Today really was a case of before, middle and after.
Before the game I woke up at around 7. Dashed outside in the hope of getting a taxi via Uber or the Gett app, but to my horror I discovered that the data plan on my Russian SIM card had stopped.
I ran back to the hotel to get the hotel wifi, dashed back to the road but there were no cars to be seen. To cut a long stressful 20 minutes short, eventually a taxi ordered by a Chinese person at my hotel was free after the passenger failed to turn up.
We then hit Moscow rush hour. My flight took off at 0910h. At 0840h I was still three kilometres away. Eventually we got to the airport I ran to the entrance but was met by a massive queue of people waiting to go through security to enter the airport.
I have been to this airport before, however. I ran about 100m to the last door and threw in my bags through the X-ray and dashed to the Aeroflot desk. There are thankfully, very thankfully priority lanes for accredited FIFA World Cup passengers in the airports. Using this I went straight to a check in person after the electronic boarding pass machine refused to print my boarding card.
The next 90 seconds were epic!
The man quickly printed my pass. I RAN to the desk where all my papers were checked like normal. Sometimes I have to wait 10 minutes, today it was 10 seconds. Then I had to go through security, proper security – belt off, watch off – everything!
Again there were six lanes. One had no passengers so I headed towards that.
Putting my things though I was belting my trousers back up as I ran to gate 13 – unlucky for some, but lucky for me today.
Again thankfully I have been in this airport many times and knew of a short cut past some flower pots!
I got to the gate where I met some Getty photographers and within another 20 seconds I was sitting in my seat wondering what the hullabaloo was!
Then the middle bit
Kazan was good. Its always good but today was very good!
Although obviously still tired, things went for me and nothing was getting me down.
First I had to tackle the issue of the SIM card. I had tried on the aeroplane to input my own Visa card number into the Russian mobile company app, but nothing worked. I think Lloyds Bank have blocked my card AGAIN. I am certainly not paying another £90 in mobile phone fees to call them. I have alternative ways!
At the airport was a Megagfon store. Another mobile network to the one I was using, but for £8.45 I got free Instagram, free facebook, free WhatsApp and 10GB of data, free calls and free texts for two weeks.
At the stadium I saw some long lost friends.
Firstly Andrea from Chile. I got his email address and telephone number should I decide to go to Chile for a week and cover some Chile football – They have games Thursday to Monday every week, and with many of the teams from the beautiful city of Santiago, one could polish off a large amount of the league in one carefully planned trip!
Then I saw the Reuters team containing photographers who I had not seen in a while.
After some customary pasta and orange juice, I got my seat behind the goal. And who was there but the ever lovely Pilar!
Pilar is one of the best documentary photographers in South America in my opinion. She is from Peru and lives in Rio. The last time we were together was in a small shelter photographing archery at the Paralympics. (You have to be in a shelter to protect yourself as you are facing the competitors shooting the arrows)
Germany failed to score. At half time it was still 0-0.
Seeing many Koreans run to my side of the pitch I waited until I saw a familiar face. I offered him my ticket and he quickly swopped me with his ticket. My favourite photographer, Koo, from Best Eleven Magazine gave up to have children, sadly no one has heard of her since. Her football photography fried my brain sometimes. Korean males are not as friendly.
South Korea represented everything that East Asia is about football – hard working with a never give up attitude. Germany were a shadow of their formerselves and yet ANOTHER winner to go out in the opening round at the next World Cup.
The South Koreans scored a goal, acknowledged by VAR. Goalkeeper Nauer trying to give his team an advantage, took the ball from a throw in, but failed to trap it properly, the ball went to an opponent to fired the ball up field for South Korea to score and make it 2-0.
Another game and another team knocked out. The World Cup is starting to mean something now with games with real substance.
I walked off the field with Pilar, explaining how much I adored Kazan and how lucky she was having two days free three. We said our goodbyes and without seeing her for 16 months, I would see her again in three days time!
And onto the third part of the day.
Getting a taxi in the beautiful city of Kazan was easy. The priority lane lady at the airport dealing with media, broadcasters, VIPS and all sorts told me and a Russian to go to lane 13 to get our boarding cards. Another lucky 13 as I obtained it in seconds, only for three angry Germans to bellow out in bad French how we had not respected the line of people waiting to be served at counter 12.
Now I was hungry. The small airport had run out of steak, chicken, salad and more. The only option was a pasta dish or fish. I went for the pasta and downed two bottles of Coke Zero like they were shots of vodka.
This time I was on Arul airline. Again very pleasant and accommodating. I would confidently say that 100% of the passengers were to do with the World Cup, be it TV people, fans or media like me.
And so to Moscow airport. Taxis were a whopping £60 on my apps for a normal £9 ride. he airport again was so so busy.
It was 00.57h.
I had three minutes to make a decision.
And the train won.
Free with World Cup accreditation it saved some money but the journey back to my hotel took another two hours.
But it was worth it. It was starting to get light again. Security guards as keen to check everything as they are in the morning.
I could have been in a taxi but the magnetic Moscow Metro got me again.
So clean, so grand, so fine.
It was 3am when I left the Metro system. It was nearly full light.