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Published on October 23rd, 2014 | by Ian Cheeseman


“An experience I don’t want to repeat” | Ian Cheeseman

A year earlier I’d visited Moscow for the first time, the Blues won 2-1 on a pitch that had to be painted green to mask it’s poor quality. I visited all the sights, Lenin’s tomb, St.Basil’s Cathedral, the Kremlin, an experience I’ll never forget.

Twelve months later City were paired with the Muscovites again, and it proved to be a very different experience for everyone associated with the club.

For the fans, the expensive trip to the former centre of the Soviet Union, was always going to be just for the die hards. Last year I met and chatted to the determined few as they, like me, reflected on how Red Square, where I’d watched in my youth, on TV, many tanks and missile launchers trundle through, now had a McDonalds around the corner. It was different, but it ended with a win and we all returned to the UK happy.

2This time around there was snow in the air and it felt colder in every sense. I don’t have much free time on these trips, but I found a couple of hours to head into Red Square again, but there was no need to explore the Kremlin this time, so I just took a few pictures and was about to head indoors for food when five City fans said hello. There were the die hards, the ones who’d been told not to come, by both UEFA and City, but they’d still come, some because they’d already paid for it and hadn’t any way of getting a full refund and a couple admitted they would have come anyway, out of stubbornness.

I felt a great deal of empathy for these guys, some on long runs of not missing a game. They knew they wouldn’t be allowed into the Khimki Arena, because of various crowd problems caused by CSKA fans. It hardly seems fair that innocent City fans should be banned too, but this was what they faced.

I’d heard about the plans of some of the travellers to watch from the Pota tower block, which rises over the stadium. On match day, the authorities stopped their plans, amid concern for their safety, suggesting that the CSKA ultras would ambush them, or maybe even torch the tower block with the City fans inside.

An hour before the game I noticed a couple of familiar faces inside the stadium, but later I found out that the security staff had also spotted them and ejected them.

I also noticed that the food bars in the main stand were open, to serve food and drink, but to who? I thought this game was being played behind closed doors, in an empty stadium?

There must have been 200-300 “people” in the stands as the game kicked off, many wearing CSKA colours and all stood throughout the game, and made “crowd noises”.

There were also a number of supporters outside the stadium, singing and chanting, which added to the volume of support for the home team.

The game felt surreal. Professional football is an entertainment for people to watch, and not just on TV. The hour before kickoff felt wrong, no buzz as the fans came in.

Once I was “in the zone” doing my commentary, I blocked everything out but the game, but the absence of fans – from both teams – was wrong.

Who was to blame for this fiasco? The misbehaving CSKA fans of course, but also UEFA for throwing the baby out with the bath water and the authorities for seemingly “turning a blind eye” to some of the CSKA fans but not doing the same for those City fans. Excluding fans is not the answer, but either do it for all or show common sense to the “good” fans of both sides.

I met some lovely Russian people during my visit, not least the ones who helped me find the venue for the U19 game when I could easily have got lost, so to blame a nation for this bad experience would be unfair, but this trip left a bad taste in the mouth.

The result, 2-2, and the weak second half performance by the Blues, when the game should have been won, didn’t help. I’m not going to analyse the game in detail, my son Daniel has already said everything I’d say, and you can read that report here:

Did the circumstances around this game contribute to this disappointing result? It might be a convenient excuse for some, and might have been an outrage, but I don’t believe it can be blamed for the draw. Maybe it wasn’t a penalty (I’ve still not seen a replay of the incident) but City should never have been in a position to allow such an incident to cost them two points.

It’s not over until it’s over, but if the Blues are to progress to the last sixteen in the Champions League, they’ll need to do it the hard way, and the trip to Rome might be another adventure both on and off the pitch.

How ironic that my favourite picture, in and around the centre of Moscow, on this trip, was a meeting with a Stalin lookalike – you just couldn’t make this stuff up could you!


Up the Blues!

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