This was another “head-in-hands” moment when the draw was made. I really enjoyed the trip to Moscow in 2004…and really endured the Champions League Final jaunt. I have to say that the thought of another trip here tested me to the limit…the expense…the hassle…the miserable natives…the memories.
Anyway after much soul-searching I booked three days.
Just getting the visa was like a Krypton Factor appearance. The new method is that you have to submit all the required information online, and you have thirty minutes to do so. And they have certainly expanded the questions. Apart from all the standard stuff, they now need details of every country visited in the last 10 years ; full details of your education ; membership of any clubs or societies ; spouse’s details ; and, if you say that you are self-employed, six months’ bank statements.
All this for £ 165. Bargain.
With direct flights disproportionately expensive, we opted for Swiss Air via Zurich, leaving Heathrow half an hour late on Monday morning at 09.10. This was a bit of a worry as we had a fairly tight connection time in Zurich. My palms got a bit clammier as we circled Zurich for a quarter of an hour, leaving us with ten minutes to get the connecting flight. We were mightily relieved that the Zurich-Moscow flight was itself 45 minutes late. Panic over…quick beer and then on to Moscow.
The Swiss Air service was excellent, and was the last good service we would get for three days.
At Domodedovo we experienced the first of what was to be many “Het”s. There seemed to be a Rosa Klebb at every turn, unsmilingly pointing us somewhere else. We eventually got through security and passport control and found the official taxi desk. £ 50, and 50 frightening minutes later, having passed the depressing grey tower blocks of the post-Communist Moscow suburbs, we arrived at The Korston Hotel, a 22-storey monolithic monstrosity with more neon than Vegas.
This hotel was chosen for its proximity to the stadium rather than anything else as it was less than a mile away.
According to their website…”The Korston Hotel Moscow is a place where style and business meet legendary hospitality”. I’m not so sure. The ground floor had a plaster board Parisian dining-room at one end, and a bowling alley, huge pool hall, tacky shops, bars and a gentleman’s club at the other. Think “The Lakeside Country Club” meets “Las Vegas, 1978”, but with more hookers, and you won’t be far out.
I’m not sure if the “911 Club” was a tribute to Porsche or to the US terrorist attack. Either way…horrible.
All for £ 150 a night. Bargain.
That night we went to a proper hotel, The Kempinsky, where the Chelsea TV people were staying. (The team were at The Radisson Royal Hotel, which is apparently on the site of the old Rossiya Hotel, where, coincidentally, in 2004 some Spartak fans tried to attack the Chelsea supporters staying there, and legend has it, came a poor second).There we met Neil Barnett who introduced us to John Mann, Roman’s PR man in Moscow. John took us out to dinner at a Georgian restaurant and a very interesting evening was enjoyed by all. John is an American, fluent in Russian, charming and very sharp. He was head-hunted by Roman’s people and seems to be enjoying his role, although the next night would see him stuck in the cheap seats with the rest of us. Speak to The Boss, John.
On Tuesday, we left the hotel at 7 pm walking down the hill through the park to the stadium, with 2008 déjà-vu in full flow. At least it wasn’t pouring with rain and the early kick-off meant that we wouldn’t be leaving the stadium at two in the morning.
The approach to the stadium with Lenin’s statue looming over the entrance brought back dreadful memories and I was horrified to find myself pretty much in exactly the same section of the stand that I was in for that horrific evening.
Then began what was to become the most surreal evening I have ever experienced in watching nearly forty years of Chelsea matches.
I met about 25-30 people I have known for years, proper Old School CFC, who had made their own way over. The official Chelsea/Thomas Cook trip had 27 passengers ; and there were 13 Chelsea fans in the executive area in the main stand.
Allowing for the fact that I obviously don’t know every Chelsea fan (but nearly) I suppose there must have been about 100 from the UK.
The rest were Russian ! About 1,900 of them. And how they enjoyed themselves…enthusiastically singing songs only recognisable by a “Chel-zee” slotted in somewhere ; and even giving us a rendition of The Chelsea Alouette…”a vonky eye…weee-deee…and god-on heer…”. Fantastic.
They had new shirts, old shirts and hooky shirts ; unrecognisable scarves and unintelligible banners. One even wore a full Red Indian head-dress, in Chelsea blue and white feathers, with CHELSEA emblazoned across the head-band…coming to the megastore soon.
Fair play to them…they made plenty of noise and responded accordingly to the abuse dished out by their fellow countrymen. They were keen to talk to us and loved “The Rising Sun” flag helping to hold it aloft for the whole game.
Mr. Johnstone did a roaring trade knocking out CFCUKs at “…only an ‘undred roubles…”
Looking disturbingly like Middlesbrough, Spartak started well and had a couple of early chances.
Chelsea eventually moved up through the gears and, on 15 minutes, Malouda had a shot on the break.
Yuri, getting some ferocious stick following his time at CSKA, picked up the ball after a poor clearance by Nicolas Pareja and unleashed a dipping half volley with his left foot from 20 yards. Top corner…an excellent goal.
He tried not to celebrate too elaborately in front of his countrymen but there was no disguising his pleasure in scoring his first goal in 36 appearances, not to mention the fact that he is the first Russian to score against a Russian team in the Champions League.
We continued to dominate and got a deserved second goal just before half-time when Essien’s wonderful run and pass allowed Anelka to turn the Sparta captain Parshivlyuk inside out before shooting neatly into the bottom right corner…a terrific finish and his 50th goal for Chelsea.
Spartak upped their game in the second half and Cech had to make a handful of decent saves but we were never really troubled..
It was good to see McEachran, Kakuta and Van Aanholt getting run-outs, however brief…great experience for them.
A good European away performance and an excellent result that should see us win the group.
JT, having partially laid some ghosts, led the players to salute the fans at the end, and was later quoted : “The fans have come a long way to watch us and it is obviously very expensive and many are not going to be getting back until very late,”
“A lot of them are going to be taking days off work or getting back really late and going straight into work, and that is brilliant.
“The support we get up and down the country is brilliant and it is especially so when you come to places like Russia. It is tiring enough for us players but when the fans have to get up and go in to do a nine-to-five job it is great and we want to show our support to them as they do to us”.
I wonder if he realised that most of the fans returning his applause would have been home in an hour.
Chelsea (4-3-3): Cech; Ferreira, Ivanovic, Terry (c), Cole (van Aanholt 86); Essien, Mikel, Zhirkov; Kalou (McEachran 73), Anelka, Malouda (Kakuta 81).
Unused subs Turnbull, B Clifford, Bruma, Mellis.
Scorers Zhirkov 23, Anelka 42.
Booked Zhirkov 87.
Spartak (4-2-3-1): Dykan; Parshivlyuk (c), Pareja, Suchy, Makeev; Ibson, Sheshukov; McGeady, Ari (Ananidze 84), Kombarov; Welliton.
Unused subs: Pesyakov, Sabitov, Stranzl, Ivanov, Kozlov, Maidana.
Booked Suchy 56.
Referee: Carlos Velasco (Spain)
I was hoping we weren’t going to be kept behind too long, as it was now freezing cold and I was losing the will to live, but to our horror they systematically emptied the stadium section by section, releasing 70,000 people over about an hour and a half, during which time, bizarrely, they played a Russian children’s cartoon (sort of Yogi Bear) on the big screen. I would love to see the outcry and human rights appeal if visiting supporters were kept behind like that at Stamford Bridge (and made to watch re-runs of Postman Pat)…glasnost my arse.
If this mob want to host a World Cup they will really need to up their game.
Anyway, we eventually got let out and made our way back to the hotel, where “style and business meet legendary hospitality”, the return uphill route warming us up and preparing us for some expensive beer as we watched the final stages of the rest of the Champions League games, and marvelled at the news of the meltdown at Old Trafford.
We left the hotel at eleven the next morning for another hair-raising taxi ride to the airport.
The “Miserable Cabbie” became a “Miserable Angry Cabbie” when we attempted to pay for part of the fare with a 1000 rouble note that had a tiny bit torn off the end. He refused to take it, leaving his cab at a dangerous angle outside the terminal to march us to the nearest bureau de change where we suffered an appalling exchange rate on a £ 20 note to pay him. Another bargain.
We bade the Klebbs goodbye and took refuge in the Swiiss Air lounge…from Russia with love…
I enjoyed the trip much more than I had anticipated, with the surreal Russian support making it truly memorable.
Good fun, but hideously expensive.
Airfare: £ 225 (£ 468 business class)
Visa : £ 165
Match ticket: £ 11.50
Hotel: £ 300
Food & booze: £ 100
Taxis : £ 40 (my share)
Total: £ 841.50
Trip score: 6.5/10