Bielsko-Biala 1 Korona Kielce 0 2,700 (zero away)
As the weather turned cooler and showery I made the shortish trip to Bielsko-Biala.
After the somewhat grim image of parts of Silesia this city comes as a bit of surprise with its castle and attractive old centre.
The old town area has some trendy bars and restaurants.
In one I couldn’t help having a couple of weiss beers.
Some twenty minutes or so from the centre is the Miejski Stadium.
It is in the process of being redeveloped with a couple of two tiered end stands under construction.
Just two sides are currently in use with most fans seated in the main stand.
Despite being at the bottom of the league the home side had much the better of this game.
Winger Jagiella caused problems and they created far more than a very limited visiting side.
It looked like the lack of a good striker would limit Podbeskidzie but they eventually scored after a cross from the left was deflected in by Malarczyk.
Korona threatened little and ended by having a man sent off.
For me a short walk to the Lipnik station and I was back in rainy Katowice by 9.20pm.
And home the next day courtesy of Ryanair.
more pictures at http://www.photobox.co.uk/album/2068328240