Junpiter Futbol in Russia: 8 Observations from World Cup 2018
Junpiter Futbol had the privilege to be in Russia for the recent FIFA World Cup 2018 for a period of eight days, although it came down to only five full days excluding flying and travelling
Junpiter Futbol had the privilege to be in Russia for the recent FIFA World Cup 2018 for a period of eight days, although it came down to only five full days excluding flying and travelling in between Moscow and Saint Petersburg via inter-city train, Sapsan.
During our time there, we caught two matches – Russia vs Egypt and Brazil vs Costa Rica – both at the new Saint Petersburg Stadium just four days apart. Here we sum up our unique experience in Eastern Europe…
1 . More Singaporeans going to World Cup
Lots of Singaporeans headed to Russia, as compared to Brazil 2014… Just this World Cup alone, we had as many as 10 Singaporean friends who were there. Four years ago, we were one of the rare ones who actually took a near 25-hour flight to Brazil. It could probably be down to the fact that Russia is much nearer to Singapore as compared to Brazil. For the period of the tournament, our Facebook timeline was filled with social media posts from our friends – who were in Russia on different dates.
2 . Security measures in Russia passed the mark
Just like many Singaporeans, we were a little bit concerned about going to Russia. But there were no such worries when we were there and the security checks were really tight. Having your name printed on the ticket, we had to have our Fan ID on us at all times when attending matches.
Having the fan ID did not make queues to go into stadiums longer, surprisingly! The checking counters were actually pretty adequate. There were lots of counters prepared for everyone trying to get into the stadium at the same time. Checking/scanning of tickets and ID was not an issue in Saint Petersburg at least. We heard others saying the checking of tickets/fan IDs was much stricter in other cities though.
3 . Not everyone loves the VAR
We are not a big fan of VAR. Our opinion is that human error is part and parcel of a football game. Both the games which we watched in Saint Petersburg… we didn’t recall there were many occasions where VAR was activated.
Honestly, we really prayed that it would not be required that often because it would have delayed our games and our journey back to the hotel. For the record, one of our games started at 9pm local time… Imagine what time we would reach our bed if they were too many VAR incidents and injury time!
4 . Football unites
Football truly gets people from all sorts of lives together… That’s what the World Cup is all about and we truly experienced it. I see loads of people wearing World Cup jerseys in Russia. As a Singaporean, we made the decision to wear the jersey of our local Singapore Premier League (SPL) team Hougang United.
Due to the loud orange colour of the jersey, it attracted some attention from the fans walking past and we would tell them that this is a team from Singapore. The moment they knew we are from Singapore, they all only had good words to say about how the country is beautiful. It seems like everyone knew about Singapore and it gave me immense pride.
5 . Russia was not that fussed about the World Cup
While we did mention we saw many people wearing jerseys and being football-crazy, one thing we have noticed is that the locals were not so into the mood. It’s really the people flying in from overseas that created the atmosphere and buzz around the place. Often we felt the Russians gave me the vibe that they were not so into the World Cup and were probably thinking we were noisy!
In short, we felt that the Russians underestimated the impact of the World Cup that could have on their country. But then again we believe Russian football did at one point came together when their team advanced to the last 16.
6 . Russia is an interesting country
When we were in Saint Petersburg, we tried to explore a little more about their local team FC Zenit Saint Petersburg. This FC Zenit is a huge team in their country and is considered one of the most decorated teams. Despite saying the country is not really that into football and that the passion comes from probably the minority, the minority is still considered huge and we see football stores/shops all around the city where there are Zenit merchandise on sale. Obviously these stores are always crowded with people especially during the World Cup period and it’s always crowded when we walked past.
Coincidentally the area where we stayed in Saint Petersburg is near Petrovsky Stadium, a former home ground of the team – just minutes from where we stayed actually. It’s a little bit like our Marina Bay floating platform which is built on water. But as compared to our floating platform, it’s a full-fledged stadium with 360 degrees’ seating. To get into the stadium’s premises, you have to cross a mini bridge – which is quite unique. The current home ground of Zenit is Krestovsky Stadium, which is also called Zenit Arena, and there’s also Saint Petersburg Stadium where we caught two World Cup matches.
Of course, we tried quite a lot of local food. With the help of a friend and a footballer friend, we managed to try local delights like red soup, kebab, cheese dumplings… There’s this restaurant CoCoCo in Sofitel Hotel in Saint Petersburg. It’s a must go, particularly for their delicious dessert named ‘My Mother’s favorite flower’. Every dish has a story behind it, which is truly amazing.
7 . Beware of the scammers
There was a particular unpleasant incident which we encountered, unfortunately… While roaming around the city, one of our friends saw someone – who should be a Russian local – with nice pigeons on his hand. We went over for a photo-taking opportunity with the pigeons and were not told beforehand that it comes at any price. However that guy demanded a token after we were done… When we refuse to give in, he turned nasty and started threatening us. I was told by my friend to give him some money since we are on foreign land before leaving immediately. Another day, another lesson learnt I guess…
But that’s just a one-off. We have to mention we got to meet many nice people throughout the trip… from Ukrainian cab drivers to food sellers to Russian passerbys – many nice people!
8 . It’s affordable to go to a World Cup
Some people may balk at the idea of going to a World Cup, thinking that it will cost them a bomb… However, it can be an affordable experience if you know where to cut your costs. We managed to keep it below S$5,000, which was well within our budget
We actually managed to get some boutique hotel located outside the city hence it’s much cheaper. The small price to pay is that your journey around could be longer. Hence we settled for the public train, public bus and tram to get into the city and as well as to the stadiums.
The journey from my place to the city – depending if there was any traffic jam – usually took around 30mins. The journey to the stadium would be longer in the sense that it’s located right outside in the outskirt – Bus/train took 30 minutes but you have to walk into the stadium area and that tedious walk was another 30mins or so.
JPF’s Damage for the World Cup
Flight: S$1,400 (15hrs transit)
Match Ticket: S$1,400
All in all, it was an incredible and unique experience in Russia which we will never ever forget. If Brazil 2014 is the most memorable World Cup that we have ever attended, then we have to say this Russia 2018 is the most enjoyable World Cup which we have ever attended.
So if you guys have the opportunity and have the finances, do not fret to travel abroad for exotic football experiences! (Article by Kenneth Tan)