Tony Rivers’ Rough Guide To RussiaWritten by Tony Rivers
Thursday December 3rd. 15.30pm, and the failed English bid to host the Jules Rimet quadrennial festivals'post-mortem has begun in earnest. It's hard not to agree with the general consensus, that the whole thing pretty much reeks,and the new world order of Blatter and Platini's FIFA gravy train are polluted by the usual centre forward partnership in the End Times first 11,
Greed and Corruption. Some will argue that Russia have yet to host the big one and they were due, but seeing as Mexico have had the luxury twice since 1966, the hypocrisy is there for all to see. What do I care anyway? I'm a Welshman, so it wouldn't take a Nostradamus or even a Russell Grant to predict that we wouldn't get to grace the MK arena or the planned new wurzeldome in Bedminster. I'll tell you now. We won't qualify
The other tournament that we also get a chance to royally screw up every four years is the European championships, and this is where my brief experience with Russia emanated. I always found the old Soviet Union fascinating. Not to the extent of sitting down and reading Tolstoys'War and Peace and the entire works of Dosdoevsky, or being able to sit through YouTube footage of Nijinsky and the Bolshoy Ballet, but more importantly Dinamo Tbilisi's sweeper system and crack unit that turned up at Upton Park in 1980 resplendent in their no frills adidas kits to shock several Sportsnight football pundits into submission that night or the' It's a Knockout'specials on a Sunday they used to do abroad which even at a young age all seemed very communist, even though it could have been Denmark, it still reminded me of what Russia might look like so I went with the notion, and the idea that there are still old shops in places like Volvograd where 80 year old Igor Belanov has a locked store room full of thirty year old deadstock three stripe covered in cobwebs. That type of fascinated.
Our traditionally poor seeding in 2002/2003 pitted us against European heavyweights Italy, and the soon be defunct mid-group Yugoslavians(who changed their name to Serbia&Montenegro a few games in) . An unforgettable evenings'win in Cardiff against the Azzurri perpetuated us to qualify for a rare playoff place. Sparkys'boys were heading to the finals? Dare we dream! We know it's always too good to be true, but we never give up hope
The news that we drew a trip to Moscow for the first leg was met with excitement and trepidation. For the lads who knew the proper score, this was the best possible trip hoped for. Wales have a small but extremely loyal hardcore fanbase who travel everywhere, but the high profile games naturally bring out let's just say, the unruly element. And to be honest, the more unrulies the better I was hoping for, because apart from the horror stories of Irish, Liverpool and Arsenal fans in their recent forays behind the old iron curtain, the Internet was full of interesting, eye-opening titbits of info, as to what the travelling football fan had to expect visiting the old USSR. The hooligan problem out there was pretty much uncontrollable. The reception over there would be frosty in more ways than one.
Plenty of our lot were booked on a chartered flight out of Cardiff for a Friday afternoon flight out for a weekend which included the Saturday evening tie at the Locomotiv stadium, plus whatever delights either side were forthcoming. This was the start of a personal nightmare for myself. Around 10 minutes before we boarded, i was stood in the departure lounge and I got the phone call id been dreading for years. I was hit with the bombshell. My wonderful grandfather who I'd lived with all my life, had passed away after a long illness.Someone please kill me now.I couldn't think or speak and didn't know what tragedy was until then and inconcievably I was expected to board a plane to Russia, but somehow I put one foot forward and walked onto the plane. The only things I remember about the flight was looking out over the clouds secretly praying to myself that there was a heaven and as we approached Moscow, the black skies over the endless forestry. I should be home now with my family. What the fuck am I doing here? I couldn't cry yet either. I was too numb. The grief is different for everyone I expect, but individually,you never forget. This was the start of a very long process. Anyway, enough of this maudlin.
We arrived at the Sheremetyevo airport under heavy guard. 2,000 Welsh fans had managed to make the trip after only a months notice since the UEFA draw. Quite a feat under all the circumstances. I think the flight and hotel complex for many of us reached upto 600 quid a man. No small change. As it always does, the rumours of locals already attacking welsh fans filtered through the ranks. Stories of Russian'Police officers'virtually kidnapping tourists off the street in exchange for American dollars was another one too. We may have still been in the same continent, but this would be a new experience altogether.
As the coaches drove us from the airport, the tour guide pointed out some of Moscows most famous attractions from the Tretyekov Gallery to St Basil Cathedral, from the Kremlin onto Red Square. We arrived at the hotel complex and we had no complaints. It was very plush which housed several bars and a couple of nightclubs, which for most touring gentlemen is just what the doctor ordered, especially as it was a freezing Friday night and there weren't that many who wanted to trudge around a strange city when all this was on the doorstep. The evening was mostly spent sampling the local moonshine, which was cleverly disguised as Vodka
The morning after, around 20 of us met up, had a few photos with the obligatory Cardiff City flags and headed for the nearest metro underground station. Allegedly, there are underground palaces that form part of the metro decor, but nobody cared, and as with most daunting trips of a certain nature, the nerves started kicking in. I don't care who you are, You could be the hardest roid head from Aberdeen to Abersychan, there are some situations you can't control. Looking back, I've often said to people that the amount of incidents we became involved in, I'm surprised nobody got seriously injured or even killed. Thankfully I'm sure
A small tour of the Kremlin and a visit to Lenins'Tomb was undertaken by many. After that, the large majority of welsh were situated in the hotel Rossiya, just off Red Square. Several of Cardiffs main lads made the trip, but to be honest, not nearly as many that should have been there. This was the perfect opportunity for it. The restraints of British police forces were beating the lads into submission back home, but Russia away? Come on. I had bumped into our chief football spotter who was accompanied by Swansea Citys spotter(although the latter must have loved his all- expenses paid trips around the world,as there was more chance of finding the Russian from the Pine Barrens episode of the Sopranos season four, as there was of spotting a jack in Moscow). Some of the Cardiff in the Rossiya had been approached on the Friday night by a couple of CSKA Moscow hooligans. Surprisingly to many, they were dressed like any casual at the time. Stone Island, CP Company, Burberry, Mandarina Duck. They were clued up. Even more suprisingly, they had written a list of names of several known Cardiff fans. Who, as they described'they would like to fight! "We respect Soul Crew. We respect the book. You are our guests in Moscow, but now we would like to beat you up"said one
After a couple of hours of laughing behind their backs, a few of them kept asking what time did we want to fight, and with what numbers and if we requested weapons or a good ole fashioned fist n'boot. Very matter of factly like. Trying to keep straight faces, we opted for as many lads as they wanted but with no weapons. Some of us went to have a nose around the shops, only to be informed on the phone later that the Russians were coming! at half past four
There were around 200 welsh in the Rossiya hotel bars. More than enough for this lot surely? Not all lads, but when needed, most will have a pop. The locals timing was exquisite. Dead on 4.30pm I was stood around the pool table with a couple of the others. I looked out of the huge front window and up towards the bottom of Red Square. It was getting dark and dusky. One lone flare was lit, as this Moscovite army marched over the green banking and toward the hotel. The place was so big, I didn't have time to let everyone know what was happening. Around 20 of us ran down the stairs to the front door. The concierges tried to keep us in, but we forced our way out. "They're here, they're fucking here"was the screams as the start of the pandemonium ensued. At least 300 Russian firm were heading toward us from the dimly-lit romantic backdrop of Red Square. Just outside stood our main police officer and his Swansea counterpart. I could see the concerns on their faces. They were plain clothed and I just asked" What's your jurisdiction here"? They had no back up and for once I was told"Do what you've got to do"as they virtually ran back in the doorway. We were hoping for more of our lot to follow us but even though the small mob we had were all decent Cardiff and Wrexham, we would be lambs to the slaughter, but as the doors locked behind us, as the hotel staff fled inside for safety, but after the worst news I'd ever recieved in my life yesterday, I didn't care how many they had. The 20 of us ran toward them. For a few seconds, the first wave of Russians stopped, as we were the ones that threw the initial punches, and for a spilt second I thought we could achieve the impossible. That thought didn't last long as the fuckers came from all angles, and in a clever pincer movement reminiscent of Stalingrad, we were slammed all the way back to the hotel doors. CSKA to the front, Spartak to the back! I think whoever decided that they didn't bring any tools was right. There were plenty of cuts and bruises, with ripped coats aplenty, but luckily no stabbings. Even the beatings would have been worse, apart from the fact there were too many of them jumping on us. 20 onto 1, I don't think many of them could get a clean shot in, bless em
Afterwards, several of them came back asking for photos of the injured and enquiring did we want to go nightclubbing with them. They were serious."Do you like the way we fight"was one of the questions without a hint of irony attached. These were definitely a new breed."You English hooligans, drinking and sniffing allday, whilst us Russian firms are in the gym training before every game"...We didn't feel too bad, I mean Napoleon and Hitler both took decent sized mobs out there and got leathered. 20 taffs had them on the back foot for a few seconds at least. That can't be bad..
We made the game for a credible 0-0 draw, but in time honoured tradition, fucked up the second leg when we got home. Apart from the Moscow beatings there were also muggings, a couple of kidnappings and Ginger from Bargoed saw a dead body on the underground. Apart from that, it's a beautiful city that I absolutely loved! If you're planning to go in 2018, please don't let this' very rough guide'put you off!! My beloved Grandad often told me the best side he'd ever witnessed was the post second world war touring side of Moscow Dinamo. They put 10 past Cardiff at Ninian Park in 1945. It'll be great to go back in 2018 under a much happier set of circumstances, as those hooligan days are long gone for me now and it's a place where you'll only get trouble if you want it. The next time I go back will hopefully be that World Cup. Sixty years since the last finals. Surely the law of averages is working our way?
We should be so lucky..
© Words Tony Rivers/ ZANI Media
Tony Rivers, co-author of the best selling book Soul Crew. Available online and in all good book stores