We woke up late, I don’t know how late, but Julia was gone. We were just chatting with Toniya and preparing to leave. The train was at 13 50. Ideally enough time to get there. But, and thats a big but, our cycles were still at Andrey’s. So we had to go back to Andrey’s, get the cycles, pack em up and then leave for the station. It was a race against time. And remember the part about the apartment complex being so big, yah. That sorta fucked us, but we were saved by Morat, your friendly Kazan-Russian who helps strangers carrying Google translate( But on a serious note, these people love helping out strangers)
By this time, we had learned to read enough Russian to atleast know which platform the metro was going to come. So we saved some time and was able to reach Andrey’s and get our cycles. We took it to Novey Cheremunshki and dismantled it. Now we can dismantle it in 5 minutes flat, guess we gotten used to it. Now things were getting tense. We had to change stations and we were carrying this big bag, not so much fun, but fuck it, we had to get there somehow. So we carry it, get one train mixed up ( Guess our Russian is not as good as we thought it was.) Then finally it was 3 minutes to 13 50 and at that point we sort of gave up on it. Breaking our collar bones on a train which we are sure to miss isn’t worth it. Fuck.
Now things were going to go on a different trajectory. We had to get to St Petes cause we have a game tomorrow. It is Amar’s only game, he defo has to get there. This is a perfect chance for me to explain just how awesome the organisation for the world cup has been. Trust me, there is something everyone of us can learn from these young Russians.
So, we keep dragging our stuff and we ask a volunteer, “ We missed our train, we need to book new tickets for a train to St Petes and what should we do.” He told us the way to go to the ticket office. Then he offered help in the form of a man who could possible be as old as my grandad. He was also a volunteer( The volunteer program for the world cup didn’t have an age cap, and even differently abled people had a role to play in some verticals). He told us that the octogenarian would help us out. Usually, asking a guy who is that old to help us out is something which we wouldn’t do, but right now, the situation was against us, so we accepted. He walked us through the gates until he found an English speaking volunteer for us. And when I was talking to her explaining what the situation was, he was no where to be seen. Yadu you piece of shit, you didn’t even thank that old man. ( If you are reading this my friend, I would like to say, its people like you who leave us in awe of what a beautiful country you have and the beautiful, kind people that live in it, it was a privilege meeting you and your actions wont be forgotten and would inspire a lot of other people.)
Then, we ended up overpaying for tickets to St Petes and turned the station indian style by dumping all our luggage in one place and then sitting on the ground in front of it. We were joined be people from all across the world in that endeavour. I opened up the laptop and started to watch the France game. Soon, I was joined by 3 Nigerians( is showed them Sudani from Nigeria trailer- they weren’t Impressed), 5 Moroccons and a couple of Russians. It was like an impromptu match screening where everyone was enjoying a game of football. True world cup vibes.
Then it was evening, time for my La Albicelesteto put away the disappointment of drawing with Iceland and win something. For Messi to show the world why he is the best and for me to finally feel vindicated for supporting Argentina over France. ( Heart over brains)
2 hours and 3 beers later.
Amar- “ Yadu, dont cry,”
I have to give it to Croatia. What a performance. And Argentina, myre
Our next train was at 3 something in the morning, we go in with the cycles and that is when we learn that there is a specific compartment to keep all the oversized baggages. Bullocks, so we take it there and they want at ticket for it. A ticket? Fuck. When we asked the people in the railway station they said it was chill, now what?
So we ended up paying well over the counter money for it. When we get back we realised we payed 10x what the real rate was. Corruption runs across all lines. But the train was fine, until I took my feet out of the shoes. Then we went to sleep hoping we would have enough time to get to the game cause the train only reaches St Petes like 1 hour 30 minutes before kickoff.
That morning sleep was great. Amar had come in some time in the morning. I don’t quite recall when and how, but his phone is definitely on my register. Then Andrey woke up like 15 minutes before he had to leave and dressed up, said good bye and left to work. ( If only I could do the same about getting to class). Then it was time to start writing, like a lot. I was 3 days behind and I kept writing till I finished as much as I possible could. By that time it was noon and came what I would say would be the most lack-lustre fixture I have in my collection. Portugal vs Morocco. Again I would like to reiterate that the perception that European teams have the most passionate fans is a lie. I know it is a blunt statement. But if you have seen the things I have seen here. Where entire families, normal people like you and me, save up and come to watch the games. From continents which are so much further from Europe. Where there isn’t a train to Moscow from almost anywhere in Western Europe. Where the Euro and Dollar doesn’t make u feel rich.You would appreciate the passion the latin Americans, the Arabs and to a lesser extent the Asians have. I was shocked at first, but its been 8 days and I haven’t met even 1 English fan. Not even one. All the dudes wearing the white have been Russians. Bollocks.
So when it was time for the Portugal vs Morocco game, I was konjam anticipating a tame game where both set of supporters would not be upto the very high bar set by the hombres. ( Which has been my best experience so far.) But I was proved wrong as Morocco fans, who called in backup from Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Palestine, and any halal eating nation they could find.
There were a few Portuguese fans, but they were too few and far between to have any impact. But you would find a lot of Ronaldo fans from across the world with Real Madrid, United and Portugal kits all worshipping the legend. I wore a United kit. ( For old times sake.)
On the metro and towards Luzhniki, there wasn’t a lot of ruckus happening like yesterday. But I am going to watch fucking CRISTIANO RONALDO. Who for me, as a biased Manchester United fan, is the best player ever to grace the game. I go in and find my seat. It was more neutral. A lot of Morocco fans, a couple of Portuguese and a lot of Russians. Plus the majority was people like myself who were there to enjoy a game of football. I get my bud and waited a little bit for kickoff. I was joined by two dudes. One a Mexican yank and the other a proper yak. Gil and Ross. We bonded over Mexico and made plans to meet in Saint Petes when we are going there.
Then kickoff. Let me tell you something about Cristiano Ronaldo. The fucker is huge. Like fucking gigantic. You can spot him from the moon. He is so build and his shoulders are so fucking large. ( More maybe his kits a little too tight), but I don’t know. He looks different from all the other players who were playing there, I don’t know why.
I spot an India fan ( yaaay, in a fucking cricket jersey, boooo)
And one Morocco fan dressed up as spider man. It was nuts.
The goal came very early, a cross headed in by Ronaldo and he did the superhero landing celebration. We were killing it, it super nice to see him score( No pressure Messi). Then the game was played where Morocco kept creating chances and somehow they just couldn’t put it in the back of the net. In this world cup, all the teams who have won based on one thing only. How clinical they are in front of goal. Cause there are no shitty teams anymore. All teams are well drilled to defend and execute the game plan perfectly( Maybe not Argentine) That makes it difficult for the big teams to do something. The game was pretty much not too exciting from there, with Morocco getting the odd chance, which they would squander and let Portugal break. When the game was over I left back to Andrey’s.
So Andrey did something really cool. He emailed all the people in Decathlon Moscow that 2 dudes from Decathlon India were in Moscow to watch the world cup and they need a place to crash for the night. And Nabaji country head was kind enough to host us. NABAJI is Decathlon’s swimming brand and when I say country head, I mean country head. She takes care of whole of Russia. Her name is Julia and we are yet to meet her at this point of time. So I head back to Andrey’s, Amar comes a little while later and then we pack up unicorn and the falcon and we are on our way to North Moscow, that is where her home is. It took us a lot longer than we anticipated.( Something which we should have taken more exactly then)
So finally we reach her station and walk up towards the subway. And spotting two indian guys carrying a big a big bag with a cycle in it isn’t difficult. Here we met Julia. With a wide smile that stretches from Kaliningrad to Eklaterinberg. ( Check that map if you don’t know what I mean.) She spoke the best English of all the Russians we had met so far. She was from Samara. She guided us into her apartment complex. It was huge and finding out way out was going to be an issue, we were sure of that. We were welcomed into the most coolest apartment we had seen. ( After seeing Russian apartment homes, I am starting t think we in India waste a lot of space and don’t get creative enough when it comes to decorating an apartment.) It was so pretty. You could feel the youth in the apartment. She introduced us to her roommate, ( Toniya). She worked as a journalist for a Russian newspaper. Julia was more than kind to offer us everything in her kitchen to eat. We were overwhelmed and ate just enough to get a good nights sleep. She had WIFI, so I spend a lot of time in front of the screen ,writing.
Julia got her colours right.
And it is always makes me wonder, what would this world have become if it hadn’t been for kindness. From our case, I can say, we would have been proper fucked.
I get off at the station and slept while waiting for my free train. Then when it eventually came, found my seat and tried my best to sleep. The angle that the seats in seater trains are fucking made so that its uncomfortable for you to sleep. Its fucked up. But somehow I managed to get back to Moscow and then to Andrey’s apartment and then I hit the bed. I met Pasha and Pasha’s friend Gula who had come to India and knows a lot about Kerala. It was real cool. Then I hit the bed to doze off till like 10 pm. Gommale, it was the best sleep in days. I might think my body can take anything, but without proper sleep and nutrition, it is not going to last. ( Keep that in mind Yadu).
When I woke up Andrey came and he had a friend with him. His name was Viktor. He was the kind of Russian dude you saw being trained to kill Rambo or some shit. He was big and he was build, but when he smiles, its like a 12 year old kid suddenly comes out all of that. He’s got a sweet smile. So we were exchanging what kind of music we like to listen to. I played theyyame( The drunk mallu anthem) and they liked it. They showed me Russian hip-hop and I was really impressed by the flow. Then as the conversation was going, I said I usually listen to music while I drive. That is when Viktor made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. -“ You drive Russian car?”
I was like, are you serious. Fuck yah. That would be the coolest things to do. And I did, we went down to his car and he took us to the deserted intersection where there weren’t a lot of people. I strapped in and put the keys in the ignition and before I knew it, I was driving a Russian car which is a left hand drive. It felt amazing. More so cause I only recently learned to drive manual as my mom’s car is automatic. I am so thankful to Viktor for letting me drive it.
Then we went to a victory park. There are a lot of these victory parks in Russia to commemorate the sacrifices and the remind citizens just how much the country had to go through during world war 2.
Here they showed me the last line of defence against the Germans. In 1942 Germany had advanced till Cheremunshki and was just 20 km away from taking over Moscow. So women and children volunteered to build this trench which would make it difficult for armoured advancement. This selfless act by the women and children of Moscow is commemorated here. They showed me two guns which were used for the defence of Moscow against the Luftwaffeer.
Russian have a lot of pride in the deeds of their ancestors. They are more proud to talk about the Russia during the great wars than the modern Russia. Andrey’s great Grandad died in combat, and from his mothers side was an amputee after the war. Vikors great grandad died inside a tank. An anti-tank missile from the German lines destroyed his tank. This is not call of duty, these are real people with real relationships to people who are telling this. This part of European history is so fascinating and something which I should focus more on. Viktor was working with the special forces. He was a sniper. He uses a gun which I cant talk about.(No really, its classified) But it was huge, then he showed me the place where there was a monument dedicated to all the children who died in concentration camps. It was really eerie, then he showed me the bush behind it where he did a girl. ( Delete as well as create history). Then a monument for everyone who died in the war, German, Russian, jew, Gypsy. Just a statement to humanity.
After that Viktor dropped us off at Andreys place andAndrey made it clear that his sister was moving in and that since space was a little less, we would have to kelambalowski. I don’t know how to thank him for all that he had done and I told him – “ No scenes macha, we will take care of it”(My words exactly). Andrey is one of the most awesome people I know right now and he has a good taste in music too. Which always helps. So I get back and started writing till the sun comes up. Which is like 3 am and then went to sleep.
“Macha look at that da, thereare people swimming in that pond” Amar said as we passed in the cable car 80 m from the ground. “ macha, we are kandippa going for a swim”.
We got off at the station and were making our way to the nearest McDonalds. The burger(Whose name is in Russian) with the eggs was what was fast becoming our breakfast. I don’t remember having this as breakfast when I was working in McD back in Kochi.
There it was crowded af. Mostly with Swedes and South Koreans. There was a game in the Nizhni Novogord stadium that night where Sweden takes on Korea.
NIZHNI NOVGOROD STADIUM
So we thought we would walk to the stadium. We were trying to find rental cycles, but Niznhi is like how Kochi is to Chennai . A thambi ( little brother)who has a lot of growing upto do. So in terms of infrastructure it wasn’t as epic as Moscow, but it had its own charm which you could feel. It felt more likea proper city in the USSR rather than a modern European metropolis like Moscow. We didn’t bring the tribans as it was our first time on board a train and we figured we wouldn’t have time to assemble and dismantle the cycles since we had to board the train directly after the match. So we were on our feet. We went to the stadium and it was one of those recently build for the world cup. It looked so beautiful from the outside. Then right next to it was what looked like the castle that comes in all Disney movies before it starts. I aint kidding you, take a look.
Then we decided to cross the bridge to the other side and we saw a steamy scene were two girls made love in plain sight under the hot sun. ( Okay, I am being a bit creepy right now) It was the confluence of the Rivers Olka and the Volga. It was the best lesbian scene I have seen in my life. It was heavenly and calm.
Blue IS the warmest colour
Then we moved on towards a set of stairs which goes to the upper part of the city. There is a distinct lower side which is near the river and everything else is on the top side. We saw what appeared to be Popoyes boat but with the hammer and sickle on it. Fascinating.
Soon we reached what looked like a super market to get some water. But this was no supermarket. ThisWAS HEAVEN.
After that on the map we found what it said was victory park. And one thing most people don’t know about me was that, before football. My obsession was war. I played literally every call of duty game till modern warfare 2. My favourite Channel was the history channel and I knew just about the names of all tanks there were. I know, its disturbing in retrospect. But when I went to the park and saw all the munitions. From mortars to rock launchers to my personal favourite- the MIG 27. I was mind fucked. These are the things which shaped the course of world history. The instruments of war which stopped a juggernaut army and then went for world domination. There is so much history in this soil that due to the football, I feel like I don’t appreciate it enough.
After victory park we went for a hike through the forests.
I have to say it has been the hottest day since we came to Russia. The sun was in full swing and guys were walking shirtless and you know what that means. Soon enough we saw it, but she must have been like 90. So we pretended we didn’t see it ,until we came across the cableway which took everyone to the next city. Can you believe it,there is a cable way which takes you to an another city. And it was cheap too. Only a 100 rubles.
And we got on that and we were like two kids in a candy store. Too much awesome things at the same time. That is when we saw people splashing down in ponds from the cable car.
So when we got to the other side, we decided to treat each other and have real food in days. Not something you pick off a counter. So we ordered pork ribs and pasta. ( I joked it was Angamali pork and my Angamali mates believed it :P)
ANGAMALI PORK ADDA LOGHAM THINANTHU
After that it was a few meters down the trail and voila, we were there. The pond where everyone was swimming. Imagine finding a common space like that in India. It is almost impossible.
We stripped down to our undies( not the Malayalam ones) and we tip toed to the water body. It was cold, like Pamba at Sabarilmala on a cold morning cold. But we persisted, it was murky from the kids who were playing there previously, but we ventured forward until we were comfortable to dip our heads in it. It felt so good to have some cold water over our heads, like kids who were going crazy on a beach we went crazy. The old Russian’s who were chilling there watching us seeing what the fuck two brown guys almost naked were doing. It was like one women was almost waiting for one of us to drown. We had a great time swimming there. It was fucking insane.
We dried up and went for a walk down the trail. Thats when we saw barbie in real life. Like literally she was a barbie. Blonde hair, an almost perfect physique according to ideals Hollywood sells us and a bikini and swim suit which would make any man look twice. She was what I would call Aphrodite with a Russian accent and matching underwear. Pure bliss.
After our casual voyeurism ( that was a joke) we made our way to back to the cable cart. We needed to get back in time to watch the football games at the fan fest. After getting lost and being cheated by a bus driver and being helped by a very kind Russian who said the most quotable line I have heard since I got here. He said – “ No left, No right, straight straight”. Thats a life lesson right there. You gotta love these young Russians. They are the kindest people in the world.
So, finally we reached the fan fest. We were a bit apprehensive that the security might snatch the pack of smokes we have with us. With wasn’t the case. And we are inside.
The first game was Sweden vs Korea. Nothing too fancy as the captain, Granquist slots in a pen to win the game. There was literally one Swede in the fan fest as everyone else was in the stadium. He was wearing a Zlatan kit and I stood next to him. So when they scored, Russian TV would have footage of me celebrating with him. Its insane. ( I am using this phrase too much, aint I, even Amar says the same.)
Then the next game came. Belgium vs Panama. This was coming of a playerstribunal article I read written by Lukaku. Il share the link at the end, do give it a read. It shows just how much hunger he and his brother have to be successful. So it was no surprise when he scoredand then added another one to put the meso-Americans to bed. But that game was honestly really boring as we already knew who was winning.
Now things changed. All the Swedes had come to the fan fest( Mostly drunk) and then there were the Russians who had been waiting for the sun to go down to come to the fan fest and with this the atmosphere changed. There was a certain spark again, we had recharged with a shawarma and were ready to make some noise. Then England score through Harry Kane. Some random dudes celebrates. I don’t know how to say this, but I been in Russia for 7 days and I haven’t met even one England fan. Not one, people who wear England kits are Russians.I don’t know if English people don’t openly wanna show they are English with concerns over their safety or are they just following the team in the cities where they are playing. I seriously expected a lot more English fans.
Then Tunisia started attacking, playing sleek football, one thing which I noticed over the course of this tournament is that small teams don’t fear the big names anymore. They go full monty and are willing to try new things. Iceland, Mexico and now Tunisia are making former champions look ordinary. Then Tunisia win a penalty, I see a few scarfs being swung around. Shit, there are Tunisia fans here. I go there and there are like 50 people from all over the Arab world. I could see flags of Egypt, Palestine, Tunisia, Morocco and Saudi. All cheering for Tunisia. This pan Arab feeling of brotherhood is something which I haven’t seen anywhere else.
World peace through football – YES
And when the penalty went in, I started celebrating with them. It was such a happy feeling, the narrative of David vs Goliath is written into our psyche I think. It gives us hope that anything is possible and I changed my allegiances to Tunisia. ( Much to the displeasure of my English mate Juds). And then I saw her ( Or I saw her and started supporting the Tunisians). See if you’d seen her, sing and chant for Tunisia, you would have fallen in love with her too. But I knew, this was the most beautiful women I had seen so far in Russia. I need to say hai, I got more than a hi from Yesmine. I got a picture too. ( It got more hits than my blog, I should use that to my advantage next time).
The Arabs know how to get a party going, they start singing songs which are oddly familiar to us and they start playing football and it was the best thing to happen that day. The Swedes joined in on the party and we were killing it. We formed a human train and were running circles. It was the most fun I had in Nizni. But then tragedy struck in the form of a Hurricane in the 89th minute, when Harry Kane scored a header. Arab dreams broken, silenced. It wasn’t the first time the English left the middle east in tatters( JK) and the Arabs slowly left the scene. Poor Yesmine.
Then the Russians took over and after the game the fan fest brought in a DJ and brought the house down. We were dancing till 12.
It was better than sunburn. ( Not just cause the beer is cheaper and the girls hotter, but cause it celebrated joy, happiness) the DJ dedicated a song to Tunisia too. Pure class. And he finished it off with a tribute to Aviici to the appreciation of a 1000 Swedes who had flood the streets of Nizhni.
And after that, we were out. Without a place to sleep. But it didn’t matter, who needed sleep when the entire city is partying. Every pub, cafe and toilet were filled with chants of “ Alaamo, alaamo”. The Swedes were killing it.
The Russian joined I singing “ Russia, Russia” and the Mexicans who were just looking for an excuse to make some noise did too.
It was the sort of culture which draws me out to these adventures. We had a little bit of pizza and we watched the sun come up like 2 hours later. No really, the sunrises at 3 am here.
We go for one last walk on the river and I had to catch my train in the morning. I had to leave early to work on the blog and Amar was kind enough to let me leave early. He found a hostel and when I went to the metro it wasn’t open yet. But there were a group of fan playing football.
“ AMME. Do we really need ginger to make chicken, also is garam masala a must ? “
After the Argentina game, I came to the apartment. It was the first time I am seeing Pasha. Andrey’s dad. He greeted me with a Namaste hand posture. It was really strange as it was the first time anyones done that in Moscow. He didn’t speak English so I took out google translate and we started this conversation which was really cool. He made a bed for us and he showed me where everything was . He was one of the kindest Russians I met so far. Then Amar came and a while later Andrey came from work. Pasha made us this delicious dish with potatoes and salad and we had the best meal we have had in days. The taste of home cooked meals is second to none. Trust me, doesn’t matter which country you are in. It just oozes love.
We had a good nights sleep and woke up next day. This is when I started to get to know them better.
I would describe him as the fittest 56 year old I have seen in my life. He takes care of himself like no one I have seen. He wasn’t eating the rich potato dish he made for us. He was going to run a marathon the next morning and so he was eating sunflower seeds ( Which oddly tastes a lot like peanuts.) If you take a look at his trophy cabinet, even if you cant read the Russian, but you can read the numbers. 130, 160, Km?Andrey confirmed. He runs marathons and a look at his pictures show just how much of an active life style he lives. You can see that in his face too. He is a person who has seen a lot of the worldand a look at his eyes is like a periscope into the soul of a Russian who has lived through the best and worst of the country. His gaze reminds me of the Italian ref Colina. Andrey says he was huntsman. I think it must mean like a park ranger. Which is super cool. I can assume he was out in the wilderness when the Russian winter comes fighting off bears and fishing salmon. Living off the land in a true nomad style. Andre says after watching “ Into the wild “ Pasha said Mccandeless was stupid going hunting for big game and that he should have just fished. When Pasha says it, its got some weight in it. He is super calm and relaxed. I have a feeling he is a Indophile too. I found an Amruthangan balm, an oum sign, garam masala and Assam tea in the house. Things which you don’t usually expect to encounter. It was insane. Just that the language barrier stopped us from communicating properly. But he spoke through kindness and I can understand that completely.
Pasha has more medals than Gerrard.
I am 21 years old. Andrey is 21 years old. I expected him to be older than that. He is a retail supplier in Decathlon Russia. Which is a really good place on the hierarchy if you look at it from an India perspective. Especially since he is so young. From his pictures I realised that he was into snow sports like snowboarding and skiing. I also knew his girlfriend lived with him. Since I was not using WhatsApp for a long time, Amar was doing all the talking for us. And the first time I met him in the metro was the first time we had a conversation in a really long time.
I know I use this phrase a lot but he is super cool. One of the chillest guys I have met in a really long time. He enjoyed us being there as much as we enjoyed being there. He loves diversity, he loves that we speak a different language every state and thatwe are sodifferent. He always gets really excited when we find something common to talk about, may it be green day or Stalingrad or call of duty or that both Russians and Indians call tea, chai. I think If I was Russian I would be something like him. ( Cause we have so much in common) He still has that wonder about the world in his eyes. Maybe that is why he is the only Russian to accept us. He even asked if me and Amar were comfortable sharing the same bed. :P. What a babe. His apartment is beautiful. I just love the place. I wish Icould spend more time with Andrey and get to know him better. He plays the guitar too and we did a duet of “ Creep” by radio head. ( The mallu and the Russian accents make it sound like Chakocha :p) We are planning a 3 day cycling expedition for that. Hopefully it will come through.
WE ARE GONNA SING CREEP SOON
So next morning we decided we are cooking Indian. So I call up my mom and ask how to make Kerala beef fry. Cause if there is one thing mallus like doing, it making sure that our delicacies are made world famous. So we hit the supermarket, and thats where the problem arises. Like 60 % of the things you need are either not available or are in the form of powder. Here you get tomatoes as a powder. Insane. So we took everything we out find for it an hoped for the best. It was the first time I was cooking in years. It took me 2000 km of travel to step into a kitchen. #feminism.
But the final product didn’t turn out too bad to be honest. We loved it, not much spices but Andrey could eat it so easily just cause of that. Pasha also said it was good and our efforts were vindicated.
Now it was time to kelambaloski to the game. Today was Germany vs Mexico. And I knew what that meant. The most vociferous fans were going to take over today. They fucking took over the metro. You know you are in the mood, when sombreros and mariachi bands fucking take over the metro man.
I walk outside Sportinyava and you can hear the party from a mile away. You encounter the odd German supporter, but it was all Mexico all the way. Hobres, Amigos, Chickas and seniors had Moscow by the balls. And Then there was this bridge under which they let the party start.
I finally make it to my seat. I am so happy as its surrounded by Mexicans. I am right above the Mexican fan base and to my opposite are the Gemans. Zee Germans made one entire stand appear white and the German flags when they are waved together looks amazing.
When Germany walked out, I saw my heroes. Unlike Argentina, there was a world class player in every position. Ozil, the way he walks, the way he touches the ball. There is so much class oozing. I have had a man crush on Hummels since the day and I saw him and this might come out a bit homoerotic, but what a man. ( Ok it didn’t). On the Mexican side, there was Chicharito. He used to my favourite player at united once upon a time. And his signature prayer before kickoff send shivers down my spine. It was all coming true man. The dream.
When the Mexican national anthem came on, it felt so familiar. I used like 10 words I had learned from Dora the explorer and I was soon part of La Familia. I was screaming with Mexico supporters. Cudero cudero means fuck you fuck you. Stretching your hands out and waving your like an octopus means you are a pussy. The fans were rabid.
First half both teams started brightly, my favourite player to watch was OZIL. The way he handled the ball, looked for overlapping runs. I was like, he is the epitome of what an attacking midfielder should be.
Ochua was immense in goal and then before you know it Mexico get a counter. The type you would only expect arsenal to fall to, not Germany :p. Then it came, Hernandes passes to Lazano. We were all off our seats, then he cuts inside to leave the full back struggling for balance. Thats what I love the most about this Mexico side. They were playing the champions of the world, Germany, one of the best tournament teams ever and Lazano had the audacity to cut inside and shoot one past Neurer. I am not exaggerating when I say this. But it rained beer that instant. It was fucking amazing. The Mexico fans knew it was coming. They didn’t seem surprised, the fans before the game told me we are going to win, I told them I hope too. But this wasn’t hope, this was conviction. They knew it, the players knew and by the end of the game, I realise that this Mexico side can progress a lot in the competition. I see entire families hugging each other, trying to hold in tears. Strangers became hombres. It was the moment when you start to think. Is football the only thing which can bring all of humanity together again. I don’t know. But I wish to think so.
Last 5 minutes were the best ever. Germany was attacking and attacking and the Mexican defence was holding strong. Rafa Marquez came on. This is his 5th world cup. He comes on against the champs andrallies the defence in the last 5 minutes. Its like a movie script. After a point, all you can hear is ay, ayyy, ayyy, the Mexicans chant. I join even though I don’t know it. Mexicans arm in arm, couples, families, kids all of them resonating in thought. And when the final whistle blew. Gomaale.
I stayed back with them for a while to see how awesome the celebrations would be. I am sure the party went late into the night.But I had to kelambaloski fast. We had a train to catch to Nizhni Novgorod the same night. Amar was already there and I was in the metro. It was a race against time as the metro station closer to the stadium was blocked. I ran and finally got on a metro. But I was having second thoughts about going to Niznhi, cause I didn’t take my Mac and I wouldn’t be able to write for a few days. So I got to the train and asked Amar the same question. Should I come? Since Amar is the calmest person I know, he didn’t fuck me life, but if it was the other way around, I would have made sure every Russian in that compartment remembered what Myre meant. I was so tired after the game. We went got of at Vladimir and slept in the station for our next train. We got in that, a sleeper train and we finally reached Nizhni in the morning.
This day started a bit stressful. We had to vacate our hostel which we were renting at like 1350 Rubles per day per person. This was putting a lot of stress on the cash reserves and we were planning to kelamboloski ( Russio-Tamil for leave) asap. I wrote in the morning and staring at the screen gave me a headache, ( Trust me it wasn’t the beer, beer doesn’t do anything here) We had to do the chore of packing up again, the hostel was a really good place for us to chill, now pack up and leave was the priority.
A big question arises- “ Where to next?”
Thats a big question we needed to ask ourselves. This is where I would have to introduce an angel. Like literally an angel and also talk about something called “ Decathlives”.
So, as you guys might have known, I have been working with decathlon for a while. And decathlon being the big MNC it is, has operations across the world. And the company wants to put use of that network to make sure that cultural exchange happens between Decathletes and that is why we have our own platform like Couchsurfing where Decathletes from other countries would host you and you can do the same. When I heard of this, I was like – “ Decathlon IS the best decision I have made in the last one year”. This gives me more incentive to stay with the company than anything else. So when I put a request out for Moscow. A dude named Andrey responded. I was over the moon. Somebody actually responded, I found a place to stay in RUSSIA and more importantly a friend. ( At this point, it was only me, Amar had not joined me yet.)
So Andrey had told we can stay with him for a few days. And we planned to peace out to his place. But there was a little scene as he was at work and would only be back at night, so we had to make do with something else till then. Moreover, it was Egypt vs Uruguay and Spain vs Portugal that night. So we had to make it to the fan fest and watch the games.
While we were pondering over what to do, two Russian ladies who were drunk AF came to us and started to talk, it was the most fun conversation I ever had without knowing what the fuck was being said. Their names Sasha and Toniyo ( How do I still remember their names? :P). It was funny cause they were drunk. They offered me a smoke and I obliged ( Cause it was impolite to refuse, not cause I endorse smoking). Sasha was describing yesterdays game where Russia beat Saudi 5 nil. ( By describing I mean a single pelvic movement symbolising – “ Fucked”, language barrier no bar)
So we checked in again and we planned on what to do. I would go to the fan fest and Amar wouldgo get the keys to Andreys apartment in the evening and so I got onto the metro and was on my way to the fan fest.
FIFA FAN FEST.
I departed at Vobory Gory station and started walking towards the FAN FEST near Moscow State Uni. I was joined by fans from across the planet. The Mexican gang with their sombrero hats, the Peruvians with their wrestler masks and the Colombians with their powder ( JK).I met this gang of Argentine fans who taught me how to sing “ Cada di term mas” which is like really catchy Argentine chant. Its like “ This is America” once it goes inside your brain, it will be on repeat for a while.
So I walk into this gigantic park which looks over the Luzniki stadium. The view from the park to the stadium is insane. European stadiums look like a UFO landed here sometime and have set up shop to play football. Insanity at its finest.I enter the fan zone park. There are 5 screens all showing the match. And the biggest one is where all the fans are standing and watching. ( I have no idea why people would sit down for a football game.)
There I saw a group of Egypt fans. And since it wasEid, Salah’s birthday and I look more like them than anyone else there. I joined in on the chanting screaming “ Mass” “ Mass”. Its the Arabic for Egypt. ( Ikka Mass adda) Those Egyptians were in props like a pharos attire and stuff. There was one big hairy dude who reminded me of the big hairy dude from Borat. Absolutely wicked. I became habibis with a few habibis. And the Egypt side started wishing happy birthday to Mo Salah. Salah didn’t start the game, but he was on the bench and every time the camera looks at him, the decibel levels rise. On the other side were the Uruguayans. They were less in number, but made up for it with proper chants and you knew they were the more experienced set of fans. One habibi brought a drum that you see in Arab belly dance videos and we went wild after that. It was epic.
First half was over and I went to get a highly inflated Budweiser. It costs 300 rubles inside the fan zone, outside in a supermarket, it costs 79 rubles. ( HYPER INFLATION). I met this mallu dude from Malapurram who was an Argentina fan and he had come to catch all of Argentinas games. Second half was even more intense. But Egyptian hearts were broken in the 89th minute when Gimenez headed it in to send the Uruguayan fans into pandemonium. Egyptians literally sat on theground after that, without a talismanic figure like Salah, the whole team shut down. The decision to rest Mo Salah turned out to be a mistake. The Urugayan fans got the party started and then “Mass” became mess.
After that was the Iran vs Morocco game. I had to go meet Andrey to get keys for his apartment. On the way out I saw Iranian women. Macha, after the Russian beauties, Iranians are the most beautiful women in the world. That forbidden fruit feeling makes it fascinating. And we met Andrey at the metro. It was the first time I was seeing him in person. Amar had video called him before, but for me it was the first time. And I realised he was such a young dude. I think almost my age. I later learned he works in Decathlon, goes to college and also has a construction business. Proper hustler. Respects.
He showed us the way to his apartment and we went there and he showed every last detail about his place. And I will share pics of his apartment in a later post. IT IS BEAUTIFUL. The sort of place you and your girl would wanna move in. Simple, elegant and lovely. So we got a little late, when trying to go back to the fan fest. We saw Ronaldo’s penalty on the TV in the metro. Then we finally reached the fan fest and dashed to make it back. We missed Spains equaliser. Then Nachos volley. Gommale. There were very few Spain and Portugal fans there. Honestly the vibe I get is . There are more fans for Latin American teams like Peru, Colombia, Mexico than any other team.You would expect Europeans being closer and with a higher per capita income than most South American nations to come and take over the stadiums. But what really surprised me is the amount of South Americans that come for this. Entire families to the grandad who can barely sit to infants wearing little Messi 10 shirts. My travel instinct compass is slowly pointing towards South America as the magnetic north of world football. But that is for another time.
I met two Kochi guys too. I felt like I was being interrogated by them. Blah. Right now mallus are at the bottom of the people I wanna meet in Moscow. It turned upside down over the past week.
Then Spain went ahead. I was a little disappointed with that cause, Cristi is one of our own and it hurts a united fan a little bit to see him hurt. ( When he got injured in the EURO final, I wanted Portugal to win. ( I WAS SUPPORTING FRANCE FOR THE ENTIRE TOURNAMENT).
So we were walking away when Portugal wins the freekick outside the box. I knew something was about to happen. Everyone who were leaving early to catch the metro stopped. All eyes were on the screen. The bustle drops. Cristiano Ronalso steps up to take the freekick. He takes a breath, 20, 000 people in the fan fest reciprocates. Then a moment of magic and greatness was inscribed into his already spectacular career. Greatness is consistently producing quality when you need it the most. A freekick in extra time to leave Dea a mere spectator to the magic which unfolded was insane. I fucking went mental and the few Portugal fans there followed suit.
I have tasted football fan fest at its best. Tomorrow its time for the real thing.
Silence in anticipation of something which can potentially change how an entire country sees itself is even more powerful. Imagine having the responsibility of an entire nation in your hands, an entire generation who have dared to dream. I wouldn’t want to be in that position. But for two incredible human beings, it is about to change their lives.
The referee blows and then a moment of hesitation as the boot connects with the ball. Its towards his right, his feet placement was perfect, he jumps right and his gloves touch the ball. Its out, its a save, the silence is extinguished with cheers of respite from 10,000 Icelanders and sighs of Spanish swear words. One man has saved the penalty of the best player in the world while at the same time lifting his country to their best achievement yet. While the other has felt the pressure of an entire generation way him down, his shot tame, aim wayward and his head down.
Proper sleep is something which is understated. With it everything feels like usual, you wont notice. Without it. You are doing all activities at 50 % efficiency. You don’t think, you just do random shit. It sucks. It took my some time to realise this and I got a good nights sleep instead of writing at night. ( Hence the delays)So when I woke up, I didn’t feel like shit for the first time in a few days. We were leaving the place and moving to Andrey’s. It was also my first match day. I wanted it to be special and I wanted to be fully rested. So I put on my Argentina kit and practised – “ Cada de tero Mas “ with two Argentine mates we were sharing the room with. They also handed me a world cup trophy and asked me to take a picture with it.
After that it was time to move, we packed up everything into the Tribans and we left for Kursyaka metro station. You have to be very careful when you are cycling with a load. Our breaks were at their limits and we careful got to Kurskaya where we dismantled the Tribans and put them in their bag. Its really cool to watch. Give the video a look.
THIS IS HOW WE CARRY THE STALLIONS
Then comes the hard part of carrying it on our shoulders. I am pretty sure my collar bone is gonna have an issue when I come back, but its worth it. With the tribans we were able to see more of Moscow than anyone thought would be possible and that to for free. A lot fo people had asked me, “ If you are saving up for Russia, why are you buying an expensive cycle now?”
Well A. This is why.B. It is none of your business.
We made it Novry Cheremuschy, that is where Andrey lives. Then we assembled it back again and our aluminium stallions were ready to eat tarmac. But they didn’t need to as Andrey lives right next to the station. Now comes the difficult part. Finding his apartment. I don’t know if there is a bit of socialism involved here, but all buildings look alike. Like identical. He brought me home the day before so that I could learn where it is. Now I am like fuck, its a concrete maze. We went to the wrong apartment and rang the wrong door bell until we finally somehow stumbled upon his place.
There was no one home at that time. He had handed over the key the day before just cause of that. Its very interesting how much he trusts, only thing which brought us together was Decathlon. But Andrey being the really kind human being he has given us unwarranted trust which makes me love him even more. Something which I should try to inculcate more in myself. Cause at some point over the past few years, I lost that feeling that humans are intrinsically good.
Kelambaloski to Spartak
Tickets ( Check), FAN ID ( CHECK), ARGENTINA KIT ( Check), Camera and power bank ( CHECK). The feeling that your entire life has been leading upto this moment (Check).
On the metro you could see the excitement. Moscow was in football fever. In the metro you can see everyone with a kit. Russia’s victory which was not quite expected had turned the local populace into football frenzy junkies. ( Kind of like Kolkata). Everyone was talking about it and I switched lines at Oktoberestreskiya and the metro slowly became influxes with two patterns. The navy blue and white stripes of Argentina and the Icelandic blue ( Okay, I officially coined that term cause they fucking deserve it.) In it I saw kids from both sides stand side by side and watch the France game which was happening live on the TV in the metro. The amount of mutual respect is really inspiring, Spanish and English/Icelandic weren’t relevant. The smiles, he thumbs ups and the general vibe of it all made it seem beautiful. Football had transversed all barriers and two teams which are going to play against each other are sharing a moment of friendship.
Igot off at the station And the walk to the Spartak was like a carnival. There were flags an banners and then there were Argentina fans singing all the way. Iceland was quite ( trust me, they were saving up for something). There were stories all over that ground, an Argentine fan club from Japan to a dude who had cycled all the way from Argentina to Russia. I would be lying if I said I didn’t shed a few tears there. This is all of what I wanted, the pains over the last few months was for this, that feeling of belonging, that feeling of being a part of something bigger than yourself where you can be 100 % yourself and still be happy. I was at my happy place. A football game. That is my happy place and I haven’t even entered the stadium yet.
I get into the Luzniki. After a series of security checks I am finally inside, as tradition dictates. A football game without beer in Europe is not a football game at all. So I get a beer for 350 rubles ( Which is still cheaper than most retro bars in India).
And I make the walk up the stairs. I don’t know how to describe it. My brain was processing too much emotions at that time to document what happened. I enjoyed the moment. The sound of chants echoing of the roofs, how high the stands are and how much closer I am to the action. In Kochi, its like we are like a mile from the action. Here I can see what colour shoes Messi is wearing. I move towards my seat. I find this Argentina dude sitting there. I ask him hi bro whats up. He said he was a little sick and so he was sitting there. I was completely chill with it and we started talking. He was Santiago from Patagonia. His papa was there with him. I said hi to him too. We sang Cada di term mas and got friendly real fast. His dad bought me a beer.
There is this thing with me where I can become attached and share stories about myself to people I just met which I haven’t done with friends I have known since childhood. Its fucked up, but I don’t know. So Santi being a football fan, it was even easier for me.
Then Iceland came out and the stadium went into a ruckus. The islanders were right under me and I knew what that meant. I got a first row balcony seat for the most iconic fan celebrations in football. The Viking clap.
Then 30 minutes before the start of the second game came Argentina. Gommale. I still couldn’t believe how tall Messi was. The internet had created this pre conceived notion that Messi was this midget who can run through the legs of defenders. Messi is just as tall as any average Indian dude. But fuck man. You just saw the greatest player of your time right in front of you and the only thing you notice is his height. But man, all the players I had played on FIFA and had only seen on the telly were there. Di Maria, Rojo, Siggurdson, Aguero. You can clearly see their faces. It was unbelievable.
It was time for kick-off and the Icelanders made sure their numbers didn’t stop them from being heard. The claps started. It sends a shiver down your spine. Its so powerful that some Argentine players must have felt the same. I was ecstatic. My Argentine mate Santiago made sure I didn’t forget which team I came here to support. The game kicks off and the chants by the Argentines and “ is-land Is-land “ made me feel so overwhelmed that I started to cry. I don’t consider myself to be an emotional person. But when it comes to football, I will bite your head off and might even cry like my tear glands are the Mullaperiyer dam ready to burst. Its like how I said it, its my happy place and tears of happiness are part of the package.( That video is pay per view :p, if you wanna see me cry, you gotta pay a premium)
The first goal came to the post we were sitting behind. Aguero gets the ball takes it side and shoots. It rained beer. Shit, I was hugging random Argentines. It was getting insane. The fans rocked the ground. ( Not to the level of Kochi though.).But the cries of is-land, is-land still didn’t diminish after this. And not to long later Iceland equalised. We were shocked and it was the turn of one quarter of the stadium to make the noise. And at one point the Iceland chants were drowning the Spanish chants in them. I still don’t know how but Iceland fans have this special power to them. I strongly recommend you read this .
After watch the game my respect for the fans, players and the county increased 10 fold. After reading that article,I cried. Like cried.
Watch this video directed by Icelands goalkeeper. The guy who is about to save a Leo Messi penalty.
I still don’t remember how Argentina won it, but when Messi stepped up, we thought that the game was put to bed. And when Messi hit it to his left and when he saved it, the scenes were incredible. The Argentines still couldn’t believe what is happening. And the Icelanders celebrated more like it was a 90 minute header than a save. The second half from a football perspective was boring, but the fans made it epic. I shared some power from the power bank and my friends dad bought me another beer. Spanish speaking people are the most generous in the world :p.
Then the game came to an end and we left. Icelanders had an extra spring in their step. They kept Lio Messi quite and also saved a pen. It was epic. And my dream of watching a World Cup game came true. This was it. Months of work came down to this 90 minutes which I am going to remember forever. That feeling. That feeling that you get when you feel like you earned it. That can’t be bought.
Its the price you pay for making dreams come true.
You know that feeling where you feel like you are in a different planet. Where the whole scale of things just overwhelms you and you feel like you are just a tiny speck in the whole multitude of the universes and that there were and still are people and things which are capable of doing much greater things than yourself. Or as in Chennai what we say every time we are awestruck- Gomaaaaaale.
That was exactly what I said when I went inside the cathedral of Christ the Saviour. I felt like I was in a whole new dimension. There was art and detail and a whole lot of beauty everywhere. Amars keen architecture trained eyes showed me details that my “read between the lines “eyes missed. Sweet Jesus. That was really him. Sweet Jesus upstairs. Wait let me show you.
Gomaale. ( Not in a nice way)
That fever from yesterday is gone. But that nasty thought infection is still persisting. Moscow is mild, sunny, and fun they said. But when you put a South Indian boy in this summer, he would shiver regardless. 12 degree celsius doest sound too cold. I have recommended so many of my customers in Decathlon a simple fleece jacket based on just the number 12. Now I know what 12 really feels like. So a quick shower and still pondering how Western civilisation advanced on toilet paper ( They make them rough here) I was up for some break fast. Amar had bought some Maggi home and we started cooking. Like real nomads, we were entering a kitchen for the first time in a while. Backpacker hostels in Europe have a kitchen where you can make whatever you want. As long as its not meth. ( But wait, its Europe, maybe you can as long as you have a Shengen visa). Russian Maggi to the rescue and we are out of the hostel. We wish the girl good morning and we are on our horses. Let me show you those beauties.
“Milenium falcon” and “Unicorn”
I call mine “ Millennium falcon “ and Amar calls his “ unicorn”.The cycle is the horse of the modern knight. ( Yes, you can quote that.) And we embark on the journey that is going to change the way we see just about everything.
The culture of urban mobility </>
Back in decathlon, we had a department called Oxelo. That department dealt with urban mobility which included skateboards, roller blades and scooters. Along with Btwin our cycle brand, which had special urban hybrid bikes, our stores turnover percentage would not be very significant for these. This is due to mainly two things. Infrastructure and culture. When half of Annai Sala is still filled with metro rubble and when the zebra crossing exists only in theory. You cant expect anything better. But in Moscow, this is the best mode of transportation. There are specific cycle lanes, signals for cycles and people are just crushing it on their cycles and skateboards. It is really cool. That is one of the reasons why we decided to bring our cycles all the way from Chennai to Russia. Trust me, the logistical effort is completely worth it as we have covered more than half the city in 2 days. And had a lot of fun doing it and the most important part. ITS FUCKING FREE.
So I will continue where I left off.
We mount the beasts and we set off towards the red square. I don’t know if its because we are outside India or the first time, but everything looks like a photo to us. Like just about everything, inside a frame it all looks great.
We were riding and near an airport we found a group of Marathi med students.Which was cool. They were from another part of Russia and had come to get infected with the football fever.
Marathis in Moscow
Riding through Moscow is such a pleasure. Here we have to stay to the right. Not just vehicles but people also do the same, the amount of order here is insane. From the chaos of crossing Thiruvanmyur signal where there is a 33% of getting killed and 89% chance of being called “Savagraki” to actually seeing a Porche stop to let you cross the road is insane.
Put cursing video
We passed some familiar faces ( gets the “Sakkhakals”hard).
We made our way to the square next to the red square ( I am just too lazy to find the place and translate it from Russian). This is where the world cup fever hit us. It was where things were happening. We went to the statue of St Peter on a horse and there are latin American fans everywhere. Mexicans, Peruans, Colombians. If you ask me which teams have the most number of fans down here. It is these 3 teams, in terms of passion too, I would say these 3 teams are killing it. So we whoop out our tri-colour and showed some desi love. ( A lot of people confused us with Iran). It was the best moment ever. For once I felt sort of equal with these great nations of football. It was like at least in terms of passion, we are on an equal footing.
Keep the flag flying high.
And an Aussie Journo seeing our flag wanted to interview us. Here is the best part. In Tamil and Malayalam. I get self conscious about my Malayalam cause if I try to keep it real it will be thug life Kochi and if I try to sophisticate it, it comes out English. ( Endoke paranju Poyet ends).
We went to see if the Kremlin was open and we found a line longer than BEVCO and more diverse than TASMAC.So we decided to wait. That is when we saw a pack Tamil Chittappa and his pondatti. We were so happy. Her Kancheepuram saree in the Moscow sun made us miss home for a second. We took a picture and said bye. ( One day later in our feed we saw that mama next to two smoking hot Russian chicks, you can still live the good life in your 60s, especially if your wife is ok taking those pics).
Then we cycled a little to the cathedral. Let me be honest here. From the outside, it looks a lot like Edappali pali. Ask anyone from Palarivattom and they would tell you, Edappali pali is a landmark in itself, a little copying is to be suspected. ( Especially since the old church right next to gets more people for the mass than the gargantuan structure next to it.) It wont be open till 1 so we had an hour to kill and we went to get some food.
The rule when you are travelling on a shoe string budget through Europe. Supermarkets are where you are gonna survive. The cheapest food stuff can be found only there. So we started to look. Our inference was that, sometimes, beer is cheaper than water and that food is slightly overpriced than what we get in India. But a bun with jam and butter is better than anything else there. And we sit down to eat. Since its summer, the trees start pollinating with something which looks like cotton. And when the wind blows in one direction, all these cotton pollens fly up and for a second It feels like its snowing. It is super cool.
Then we went back into the church to see its interior. This is where – “ Gomaaale “ happened.
With the Moskova river flowing next to it, it was the most picturesque “Edappali pali” I have ever seen. The Orthodox architecture makes it so much more epic. But once you go inside, it is something else. The Byzantine roots really start to show and the pictures on the roof will make you say- “ Sweet Jesus”. I really felt like I was somewhere else. This place had a power which made it uber cool.
After that I had this urge to piss which makes me wanna move over mountains. And the restroom app showed a restroom over the river. So we crossed and we ended up unexpectedly in Gorky park which is like the best place to chill in the summer( oh, the irony). There are cycle ramps and people skateboarding and beautiful girls in sun dresses enjoying the sun. These are the moments when you think to yourself……..only if I had been born here. ( But then you think about malabar biryani and Kerala blasters and put those thoughts to bed.)
We cycled through the fountain and we had a splendid time there. There was a big statue of Peter the great on a boat and it was a piece of art by itself.
By that time we had covered all the places we had on our list. So, when you no where to go, you go home. And for us, home has been Decathlon for a while. So we decided to go to Decathlon Moscow. It was a little away, but with a Triban 100, tarmac is my bitch. It was inside a mall like Teynampet. It was a really really really big store compared to any store in India. I could see like 3 times the products you will find in my department back home here. I tried every skateboard and there were a lot of products you wont find in India. It was insane.
After that we went out to grab a bite and our personal favourite stuff to eat is shawarma or as they all it here, “Kebab”. Its cheap, has chicken inside and it states fucking great. We met a bubbly dude there who called us Hindustani. He stares singing this Jimmy Jimmy song which I have vague memories of. It filled us ups with so much energy.
Then on the way back we say a park where kids were practicing skateboarding under a Lenin statue. I really wish Chennai had a skate boarding scene like Moscow has. ( My insurance company would to put to use at least.)
Check out my vid and that will give you some idea.-
As we were cycling back, we saw what I would have to say is the grandest building I have ever seen. Take a look and you tell for yourself.
And the best end to the day when we saw this street band called “ The Boom” play highway to hell.
The FIFA world cup is on the top of the list of “things to do before I die” for any football fan on this blue elongated ball we call the Earth. I am here to tell you that “the dream” is much closer to reality than you imagine. I have been planning to go to the world cup for over a year now. I have meticulously planned everything which I think is important at the moment to invade Russia to watch the WC ( And don’t forget your winter cloths kids, learn from Napoleon’s and Hitler’s mistake). And I want to share that knowledge with you, so that you will be inspired to make the trip to Russia and live your dreams the way I want to. Especially if you are Indian. My perspective would be from the stand of a middle class Indian college student who just wants the join the biggest party on the planet.
So, we will get to know each other through the way and if you want to read more I will put links everywhere where I think there is something relevant or something funny.
So here are my reasons why you MUST ABSOLUTELY GO TO RUSSIA FOR THE WORLD CUP
So let me tell you this. Delhi to Moscow is 5,315KM. Kolkata to Shillong is 640KM. Now wait to get your mind fucked. The flight from Kolkata to Shillong costs Rs 9,165 as of today. My flight to Moscow from Delhi. Wait. I’l let you see it. Other wise you wont believe it.
Yah. My reaction exactly when I saw this. That was the moment when a dream made its first step into being a reality. So I hope you see how close India is to Russia in terms of flight charges. It cost me just North of 25K INR ($391) for my flight both ways. When I tell most people, they say that its very cheap. Thinking it’s one ways. When I tell them its a two way ticket . That feeling of getting their minds fucked. Worth every paisa.
In fact its the cheapest ticket from India to Europe. Lets compare. There is this cool tool called Google Flights(AAA). Where you can put in some parameters like date, destination etc and it will show the cheapest flights on the map. So I put in Moscow and some other places in Europe.
18 K for London. Not bad. ( Only Wenger would bargain over that) 23K for Barcelona.. 19K for Amsterdam, (the aviation fuel charges can be put to use in other fumes there). And for good ol Moscow 12K ish. Its the cheapest ticket to Europe from India. PERIOD.
So, I will tell you what the key is. I booked my flight tickets on the 23rd of October(BLACK SUNDAY for all United fans). A good 8 months before the WC. So I got these prices. The price for all those European locations are 8 months ahead of today ( 18 Nov 2017) . So the airline will give you the cheapest ticket possible. Trust me when I say this.
How soon you prepare is going to make the difference between how you experience the WC. You will be able to go on a shoe string budget, but still be able to see a lot of matches, visit many cities and stay longer. If you wanna watch it a week before the opening ceremony. Then this is not what you should be reading.
So my total expenditure on flights are as such.
I know right. Fucking hell.
Some tips to get the best price on the flight ticket.
And I mean way early. (The only time coming early is something you can be proud of is now.)Never do prices get lower as the date of departure arrives. The perfect time to book is 60-90 before your flight. Cause if you book too soon. You might miss out on a sale. But since I expect flights to Russia to be in high demand during that period. There is no way I am taking that chance. BOOK ASAP.
Search your flight on multiple search engines.
It’s important to check a few sites before you book, as you’ll often see variations in prices, and you don’t want to miss a deal. The best search engines are the ones that have no affiliation with any airline and make their money via advertising, not bookings.
Remember — there is no perfect airline search engine. Even the best have their faults. My favorites are:
I finally booked it on makemytrip.Cause that is the only one of the lot which accepts payment in rupees and I didn’t have an international credit card at the time. You will get a discount coupon for Rs1500. After that, the price is close to the lowest price you will see on these search engines.
+/- 3 days.
Check and see the prices of your flight for the entire week as prices vary during the week and the most expensive are on Friday, Sunday and Monday. and also always expensive 7 days before and after a holiday of the destination or the origin.
Moreover, it’s always cheaper to fly during the middle of the week than on a weekend, because most people travel on the weekends and airlines hike their prices then.
Early-morning or late-night flights are cheaper because fewer people want to travel then (who wants to wake up early?!). The difference of one day can mean thousands of rupees in savings.
Always browse incognito and delete your cookies
No, I am not saying you would wanna jerk off to airline ticket prices.(No judgment if that’s your thing, but Jesus is watching) But the search engine will hike prices up to make you think that tickets are being sold fast so that you would book ASAP. And worst of all is that only you would be given that price. The next passenger will have a price which may be less than yours. Remember when after searching for something in Amazon, then all suggestions you get are based on what you searched for when you go to other websites. That’s the sinister trick of the innocent cookie. So use incognito for something more than porn for once.
USE FLIER MILES IF YOU CAN
This is a rich kid thing which I really don’t know too much about. So if you are loyal to an airline or a credit card. Then for every ticket you buy, you will get some points which you can be redeemed later on another ticket. So if you are fortunate enough to have that. USE IT. I know this dude from Chennai who is going to Russia using that. Realized that talking to him about anything else after that is useless. Cause that guys a tourist with cash, we are nomads who live off the land.
2.WHEN PUTIN SAYS NO VISA, HE MEANS NO VISA
Too good to be true?
I thought so too. But….before that. Lets take a lesson into some international affairs. So, if you look at how Russia has been acting over the past few years in international politics. You can say, Russia has been kinda of a dick.
( Largest in the world in terms of area) Mobilizing troops to fight in Syria to annexing parts of Crimea. So, this creates some less than desirable situations in the “western world” where Europe and the United States think Russia is trying to bring back the glory days with some good old fashioned Kalshnikovs and some “Fuck you” diplomacy. Also a Russian hacker might leak a video of Trump getting a golden shower any day and also prove the Kremlin meddled in the elections(All speculation as of now). On top of that, on the football front in the Euros in France. The scenes in Marseilles was something which we haven’t seen in football for decades. Where Russian hooligans attacked English fans and French police with unrivaled organization and structure that many wondered if they were trained for it. ( I will write more on the safety factor later).
So Russia is going through a PR disaster in a way. So in order to make sure that the billions invested in the world cup won’t be put to waste and that fans would turn up in numbers to make it epic. My boi Vlad got this idea to make it Visa free for all the people who have a match ticket.
Again. Too good to be true, right? I thought so. So I went to the Russian consulate to talk to this Russian chick named Volga. ( I could dive into her blue eyes like they were the sapphire blue, crystal clear waters of the Great Baikal lake). So her answer was very ambiguous regarding it. Expected, as this was sometimes in August. When the consulates probably didn’t get the instructions on how to process the World cup fan applicants. Then I send an email to the Russian embassy in New Delhi.
Jesus fucking Christ. I still made 4 people confirm my ability to comprehend English to make it clear that what was written was that anyone, no matter what country, can come without a visa provided they have a match ticket. If the Russian dream was that hot girl you wanted to pork with for a while. I just undid her bra.
SO WHAT DO YOU NEED TO DO
Okay. Its very simple. All you need is a passport.
1.First you order your match tickets(which I will explain in detail later)(AAA).
2.Then you will be given a chance to fill up the FAN ID info. Fill it, submit and then it will be posted to your address in your home country. That will be your “visa” for your entire time in Russia.
You will get free transport in cities during match days and free cross country train rides( Both of which I will explain later on). It is valid 10 days before the tournament starts and 10 days after it ends. For more info check out this link.
THAT’S IT. EASIER THAN GETTING A PAN CARD OR WAKING UP FOR THAT 8 AM A SLOT CLASS ON MONDAY.
3.THE GOLDEN TICKET
ONE MOMENT OF SILENCE FOR THE PEOPLE WHO PAYED 75K TO WATCH JUSTIN BEIBER LIP SYNC
I’l be very candid when I say this. World cup tickets aren’t cheap or easy to get. ( At least for me). And you would be really lucky if you get all the tickets you want. Consider yourself the chosen few if you do. But if you want to increase your chances of getting your tickets. Do what I have been telling you all the way from the start. PREPARE EARLY.
To give you an idea of the demand for the ticket. Lets talk some numbers. On the First Come First Serve part of Sales phase 1. 160,000 tickets went online on 1430 hours IST on 16th Nov. In 24 hours, 98 % of the tickets were sold. With the only ones left were special tickets for people with disabilities’ and obese people( Having that extra slice of pizza might land you a ticket :p). I had been on the online queue for more than 24 hours and still had to wait 30 minutes after the tickets opened to get a chance to choose my product And I couldn’t get all the tickets I wanted as some stadiums were sold out fast. Even less than an hour. That just shows that, for the first time, getting a tatkal ticket is easier than getting this. The entire world wants to be there.
SO FUCKING BOOK EARLY.
FIFA doesnt release all the tickets in one go. They allocate a certain amount to each phase. And there are 3 phase. Phase one is already over by now. Phase 2 will commence on Dec 5th and phase 3 after that. All the info for that can be found in the infographic.
1 RUB =1.12 INR
5.Free transport within Russia
Russia is big. I mean huge. I mean a giant Goliath of a country which stretches across two continents. And getting from A to B is not that easy or cheap. But Ma Boi Vlad was generous enough to give us poor football fans something to cheer about. Free train services to all the 11 cities where the matches are going to be held. To put it in perspective. The distance between Kaliningrad which is the western most venue to Ekaterinburg, the eastern most is 3,042 KM. Yup 3 mother fucking thousand kilometers. That is a 51 hour train ride which is absolutely free. Let me tell you this, even if you are not a football fan and just want to backpack across Russia on a budget. You wont get a better chance than this.
How it works.
The FAN ID again becomes the key that unlocks all. Visit this page and book the tickets to where ever you want to go. Pretty straight forward. As of now I don’t think we can use the train to go wherever we want to. We need to have a match ticket in that particular stadium to go there. Also there is a return train too. As of now all the trains listed starts from Moscow to all the other 10 cities. There are sleeper as well as passenger trains depending on the duration. This should be sweet.
Check out this video to see how the cabin of a Russian train is. Once you traveled general class from Chennai to Ernakulam at night, with a dude picking his nose 30 cm from your face, concepts of personal space and proximity vanish. So the cozy compartments of the Russian train should be a real treat.
Cheap air flights.
In Russia there are mainly three airlines for domestic travel.
Pobeda which is the domestic carrier of the national airline Aerofloat
Best thing to do is to search for flights in JETRADAR. ( Don’t forget to delete your cookies). And the prices of flights are insane. A flight from Moscow to Saint Petersburg 3 days from today( 30 Nov) costs something less than 2K rupees. I have paid more for a bus to Banglore. So, once you get to Russia. Your transporation across this giant, magestic country is not as expensive as you think it would be. A little bit of smart planning and preparation would make your journey exponentialy less expensive than a packaged holiday.
6.The last True FIFA world cup
“The only thing permanent in the universe is change”
-KSRTC bus conductors
You don’t need me to tell you football is changing. The dynamism of the game is what keeps us hooked to it and sometimes makes us think “what the fuck happened here?”
There have been two such WTF moments when it comes to the world cup. The first was when Qatar was awarded the chance to host the WC in 2022. The other was the unanimous decision to increase the number of qualified teams to 40 or 48. Both these decisions will have profound impacts which we wont realise right now. But soon enough in the future. The way the game is going to be played will be changed forever and with that the world cup would too and I am very pessimistic about the outcomes of it.
First lets talk about the 2026 world cup
This year was a year of surprises. If you followed the qualifying campaings, you would have probably been surprised at the teams that didn’t make it. 2006 champions Italy didn’t make it, 2010 finalists Holland didn’t qualify. Copa America champions Chile didn’t qualify. World cup regulars USA got the knocked while Panama qualified at their expense. It took a Messi master class in Ecudor for Argentina to qualify in their last game. Ivory coast was elimniated by Morocco in Cotedevor. Australia had to qualify through their inter-continental playoffs in the last chance saloon draw.
What I am trying to say is. The world cup is not all about the one month of football extravegaza. It’s a long game where qualifications began in March 2015. It is 2 years of blood, sweat and tears from both the players and the fans, and when a team qualifies for the world cup, the emotions that run through the body of the team and the fans. That feeling of being able to share the stage with the best in the world by virtue of being good enough. That is something which is going to be a nostalgic after -thought when the draws for the 2026 world cup draw comes. All the big teams will be there. Some teams which don’t deserve to be there will be there. There will be a lot of thrasings and huge score games and that feeling of being the “chosen few” would disentrigate to being the “usual many”. The fight to secure a spot to have the right to stand with the best in the world would sink into the many things a fan would miss. FIFA as an organisation, though more inclusive than many other world wide organisation, is still a capitalist venture where the search for profit is always the supream motivator and the love for the game can always come second when billions in TV revenue is on offer. And FIFA would continue to do such measures which increase profitablity at the expense of the passion for the game. By increasing the duration of the tournament, an extra 1 B in revenues is expected. For me personally, this is the last chance to immerse myself in an international football experience at its rawest, purest, most rabid form which is exactly what the world is going to miss in the future. I am saying with the knowledge that increasing the number of qualifying teams might increase the chances of India( The team which I support) qualifying. But not at the cost of losing the beauty out of the beautiful game. NOT AT THE COST OF LOSING THE BEAUTY.
QATAR is everything wrong with football at the moment
With atmost respect for all the people of Qatar. I do not mean to disparage your nation and I will be very candid when I say this. I am biased and a big part of that has to do with the fact that I am a Man United devotee. There is no such thing as an unbiased opinion and if someone starts of by saying that. Then you have every reason to suspect that cunt.
Qatar won the 2022 world cup bid amidst a barrage of accustions of corruption and fixing the draw. What most people thought was a publicity stunt turned out to be a reality pill which we had to swallow more bitter than sweet. ( Kind of like Donald Trump).
The only people who were happy about Qatar being given the great honor was ofcourse the Qatari organising team and the cash cows who run FIFA. ( I certainly hope the people of Qatar were also happy, but I cant really confirm if it created enough of a rukus). Qatar presents a lot of problems which could have otherwise been easily avioded.
Lets start with the who?
Who is holding the world cup. Qatar. With a population of over 2.5 million, of which only 400,000 are native Qatarites. Qatar becomes the smallest nation in terms of area and population to hold a world cup. The last smallest being Switzerland in 1954. This leaves a lot of things to ponder over. With a nation with no particular football culture organically developed and with a native population which prefers labourers from South Asia to do anything which doesn’t involve air- conditioning. Qatar leaves a lot of boxes unticked when it comes to why exactly they want to hold the tournament, when they are lacking any incentive which has anything to do with the game to hold the WC. So the ruling family of Qatar are taking the necessary steps to make sure that they are firmly placed in the world footballing map. That being, co-sponsoring Barcelona FC and owning Paris Saint German football club. The best players in the game today play for these teams. They even have former Barcelona midfielder and one of the best midfielders I have had the previlage to see,Xavi Hernandez ply his trade in the Qatari league and coaching the national team. There has even been reports of the immigrant laboureres payed to dress up in traditional Qatari attire and fill the stands of a match for money.(AAA). Cant argue with that when all the natives are used to watch the game in air conditioned skyboxes. That being said, Qatar is ranked higher than India and they have all the world class infrastructure and coaching that would give any of the top European teams a run for their money.
Lets talk about the when?
With temperatures touching 50 degrees, it would be close to suicidal to host the WC in the summer. So the logical step would have been to try somewhere else. No. According to some very ambitious people, there are going to be airconditioned stadiums and they will be donated to African nations who lack in infrastructural means to build their own stadias. You havent heard the best part yet. FIFA are planning to hold it in December. In fucking December. Well. Not only have they collosally fucked the WC up, they want to fuck with the leagues too. For those uninititaed to the European league football calender and especially the English football calendar. December is the month where the entire season is at its most exciting. With fixtures coming fast and furious, December usually sets the precedent for the rest of the season. Even though most other leagues have a December break. If the world cup tears this up, it would be a double whammy and again, football will be the loser and the vested interests of a few power hungry rich bastards would win over passion,again.
And finally, the WHY?
Why does Qatar want to hold a FIFA world cup? To answer this, there is a lot of geo-political economic vested interests that we need to look at. All of which are too complicated and boring for me to explain here. So I will super simpify what the agenda is. Qatar would be the first nation to host the cup having not being able to qualify for it. Qatar was once one of the poorer nations in the world untill they found oil and gas under the ground(cause that’s where the ICE AGE movies come to die) and after that they have gone from selling pearls on a bargain to having the highest GDP per capita( meaning they are on paper,the richest nation in the world). So,with all those resources, this tiny guggernaut want to create a name for itself in the world and it is using the only thing which connects all of humaity together. Football. Which really pisses me off as football is one of the only things which is truly democratic. Where money doesn’t mean you win, your passion, your effort and your fight WILL get you over the line. This is what football has lost, with teams like MAN CITY, PSG, and other oligarchies buying their way to success from absolute obscurity. It pisses me off. It really does. Untill Leicester proved us all wrong. I had lost my faith for a moment in the magic of football. But the world cup brings that back. And I don’t want to see a world cup where all the values that a pure football fan despises are celebrated. Where it is a celebration of money and nothing else.
Plus you wont see the Brazilian chicas in Qatar. They will cover em up.
7.LETS RAISE THE INDIAN FLAG HIGH
Right now is the most exciting time to be a football fan in India. Over the past 5 years football has seen an unprecidented rise to prominence. With the mens team reaching its highest rank in decades in mid 2017 and on an unbeaten run which is next to world champions Germany. Football in the country has seen a shot to life at a pace which was quite unexpected. I remember when I saw my first game of India, in Kochi vs Palestine. There were my mates and a few 100 fans, most of whom were either too drunk or too ignorant to know the names of atleast one Indian player. Even we at the time couldn’t identufy more than 3. But right now, our national team players are household names( not to the extent of cricket, I agree). The ISL has brought some much needed resources into the game.( Even though I think it’s more of a circus than a league). Fan groups like Manjappada and West Block blues along with the old timers from East Bengal and Mohun Bagan and most important of all the North East teams like Aizwal have begun to firmly set root in football fan culture. Right now, we are more concered about our European clubs, cause our generation fell in love with the sport watching the players there. I hope the next generation of football fans in the coutry would germniate watching the football domestically and be entralled by the Udantas and the Vineeths the same way they are by the Lampards and the Iniestas( Not a comparision between the players).
So, this is our chance to show the world that there is a country called India on the world football map and that we are just as passionate about the game as anyone. Make the tri-colour fly high in the 11 cities across Russia and spread the love for the game. Meet people from across the world. Share our stories, our struggles, our joys and our love for the game. Trust me when I say this. Nothing. I mean absoluetly nothing has the power to bring people together the same way as football. So, we have to do our part to make sure we are heard. That we are remembered. So lets do this. Lets all walk into the Luzniki stadium singing “Hum honge Kamaya” and one day we shall overcome and become a footballing nation like I know we will. Cause there are a lot of teams which might not have great players, but their fans have created such an impact that they are infamous for exactly that. Lets make the blue tigers infamous for all the right reasons. Raw passion. There will be a lot of people from India from what I figured. During the phase I India ranked 10th out of all countries in the world for the most tickets sold. If that doesn’t give you hope. You need Go.., David Dea Gea to save you.