Well that was a trip I’ll never forget! I’ll get to the football in a bit, but what a place to visit, and somewhere I might never have vsited without my passion – sorry obsession – with football and Manchester City in particular.
My father-in-law was Ukrainian, a country taken forcibly into the Soviet Union. He lived his life in England, effectively as a refugee, and as the words to “Anthem” say (a song from my favourite musical, Chess, about east/west tension) “I cross over borders but I’m still there now!” A part of him stayed in Ukraine forever, despite the Russian takeover.
I’d been performing in the Dukinfield Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society’s version of Chess the week before the Moscow game, and on the flight to Russian I was reading Uwe Rosler’s soon to be published autobiography “Knocking Down Walls” – which of course includes the story of his youth behind the iron curtain in Soviet East Germany. It’s a must read by the way!
As we flew into Moscow on monday night my mind had Chess songs and the words of Uwe’s book in my mind, plus the childhood memories of Red Square with endless parades of tanks and missle launchers, and the constant fear of an East v West nuclear war.
I wasn’t really sure what to expect, would I be followed by the KGB, especially when I went to the BBC bureau to presnt Blue Tuesday from there on the tuesday evening?
It felt surreal to be chatting to Blues by the tomb of the unknown soldier, and as I walked slowly past the waxwork-like body of the founding father of communism, Lenin, I thought it ironic that these football fans were coming to look at him, followed by a quick Starbucks in the shadow of Red Square – well Blue Square for this visit!
I bumped into Tom Glick, City’s Chief Commercial and Operating Officer, inside the Kremlin. He’s American too, and the history of the moment wasn’t lost on him either. It seems the Premier League is more popular is Russia than their own league, maybe Russia is just another market to exploit now, as the Citizens look for a bigger share of commercial cake in the land of the Comrades.
There’s been much discussion about the pitch before hand, I didn’t see it until match night, Blue Tuesday had clashed with the press conference, and I couldn’t do both. The stadium was small but modern, the pitch was thread bear but firm and flat. City completely dominated, but amazingly fell behind. Two quality finishes from Sergio Aguero and order was restored.
Maybe the Blues were a bit luck to win, because a couple of decisions went the right way (the disallowed goal and their penalty claim) but I thought City deserved that good fortune and that should all-but guarantee progression to the last 16.
As I commentated, I couldn’t hear the reported racist chanting, though I saw Yaya Toure’s emotional state afterwards as a recorded his words for the BBC.
My father-in-law Andrij, suffered racial hatred from the Russians, his wife spent 20 years in Siberia after he escaped their post-war invasion, so I have an idea how bad Yaya must have felt. That spoilt an otherwise fascinating and successful trip.
– Ian Cheeseman