Last night I went to England’s last group game, against Belgium.
Like Volgograd and Nizhny Novgorod’s, Kaliningrad’s stadium is new. Unlike those, the exterior was ugly and the location is dour. Inside, though, it felt more intimate than they did, more like an English club ground.
I’d be interested to know what supporters of the local club feel about the move from their previous stadium, in a park in the west where I’m staying.
Our second string lost to Belgium’s second string 1-0. I was among local fans, there for the experience. Every time one of our strikers shot and missed, a Russian man in front of me, in an England shirt, turned round and said with a big grin I told you so. You are trying to lose. I told him he was a conspiracy theorist. I could have added that it’s normal..
Next to me were a young Russian couple. I had my face painted again. I had to teach them England chants. Then you clap your hands four times; and then, you lift your arms up in front of you and shout England. As Esther Summerson says at some point in Charles Dickens’ Bleak House, which is filling my non-footballing hours, imagine asking me to give advice on that topic. Walking down the stairs after the game the chant was We are going to Rostov, We are going to Rostov.
Earlier I met four Belgian fans – three of them women – who drove here – 1400 km – 18 hours. There’s nothing to play for, they said. It’s just to have fun.
Today is the first day with no football to watch. I just don’t know what to do with myself.
I like Kaliningrad.
I am staying in a green suburb of the green city.
It is a bus city.
(Why does it feel like more of an achievement to work out the buses in a foreign city than the metro and the trams?)
The cathedral square looks German. However, the cafés you’d expect in a historic centre are gone. For the football, pop-ups have been established along the riverside. But there have been issues with the licensing laws, as I found out when I went looking for lunch before the match. One café would only serve wine in bottles (it did not have a licence to serve it by the glass); not inside, only outside. Another could only serve coke. Imagine going into a bar to see people of different ages with glasses of different shapes, each, on inspection, containing the same brown liquid.
Perhaps stung by criticism of last night’s play, I saw this morning that Gareth Southgate has taken up a new job as an internet salesman. Although he has set aside his waistcoat, the bow tie is a fine replacement.
PS I have some remarks about the journey from Nizhny Novgorod to Kaliningrad, two nights on trains and a night in Vitebsk. But this is a football blog and there was football last night. Items that are less on topic must wait .