One of the parts of the trip I looked forward to most was seeing such a famous capital city that I knew very little about. I also knew from my experience in Rio that rather than just the teams that are playing, Moscow would be a melting pot of fans from all over the world, mixing together enjoying the vibe and living out their lifelong dreams. Nowhere was this more evident than Nikolskaya. The main shopping street leading up to Red Square was filled with fans from all countries. Singing, dancing, interacting and soaking up the atmosphere, this was the street that defined the World Cup spirit more than any other. As you walked down the street you would pass group after group of different fans. Sadly, once again the lack of English fan presence was very evident here.
Fortunately for me, my friend Adam was living and working in Moscow and he was able to host myself and several others of his friends who would be moving in and out of Moscow in transit between games all over the country. I met Adam during a 6 week volunteering trip in Tanzania where he lived, and I ended up representing the football team he formed with a few other ex-pat friends. It was great to hear that two of these, Glyn and Andrew, would also be here to experience the World Cup in Moscow.
Landing in Moscow after a seamless trip from Volgograd, I headed straight downtown to meet Adam, Glyn, and a few more of their friends. As always, we picked up where we left off 4 years previous. Conversation and beers flowed as we watched Spain and Portugal edge their way closer to the next round with victories. In the bar there seemed to be 2 groups having meals, but as one started singing, so did the other and before we knew it we were in the middle of an Argentinean party, even though they weren’t even playing. This is what it’s all about.
The next day, I had a little wander about the city; Gorky Park is possibly the nicest and enjoyable I have ever been to. A little stroll around the centre and a few more footy games before the evening, when Adam and I head out for our next appointment with the TV cameras. We had a basic chat, some filming of us walking around before the big moment. Two Russian hooligans were told to pretend to rough us up, before revealing their identity and offering to join us for a beer. Once inside, we tucked into some dinner and beers while watching Croatia decimate a rather pitiful Argentina. Now for the TV drama, we played a bit of table football where we comfortably beat the Russians. We then had a really interesting discussion on the whys and wherefores of hooliganism. It was really interesting to hear from two very pleasant and friendly characters that their weekend hobby was to go and fight in the streets, although they were sad to admit that a police clampdown had forced these battles into the forests where they would be less detectable.
In bringing the scene to a close, we all leant across the table to shake hands. As we did so, I was mortified to see my hand crash against my pint and make its way all over the huge hooligan sitting to my right. An initial pause followed, but to my relief it turned out he genuinely was a nice bloke and stuck to his word of only battering those who wanted to fight.
When our final buddy Andrew arrived with some friends from back in England, I was able to watch a couple of games with them. We had an interesting meal in a Georgian restaurant, before heading out to catch my first FIFA train across to Nizhny Novgorod for the Panama game.