By Paul Giblin MOSCOW Russia (Xinhua)
-- So the World Cup is over after just
over a month of intense football, travelling, long nights and
early mornings, flights, mini-busses and press-room coffee.
35 days in Russia
gives you a lot to think about and a lot to remember, too much
to express in 500 words, but some impressions from the World Cup
should be written down for posterity.
A lot of people,
both fans and reporters, myself included, travelled to Russia
with a few doubts; let’s be honest: publicity for Russia isn’t
always great and as England coach Gareth Southgate commented on
Saturday, political relations between Russia and the UK are not
good, and we had all read stories of Russian mafia, hooligans
etc... So what were the people like?
Everyone seemed to
take the World Cup to their hearts and make an effort to make us
feel welcome. A special mention to the volunteers, putting their
English to good use and high-fiving everyone in sight.
It can’t have been
easy in 36 degrees Celsius in Volgograd with the midges!
Language is an issue
(especially if you don’t speak or read Russian and not many of
us do, which can make navigation difficult), but several times I
found myself sitting next to new friends, enjoying some
excellent Russian beer, swapping selfies and discussing football
and most of all feeling welcome.
Transport was always
going to be an issue in such a big country and it was a shame to
see empty seats in the England v Sweden game in Samara simply
because all of the flights from Moscow were full as were the
Overall, however, I
have a very positive feeling about my travels (and I really
don’t like flying at all). All of my flights left and arrived on
time, they were efficient, punctual and we got a free meal on
the plane (Are you listening Easyjet, Ryanair and British
I made all of my
connections, even those with a swift turnaround, and my bags
were on the same plane as I was. You can’t really ask for much
more than that and during the early stages, especially, it was
fun to see fans from all over the world catching their flights
to all points in the various Moscow airports, which served as
the World Cup transport hub.
Some of the roads
maybe could use some resurfacing, it has to be said, especially
around the smaller venues and I have to say some taxi drivers
were slightly ‘overenthusiastic’ in their driving. I was told by
one companion, how his taxi sped around a corner with the driver
shouting “Schumacher!” while the reporter quailed in the back
seat, while my own kidneys will need a while to recover after we
were taken on a sightseeing trip to the shores of the Sea of
Azov along ‘roads’ which left a bit to be desired.
seemed to be an issue; there was a heavy police presence on the
streets of Moscow, but it felt reassuring rather than
intimidating and it did the job. Likewise the security around
the stadiums was effective and reasonably unobtrusive, probably
because everyone understood it was necessary, and it is nice to
go into a ground knowing that all you need worry about it
whether or not your team are going to win or lose.
Maybe it was the
large numbers of Latin American fans (at least in the early
stages), but it also seemed to be a joyous World Cup, with
street parties and celebrations and excellent relations between
I remember Iran fans
getting excited in Moscow and chanting in the street and
everyone wanting a photo...and Peruvians everywhere... I mean
everywhere! Even where their side wasn’t playing. I only saw a
couple of reports of minor disturbances (Argentinean fans angry
after losing 3-0 to Croatia), but thankfully there was nothing
major, with good relations at the forefront.
And if that was the
case, it was not just down to the fans, but the Russian people:
had they rejected the tournament it wouldn’t have been as good,
but they welcomed it with open arms, as if it was a matter of
national pride for it to be a success and to see what they are
really like. They opened their hearts to us (It’s not often you
are given free dried flying fish wings to have with your beer)
and in turn we have opened our heart to the Russian people.
At the end of the
day. France won the World Cup, but in terms of friendship and
understanding, we all did.
(Paul Giblin is an English sportswriter based in Madrid. He
has been writing for Xinhua since 2008.)