It’s midday on Sunday. I’m in Nizhny Novgorod eating cheese and waiting for the England-Panama game to start.
On the streets of the city this morning I saw many Panama fans, more or less an equal mix of men and women. Now, near the stadium – another beautiful one overlooking the Volga – the proportion of Englishmen is increasing. It’s hot.
On the station platform in Moscow yesterday morning I met an Australian couple. The bloke told me that although he left Manchester forty years ago when he was nine, he has the MUFC crest tattoed on his back.
The train was cramped and crowded, with a 20 minute queue for the toilets, and took four hours. When we arrived we had to queue for another 20 minutes to get out of the station (security check to get into the city). I mention this because the rest of the organisation over the week I have been her has been superb.
At Nizhny Novgorod station three young people in British consular uniform gave out cards with emergency numbers if we get into trouble. I thought I’d need mine as soon as I left the stadium. But the tough-looking man who jumped out of a rough-looking bar shouting Camera! Camera! only wanted to be in a photograph with me.
Before looking for my hotel I settled down in a bar to watch the Belgium-Tunisia game. (Couldn’t help cheering for Belgium, I’ve lived there too long not to be pleased they now have a good team.) I got into conversation with a young man from Beijing. I am beginning to wish that my answer to the question “Where do you come from in England?” was, for example, Maidenhead or Millom, not Manchester. This man not only had an excellent tattoo of Sir Alex on his right shoulder; not only knew more about United than I do, which is par for the course; but also knew more about Stockport County. Trying to win back some credibility, I mentioned that Matt Busby came to my school in the early 70s to give a talk. He drew my attention to the tattoo of Sir Matt, alongside Bobby Charlton, on his right calf.
I walked across the river Oka, plus sunbathers, to my hotel. It was on the ground floor of a block of flats. As in Moscow, I had no windows. Unlike in Moscow I had four rooms, a 6-seater settee, a jacuzzi and a sauna.
I ate in a restaurant where garlic was among the condiments.