A MISSION (AND A HALF) TO MOSCOW

By Darren Mantle
May 26th, 2008

Having checked in at 3am, despite out flight not being till 6.10 – we finally arrived in Moscow on Tuesday at about 2pm. Going through security checks, me, my dad and brother had a random police check to ensure we hadn’t had any history of football violence (we passed with flying colours). Some had been in the pub at Gatwick drinking from 4.30 (possibly earlier) in the morning, and others had slept at the airport overnight, flights were being called to the gates up to an hour before departure, I guess to stop the airports bars, restaurants and waiting areas being too overcrowded, it also allowed everyone to board a bit early and I believe most flights left on the scheduled time, ours did.

Upon arrival, customs didn’t take long at all, after a quick check of the match ticket and immigration form, our passports were stamped. Our hotel had a much longer wait however, over three hours for our passports back as they had to process everyone’s at once. We’d already been given our hotel keys so everyone could dump their bags, have a sleep or, in most cases, head to the bar for a few beers.

My other brother and his mate had already been there a couple of days, so after the wait we were on our way to Red Square, made easy as they’d grasped the tube system and Cyrillic. It was straight to Red Square for us, to get the tourist stuff out the way, UEFA had something set up here for the week of the match but when we were there not much was happening. After seeing St Basil and the Kremlin building we’d pretty much ticked off all we wanted to see, so ate and went back to the hotel, had a few beers and went to bed ready for the next day.

Next morning was the day of the match and I still wasn’t nervous. In the hotel bar there were some lads singing at 11am, apparently they hadn’t gone to bed all night, they’d been sat there drinking and singing, I’d expected much more of this the night before, maybe we just missed the Chelsea pubs, but then as we’d heard news that there were a couple of attacks on Chelsea fans by the locals then maybe a lot of fans were being careful.

Most fans who have done a Euro away before know how easy it is to bump into some of the few thousand travelling support, and how a few pubs are normally lively and taking over by Chels, but it wasn’t the case this time, day or night, not around the Red Square area anyway, perhaps we had to look further afield.

Red Square was packed, with lots of queuing due to the mass influx of the day-trippers. So we found one of the only nearby pubs we could, downstairs and very gloomy, my brother likened it to that of Josef Fritzel’s basement. There were some fans of both teams in here, and for the first time outside of our hotel bar there was some singing, again I suspect that’s due to fans being cautious of the locals, but this pub was pretty packed with English fans so there wasn’t much risk of any problems..

After a few beers here we headed for the match, it had been p*ssing it down for a bit but had now stopped, we jumped on the tube, where we were vastly outnumbered by United fans, we were singing, so were they, it was all friendly and when we got off fans of both teams were talking amongst each other with no hostility at all.

Which reminds me; the police out on the street were superb throughout the trip, although they were everywhere they didn’t throw their weight around. I’d not heard of anyone subjected to on the spot passport checks or a telling off, instead the police seemed set on standing there quietly, had there been any trouble they’d have no doubt steamed in, but without reason to they didn’t bother, instead just trying to go by unnoticed.

As soon as we stepped off the tube we were split between United and Chelsea fans, so that prevented the chances of much trouble, although there were a few Chelsea shirts in the United end and vice versa, from what I saw nothing was said, probably because no one came all this way to miss the match.

After paying six quid for two disgusting awful sausages with a piece of bread, we went to the fan zone quickly, it didn’t same as bad as newspaper reports in the build up would have it, it had a big enough field for a few thousand fans and lots of food, merchandise and toilets around, sadly no alcohol. We soon went in though, as it was coming up to 10pm so we wanted to take our seats.

The atmosphere was at times good yet other times disappointing, neither set of fans were as loud as I expected, but then when it’s cost that much , a lot of the real fans were priced out of going, had the stadium been closer to England, I’m sure both teams would have generated a great atmosphere. I felt the Chelsea fans created a decent enough atmosphere and I certainly don’t think we were out-sung, from where I was it seemed that United mainly sung Viva Ronaldo and Red Flag, although this might be because they use their scarves for these songs it was just more obvious, and being in our end and 45 rows back, almost directly behind the goal, meant that our singing would drown out the noise across the other side of the stadium as I was surrounded by Chels.

The view we had was great, it was all one tier and as said we were right behind the goal. When Ronaldo missed his penalty it was a great view we had, the same view turned awful when it was Terry’s turn to take his, it’s hard to say in words how gutting it was from the view we had, once Van Der Sar went the wrong way, and then seeing Terry’s shot hit the post.

Once Anelka missed some fans immediately headed for the exits, we stayed to watch our players receive their medals and clap us afterwards, mainly because those that left straight away would have been stuck queuing to go out. I didn’t really know exactly how to feel, gutted obviously, but we played brilliantly, neither side deserved to lose, and in a strange way I didn’t really feel we’d lost, we might not have our name on the cup, but we know that we were so close and that it could have gone either way, I’d have probably felt a lot worse had we deserved to lose or had it been in normal time.

Emotions were understandably low none the less, and after leaving the stadium we didn’t get back to 4.30am, so we had a couple of beers, no one seemed particularly lively by this point, although a lot of people were still up in the hotel bar.

Next morning we had a few hours to kill until the coach left, just had a few down the pub. The flight back was delayed by a couple of hours, not helped by us getting dropped off at the wrong airport and the bus having to come back to drop us at the right one. I’d never used Flight Options before, I’d heard about them a lot and knew people that recommend them, I’ve got to say I was very impressed with how well everything was done.

A mate of mine on a different travel package found out at 4pm on Monday that his flight had changed from Tuesday morning till 7pm in the evening, and his return flight from Thursday afternoon to Thursday morning, we didn’t have any problem like this, and although a Flight Options plane was cancelled, with it being a technical fault personally I’d urge the unfortunate ones not to rule out using Flight Options in the future.

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