Today was like a crap song at the end of a great album.
I went to St Petersburg last year during the FIFA Confederations Cup. It is a BIG city. Big as in Tokyo but also big as in terms of being big. The HUGE areas of concrete squares in St Petersburg utterly dwarf the small cute plazas of some Italian cities that I know. With eleven cruise ships in dock in St Petersburg, this city is on the tourist trail. But like New York, let’s say I don’t get it.
Never shy of exploring or just going to new places that most never go to, like the likes of Samara, Saransk, Rostov-On-Don, Nizhny Novgorod – St Petersburg is a great city but for me, it does not have a magnetic power like some places do in that I HAVE to return.
People I have met from South America, Asia and Europe all share the same view that Kazan is simply amazing! Lovers dream of Paris, the wannabe’s dream of New York, backpackers dream of Jakarta, but who dreams of Kazan?! People who have been there and want to return, that’s who!
Today the pain barrier was broken. I have never run a marathon but this was like passing the gruelling 20 mile mark. Despite having a 48 hour adventure without any sleep very soon, in terms of the physical demands, everything from now on is down hill.
Going through security checks now is a part of life. I don’t notice them anymore. The culture shock has gone and although it is not as natural as breathing air, gone are the “For Fuck Sake” thoughts that I had in my first week.
But upon arriving in St Petersburg, that changed. Gone was the hospitality. Gone was the jokes with skin head security guards wearing rubber gloves asking them if they think I have hidden a Kalashnikov where the sun does not shine. Gone are the smiles from the girls who would grace the front pages of Russian Brides websites. I almost felt that I had left the Russia that I was beginning to warm to behind.
Just like the further north you go in the UK, people are more courteous, kind and less selfish, perhaps the further south you go in Russia it is the same.
Security was even higher that I had known. After passing my camera bags through seemingly hi tech Xray machines, two guards then manually checked everything. I mean everything. No smiles, just stern looks.
The stadium is a pain in the ass. There are four foot high glass fences around the fans which makes it twice has hard for the knackered photographer to snap fans prior to kick off.
The stadium is like an American Football Stadium with high walls around the pitch, meaning the fans are high up – IE Row A is like Row P in other stadiums. It creates dull backgrounds.
It was colder today and I had a coat on for the first time. Apart from two Swedes that I know, I was not in the mood to make new friends. Perhaps I have run out of steam and energy. I wish I had taken pictures of the St Petersburg docks from the back of the stadium, but at the time I needed to get my cameras cleaned and I needed to perk up for the 90 minutes ahead of me.
I did Sweden in a terrible pre-world cup friendly in Stockholm. They were awful. Switzerland on the other hand were very good in the games I have seen them play in. So surely a Swiss victory? Of course not.
And TV proved that I was working! Sweden take a throw in, and boom!
(Thanks to Ian Kington for the pic!)
This was a dull game. Again, from where I was, no tackles, nothing to enthuse me at all. My editor must have been writing his Christmas cards as I was not offering him anything!
Despite all the negativity and everything bugging me today, I had to buckle down and get some sellable pictures. But one can only shoot what is in front of you and nothing was in front of me… UNTIL…..
For once, I was eating my own self beliefs and words. It is NEVER about getting THAT moment. It is all about the rhythm that I keep talking about, it is all about keeping calm, almost numb, working with instinct. But THAT moment was a “Get Out of Jail Card” for sure.
Sweden decided to score and the goalscorer ran in to my direction. I had something to sell. My day was worthwhile after all. Coupled with some Swiss dejection no one would ever know that I was practically falling asleep in the first half until two bottles of Coca Cola and a Berocca kicked in.
Back to the clichés. You have to be lucky. Today I was lucky. The day I did Zlatan making his debut, I got EVERYTHING. I was on fire. Today was a polar opposite, but I was just lucky.
Thank you Emil Forsberg! Zlatan is still my Swedish hero though!
Back to the St Petersburg metro I went. To my horror, unlike in other cities, there were still thousands of fans still waiting to get into the metro building, let alone on to the platforms. The camouflaged soldiers were having none of my pleas or the Egyptian photographer that I accompanied me. He had to get to the airport quicker than me. In other cities there are special routes, there is an understanding that ‘us’ media have to dash around and not that we deserve special access, special access is given. In St Petersburg the military or the Police were having none of it. We asked a volunteer to help. She returned with her head down, apologising for her country almost. “Follow me, I have an idea”, the plucky girl took us around the back of the metro station and found a security guard who was not a military person but a “normal” security person (her words) – some Russian was spoken and we were let in.
Soon I was back in the city but after a dull metro journey. My eyes anything but wide open in the St Petersburg metro system.
No time for shopping or doing touristy things, straight back on the bus to the airport.
Interesting things passed me out of the window but I was dozing off again.
The airport restaurant was quite quiet. My body was aching for fuel. Orange juice and pasta for more energy. I later chatted to a girl from Kazan (with the headphones on). We instantly got on, “I don’t like St Petersburg” she said. As one waitress got us together asking us to share a table to accommodate more customers, another broke us up in confusing the hell out of us when we tried to pay the bill and thus forgetting to actually swop numbers and keep in touch.
I then watched the last 5 minutes of normal time when England played Colombia. Half the airport surrounded the only TV in the restaurant that I had eaten in. I witnessed some of extra time, but had to board my plane so missed the shoot out.
When I have a spare five minutes I will have to actually look at and study all the scorers and results from all the games that I have not attended. Apart from Belgium v Japan I have not watched any other game at all.
Sat in seat 2F on my S7 flight, I shut my eyes. The next thing I knew the plane had landed and everyone was dashing off the plane.
I was back in Moscow. Somewhere I feel more at home than in St Petersburg. Some people prefer Edinburgh to Glasgow – for me it’s Glasgow every day of the week! St Petersburg v Moscow? Moscow!
Next up is Brazil v Belgium and Russia v Croatia back in the sunny south – but fist a much needed 48 hours rest and time to recharge the batteries.