Tag Archives: World Cup

England v. Russia

O-o-o, England’s going to Russia!

O-o-o, Drinking all your vodka!

O-o-o, England’s going all the way!

When I was watching Belgium B play England B in Kaliningrad last week, the English fans were happily singing about drinking Russian vodka, but there was also a particularly loud Russian guy in front of me who was cheering the Belgians along, while occasionally throwing in chants of ‘Rossiya’ and ‘Baltika’ (the local team). Every now and again, as part of his abuse of the English, he would add in a reference to the ‘Skripals’, that is to say Sergei and Yulia Skripal, who were notoriously poisoned by the nerve agent Novichok in Salisbury. Quite what the Skripals had to do with football was beyond me, but it was clear that the Russian guy thought that their story was proof of ‘perfidious Albion’ and thus reason enough to support Belgium. In short, he obviously wasn’t buying the story that the Skripals were poisoned by the Russian secret services.

I doubt that he’s any more likely to think that way following the revelation of a new Novichok poisoning, this time in Amesbury, not far from Salisbury. The affected couple have no connection to Russia, and the speculation is that they came into contact with some residue of the nerve agent left behind after the original attack. This, of course, is not impossible, but given that even persistent chemical agents are affected by the elements (sun, rain, etc), sceptics will no doubt consider it a little odd and somewhat implausible.

My man in Kaliningrad was a bit of a loudmouth, but I suspect that his views on the Skripal affair are not unrepresentative of Russian public opinion – i.e. most Russians don’t think that their country is guilty, and if anything consider themselves the wronged party, while also regarding the British government as thoroughly nefarious. The latest news is likely to reinforce that point of view, and not just among rowdy football fans. For instance, the online newspaper Vzgliad declared today that the news from Amesbury ‘points to London’s direct participation in the “Skripal affair”.’ ‘How can Russia exploit the situation to finally put an end to suspicions in this regard?’ the newspaper asked.

But if the Amesbury incident is likely to confirm Russians’ belief in their innocence, it will probably also strengthen the British government’s anti-Russian position. For in British eyes, the incident underlines the irresponsible nature of the attack on the Skripals, involving the use of a weapon which not only struck its initial targets but also possibly contaminated a wide area, turning tens of thousands of innocent English citizens into potential victims. British Home Secretary Sajid Javid thus accused the Russian government today of being ‘reckless and callous’, and commented that the use of chemical agents was ‘barbaric and inhumane’. ‘It is completely unacceptable for our people to either be deliberate or accidental targets, or for our streets, our parks, our towns to be dumping grounds for poison,’ said Javid.

Given how strange this entire story is, I await the results of further investigation before coming to any judgement about what has actually happened. In the meantime, the latest twist in the tale will probably serve to reinforce existing positions – those who blame the Russians will be even more convinced of the evil nature of the Russian government, while sceptics (including most Russians) will become even more sceptical. In the days to come, expect positions to harden, and if we end up with a Russia-England World Cup semi-final, look forward to some chants about Novichok in Moscow on 11 July.

World cup blog post 4

Last stop on our World Cup tour was Kaliningrad. On the way from the airport, our taxi driver told us that the city had drafted in 12,000 extra police from the rest of Russia for the tournament, and that additional OMON troops were coming in specially for the England game. In the end, perhaps because of all the security or perhaps of the general pleasant, fun mood of all the fans, I didn’t notice any signs of trouble. As one Russian told me in the bus back from the England-Blegium game, there was a lot of inaccurate scaremongering in the Western press.

My Soviet-era hotel definitely lacked the view I had in Nizhny Novgorod. The balcony from which I took this picture is not for the faint hearted, as it slopes dangerously downwards.


As the game wasn’t until 8pm, we began the day with some tourism. Here I am on a Soviet submarine.


After that, we visited the bunker where the German commanders sheltered during the final battle for Konigsberg in April 1945. I was struck by how quickly the Soviets took the city. Three entire armies took part in the assault, and captures Konigsberg in just three days. Hitler apparently sentenced the German commander, General Lasch, to death for his failure to resist longer, but his forces were quite clearly overwhelmed.

Next, we went to the old cathedral, in which there is a museum dedicated to the city’s most famous inhabitant, Immanuel Kant. For the philosophers among you, here’s a picture of his tomb, on the northeastern wall of the Cathedral.


Finally, we went to the game. It was a bit of a disappointment, as both England and Belgium played their B teams, and all the best players were rested. It wasn’t desperately exciting, but had its moments and was a thriller compared with the dreadful Denmark v France. Sadly, England lost, but the pundits say that’s not a bad thing as it puts England on an easier path to the final than a victory would have done.

England v Belgium, Kaliningrad

The Russian sitting next to me at the match kept telling me that Belgium would win the cup. One of my sons has also been telling me this sincebefore the tournament started. We shall see.

World cup blog post 3

Today was a busy day in Moscow for us. Our first stop was Red Square, where we tried to get into Lenin’s mausoleum. However, the queue was huge and moving very slowly, so after a short while we gave up. Nearby Manezh Square looked like it had been invaded by Danes.


The highlight of the day was to be the evening football match, so to fill time in the absence of Lenin, we went to the Cosmonautics museum at VDNKh, which I found mildly interesting. Then lunch, after which we returned to our hotel to get the match tickets. I didn’t know that Russia had a Hockey Hall of Fame, but it turns out that it does, and as it was right next to our hotel, we popped into it for a few minutes. Here’s a picture of the hockey jersey of a certain ‘Putin, V.V.’.


And then there was the game: Denmark v. France. What a disappointment. The large number of Danish fans provided a colourful atmosphere in the Luzhniki stadium, but before long they weren’t making a lot of noise – not because their team was losing, but simply because the game was decidedly dull. The longer it went on, the clearer it became that both teams, but particularly Denmark, were very happy with 0-0. In the last 30 minutes or so, whenever the Danes got the ball and looked set to attack, they stopped, paused, and then passed the ball sidewards or backwards. It was one of the most negative displays of football I’ve seen. It ended 0-0, satisfying the players, but leaving those watching rather dissatisfied.

Danish fans try to find something to cheer about

Tomorrow we head off to Kaliningrad. I’ll provide an update after the England-Belgium game on the 28th.



World cup blog post 2

A great but exhausting day in Nizhny Novgorod. The city seems to have two halves – an old one on one side of the river, and a newer Soviet one on the other side. Our hotel is on the top of a hill overlooking the newer part of town and the football stadium. The view from my room is superb. The downside is that it’s over 30 degrees Celsius, my room doesn’t have air conditioning, and there was loud music blaring from somewhere outside till about 3 am, so I didn’t get a lot of sleep.

View of Nizhny Novgorod

In the morning, we visited the Nizhny Novgorod Kremlin, and then went to the Beeline store to sort out the mobile phone problem. The girl in the store said that this wasn’t the first time this had happened to people. The only solution was to buy a new SIM card. Frankly, this was a ripoff, but what to do? Things are at least now working. I hope they stay that way.

And then there was the game – and what a game!! 6-1 victory to England. Here’s Harry Kane preparing for one of his penalties:


I thought that the stadium was excellent. We were well shaded and there was an occasional breeze, so despite the extreme heat we were actually very comfortable. Everything was very well organized, with free buses taking us there back and good control of the crowds. I think that getting away from the stadium was probably the quickest I’ve ever experienced at a football game, even though there was a crowd of 43,000. In general, I think those responsible managed things very smoothly. In addition, there was a very positive atmosphere in the stadium with supporters of both sides and many neutrals all mixed in together but getting along well. In short,a successful event.

Tomorrow we head back to Moscow where on Tuesday we’ll be seeing France v Denmark. In the meantime, let’s hope for a cooler, quieter night tonight!




It’s a game of two halves, Brian

Soccer is much on my mind this week. On Friday, my oldtimers team plays its season opener against the nearby town of Russell, and on Saturday I hope to be able to watch Arsenal face off against Aston Villa in the FA Cup Final. Victories for my team and for the Arsenal will make it a good weekend.

Outside the harsh environment of oldtimers, the main live soccer event this summer in Ottawa is the Women’s World Cup which comes here in June. So far it looks as if the tournament should be a great success. In contrast, the men’s world cup, scheduled for Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022, is in trouble following the arrest in Switzerland of seven senior officials of the sport’s governing body, FIFA. The seven are facing extradition to the United States on charges of ‘accepting millions of dollars in bribes over 24 years to allocate tournaments and rig elections.’

The arrests have immediately sent conspiracy theorists into overdrive. The Moon of Alabama blog, for instance, links them to an upcoming vote in FIFA’s congress to suspend Israel’s membership because of accusations of discrimination against Palestinian players. The implication is that the United States is attempting to discredit FIFA prior to the vote and deflect attention away from the Israel issue.

Others, meanwhile, link the arrests to current political tensions between America and Russia, and view them as a first step towards stopping Russia from hosting the 2018 World Cup. Russian military and political commentator El-Murid goes even further and sees the objective as being eventual criminal indictments against high Russian officials. ‘The fact that the Americans initiated the affair’, he writes, ‘shows us that the highest echelons of world politics are involved in it. Putin must receive his own Lockerbie, and nobody hides the aim. He must be made a worldwide outlaw, in order to suggest to his entourage that they should surrender their boss in return for personal guarantees.’

I don’t buy it. As the Russian Sports Minister has noted, the arrests are not actually linked to the World Cups in Russia and Qatar. Rather, the charges laid against the FIFA officials stretch back a quarter of a century and also include allegations concerning the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and the 2016 Copa America in the United States. Swiss authorities say that a separate investigation is underway to look at claims that Russia and Qatar won the rights to hold the cup finals in their countries by bribing FIFA officials, but that is a different issue. The vast sums of money involved in professional soccer have sadly corrupted the game at the highest level. That reality, far more than geopolitics, probably lies behind today’s arrests.