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Tales from Moscow

by Tunna on Jul 10, 2018

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The following is the first part of anecdotal stories I’ve collated along the trip which I wanted to share. Some of it proves once again how Football propels itself beyond boundaries and is truly one globalised human force.

30kg extra baggage
The Mexican national Football team are the heartbeat of their country. As discussed in an earlier blog, every 4 years they travel and they bring an extroverted flavour to the tournament like no one else does. Sure, the rest of South and Central America, parts of Europe and Asia are represented (including Australia), but there isn’t quite a group of fans like the Mexican juggernaut. There were 100,000 of them in Russia for this World Cup. I’ve already spoken about how this tournament is special to them and the lengths they’ll go to and sacrifices they’ll make to ensure they attend the pinnacle of the Sport every 4 years, but there was one story I heard that defies belief that needed to be told.

I thought I’d heard it all. I thought the stories about families of 5 or 6 going to great lengths to be in Russia had been told, but there was one more. On the afternoon of the Portugal vs Morocco match at Luzhniki Stadium, I met two brothers on my way back to the Metro. They explained to me the ticketing process and how difficult it is to secure games which Mexico participate in. Its a sure bet that due to the massive support, tickets will always be oversubscribed, which means that those who are unable to secure them in the FIFA ballot must then look to onsellers, or the black market. Sometimes though, you hear of stories which redefine the lengths people will go to, to catch a glimpse of their national heroes on the biggest stage. Jose explained that there was one supporter who was unsuccessful in the ballot and so looked outside the square at possible ways to obtain tickets to matches. He cited invalidity due to being morbidly obese. In all his wisdom, this particular supporter thought that by packing on 30kg pre tournament (to be fair, the gentleman in question I’m told was already obese) he’d be eligible to sit in the seats set assigned to disabled fans.

Guess what? It worked and instead of sweating on whether or not he’d arrive in Russia and the stress of having to obtain a ticket, he could now focus that energy on moving the extra weight around Russia. I hope for this man that he’s able to drop the weight post tournament but a big thumbs up for his lateral thinking!

Two Passports
For some reason, Russian nationals are required to hold two passports, one for domestic and the other for International travel. To Russians, this seemed perfectly normal until it was mentioned to them that we, in Australia don’t require any type of ‘passport’ for domestic travel. They looked at me in disbelief when I went further to say that with e-tickets and e-check in these days, its lucky if you even get asked for identification. This resulted in my Russian friends Ilya and Irina almost falling off their chairs. In a country where your bags are scanned three times before boarding a domestic flight, I can see why they found this hard to believe.

Inefficiently efficient
Sit down at a table in Moscow and order two beers. One beer is served and the other arrives some 10 minutes later. Try and make sense of that. I couldn’t then and still now I scratch my head and wonder what went on between the initial order and the second beer finding its way to our table. I wouldn’t have bothered noting this if it were an isolated occurrence. It happened more times, not only with beers but food too on multiple occasions. That’s the inefficient part. The complete opposite is the Moscow train system which is one of the best, if not the best in the world. The metro arrives on time, every couple of minutes, is easy to navigate and trains themselves have been cleaned with a fine brush. More on all of the above in my post World Cup wrap.

Brasil Decime Que Si Siente
It needs to be mentioned that the chant made famous by the Argentinean fans in Brazil four years ago in their run to the World Cup Final, could still be heard in their repertoire this time around. It was a song that endeared fans from other nations (not Brazil!) and was a lasting memory for those that were lucky enough to be at the tournament. Fans of Argentina have this inane stamina and can literally sing for hours on end, in their own unique style, hand flapping and all. They and their songs have certainly been missed after exiting the tournament in the Round of 16.

Contigo Peru
The song which accompanied the team when they entered the pitch in Sochi for their warm up, and sung with as much gusto as humanly possible. Surrounded by Peruvians, I scanned around me to see Grandmothers, arm in arm with their husbands, children and Grandchildren belt out this tune in complete solidarity and patriotism. Tears streamed down the cheeks of more than a few as they celebrated their first World Cup in 34 years. Although come the third game in the group they were already eliminated, the sense of occasion would not be lost on them. What resonated with me was to live the moment and cherish the fact that you were present at the momentous event. In comparison, we then had our go at “Land Downunder”, as we did before each of our 3 games, and although it sounded great as it rang around the stadium, it paled in comparison what we experienced from our opponents. Further to that, I was told that 35,000 Peruvians travelled to Russia and we got to meet many of them (they were everywhere!). They were a friendly bunch of people. Gracious in the week leading up to the match, on game day itself, and humble in victory. I sincerely hope its not another 34 years before we see them back because the World Cup is certainly a better place with Peru in the tournament.

Egyptian Fan
The FIFA Fan Fest in Moscow is set beautifully inside the State University, with a backdrop featuring one of Stalin’s famous Seven Sisters. On most match days, It was filled to the brim with 25,000 fans from around the globe watching the matches on gigantic screens, all while enjoying each other’s company. One of my favourite images from the World Cup is a powerful one that I saw posted on Facebook after Egypt’s opening group game against Uruguay. Amongst the sea of people jam packed into the University grounds, It shows an Egyptian fan in a wheelchair being lifted by groups of Mexicans and Colombians so he can see the screens and watch his country play in the World Cup for the first time since 1990. This particular supporter was either too young or may not even been born when Egypt last participated in the tournament. The photo captures the joy in seeing his country in action on the biggest stage, while also encapsulating the generosity of those gathered around in creating a moment this young man will never forget. Faith in humanity restored in that moment. Goosebumps looking at it again.

Vimpel
….was his alias name on the Melbourne Victory fans forum back in the inaugural season of the A-League in 2005/06. I’m still not exactly sure of the meaning behind it, but back then a big Russian lad by the name of Vasily, his real name, appeared on the terraces of Olympic Park. He introduced himself as “Vimpel from the forum. I’m from Moscow, Russia”, and we quickly became friends. We shared many a memory during that season, the most vivid of which was an away trip to Brisbane where we got to witness him almost melt under the sweltering heat and humidity. Coming from Moscow, where temperatures rarely rise above 30 degrees, it became all too much for our big Russian bear as he struggled the entire trip. He became the brunt of many jokes that weekend and all these years later it was great to have a laugh about it. To say that we’ve kept in contact over the course of 13 years would be a stretch, but we have exchanged a message from time to time. Vasily was even kind enough to meet up with my wife Leanne, her sister and cousin when they visited Moscow in 2011 and from what they tell me, he and his wife were the perfect hosts. I hope to repay their generosity one day when the big man returns to Australia with his family.


All of those memories came flooding back as we recounted the stories and had a good laugh about that period of our lives. It was great catching up and taking a trip down memory lane. A few days later, Vasily attended the Denmark game and then on a separate evening, we met up at a Bar in the Red October district of Moscow. I would have liked to have spent more time with Vasily but something tells me our paths will cross again one day and I look forward to when that happens.

The World Cup Trophy
The trophy was on display on three separate occasions at the pop up FIFA Museum in Moscow during the group stages of the tournament. Unfortunately, the dates didn’t coincide with my schedule so I missed out getting glimpse up close. I read that Lucy and Fozzie welcomed the trophy into the SBS studios at Red Square this week. What a buzz that must have been for the two of them. Most Football aficionados would get giddy at the thought of being able to touch it, or be in its presence at the very least. I also read that Fozz described it as “not only a winner’s trophy but an artefact”. This is exactly what it is.

To those that hold Football is the same esteem as some view religion, the World Cup Trophy is a contemporary religious artefact. I’m not sure Italian artist Silvio Gazzaniga held this view when he designed it in the early 1970’s, but Football is much more than just a game now isn’t it?!...The most sought after prize in world sport and I will meet some day.