Be careful what you wish for would-be Premier League clubs


Over the weekend I had a lively debate with a Wolverhampton Wanderers-supporting friend who was venting his anger that eight out of their first ten games in 2019 would be moved for TV purposes. My argument was that he should have known what he had signed up for at the start of the season. Whilst Wolves are the current ‘fad’ club, fuelled by significant overseas investment from a long line of messiah’s who would make the club “the biggest in the world” within a few years.

For all we know, Fosun International’s claims may be right. Wolves fans, who have suffered years of boom and bust (significantly more of the latter than the former), are quite rightly full of beans at the moment, blinkered to the pit-falls of their owners current strategy. Unfortunately, they are in a crowded race of other high net-worth club owners, all trying to make their club the biggest in the world.

Few football fans or commentators would have predicted Manchester United’s current predicament of looking at a League Cup trophy as a good return from their season, but they are now behind their “noisy” neighbours in terms of on and off field success. Who would have seen that a decade ago? And it’s not just City. Add in Chelsea and a resurgent Liverpool. Spurs new stadium could see them finally make the step up to that level too. West Ham, with their 50,000+ stadium they play at for a hugely subsidized fee, could potentially move into that elite category if they find owners who are willing to invest in the squad.

Why? Why are wealthy individuals investing in clubs? Whilst fans may believe it is to deliver on-field success, at the end of the day it is simply an investment, one which they expect to grow substantially over time. Part of that growth is based on success on the field, but the English Premier League is like no other – it is the potential returns off the pitch that fuels that interest.

Most clubs now make more money from TV than from gate receipts, which in its most basic form means that the fans have become less important than the TV slot, which is why you won’t see club owners complaining when they have to play on a Friday night 250 miles away. There will be some noises made about “the difficult journey for our loyal fans” but no one involved is prepared to go out on a limb and say “no”.

So, the situation for clubs like Wolves, or further down the leagues, Leeds United won’t get better any time soon. Success on the pitch means compliance off it. But what if there was no TV revenue of substance? To understand a little how that would look fly 1,375 miles east to Belarus.

In the next few weeks Borisov Automobile and Tractor Electronics, or BATE as they are more commonly known, should wrap up their 13th consecutive title, a European record also held by Norway’s Rosenberg. The former works team from Belarusian’s biggest tractor manufacturer rose to become the biggest club in the country after the collapse of the Soviet Union after 1992. Dinamo Minsk, funded as most other “Dinamo” clubs within the Soviet Union by the Military, were the biggest club and had won the Soviet Championship back in 1992 but since then their dominance has waned and in 1996 the company, and consequently, the football team were taken over by successful businessman Anatoli Kapski. A decade later and the club had retained their title at the start of their record-breaking run.

That initial investment happened at the right time as other clubs struggled to find their feet in Belorussia’s post-independent world, whilst money started to flow from UEFA and their commercial partners into European competition. As each season passed and BATE celebrated another title, the prize money from their forays into Europe got bigger and bigger, which in turn saw them build a stronger and stronger squad.

They became the first, and only Belarusian side to feature in the Champions League Group Stages, a feat they have repeated on four occasions and can include wins against Roma, Bayern Munich and Athletic Bilbao. Each game played in the competition just adds another obstacle to the remaining teams back in the Belarusian Football League.

Without meaningful domestic TV money, no other club stands a chance of competing in the foreseeable future. This is the alternative scenario for fans who feel that the TV companies have too much influence over the Premier League. I’m sure there will come a time when Dinamo Brest, owned by Middle Eastern company Sohra, will challenge for the title but until then, domestic fans will have to make do with the odd domestic cup and a long-shot at the Europa League.

So, what do we want? The devil or the deep blue sea?

Many thanks to Steve Menary for his excellent background on BATE in October’s When Saturday Comes.

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It’s better to travel in hope than not to travel at all


Watching the great Dynamo Tblisi team of the early 1980’s is one of my foremost footballing memories.  This piece, written in March 2010 captured the trials and tribulations of “exotic” travel thirty five years ago.

We take travel today with a pinch of salt.  Budget airlines have opened up a world we would have never seen and thanks to this t’internet thing we can now get independent reviews, photos and even videos of hotels, bars and restaurants around the world all from the safety of our DFS sofa.  But can you remember what it was like to travel thirty years ago?  Sure you had your package deals with DanAir or British Caledonian, somehow managing to get off the ground and heading for the cultural high points of Majorca and the Costa Brava but what would it have been like to make a trip behind the Iron Curtain?

Having travelled a few times to the ex-Soviet states I know how hard it is today to get a visa, fill in the landing card and remember to keep enough dollars spare for the inevitable bribes for standing in the wrong place, or taking a picture of some government building.  Take this experience back to the early 1980’s when the Red Machine was in full effect and Russia was an almost closed country.  But football has always been a universal language, crossing even the most difficult borders and with three European football competitions every season it was inevitable that every so often our brave boys would have to experience a slice of life in the Eastern Bloc.

In March 1981 in the middle of their record-breaking promotion season, West Ham United headed off to Tblisi, capital of the Soviet region of Georgia to play the second leg of their European Cup Winners Cup Quarter Final.  It was never going to be an easy trip as Liverpool had found a few years before in the European Cup, but to go there on the back of a 4-1 defeat and just four days after a League Cup Final appearance at Wembley it was always going to be a tough trip.

But there is tough, and there is tough. Whilst the club had known that Tbilisi would be their opponents at this stage for some time, the winter break had made it almost impossible for the Hammers to find out much about their opponents before the home tie.  They had been given a brief scouting report by Waterford Town, who had played them in a previous round and Liverpool who had lost there in the European Cup the previous year suggested not to go at all!  The club found some help from unlikely sources.

The London Correspondent for TASS, the Soviet news agency had a friend who supported the club and managed to send over some videos of the team, plus a Swedish based journalist whose company had daily Russian newspapers was able to translate a few things relevant to the tie.  “Latin flair in lifestyle and play” he wrote on one memo to West Ham.  In the same report, published in the West Ham programme for the game that Russian football was not like our own game.  It was in fact much more controlled and regimented.  For instance, none of this playing for a draw every week – once a team had drawn 10 games in a season they simply got no more points from drawn games.  And penalties handed out to players were incredibly harsh.  A player who showed dissent to a referee could expect a 10 game ban, and feigning injury or time wasting a 3 game ban…..so what went wrong?

Most West Ham fans who turned up on Wednesday 4th March 1981 at Upton Park had never heard of any of the Russians and probably expected another easy home win, which they had become accustomed to during the season.  However, Tbilisi came to London with a squad full of class. Ten full Russian Internationals and four players who had represented their country at the Olympic Games the previous summer.  Included in this was Russian Football of the Year for 1978 Ramaz Shengelia, described in the match day programme as “fast and always on the move”, and the captain of the side, Aleksandr Chivadze.

At the time I was a promising young striker, happily banging in 4 or 5 goals a week at schoolboy level, but it is fair to say that on that March night I wanted to be like Chivadze from that moment on.  He had been voted Russian Player of the Year in 1980, beating Oleg Blokhin by some 80 votes from the Russian sports journalists and had become one of only a few footballers ever profiled by Pravda – the modern day equivalent of featuring in Tatler I would assume.  In a recent game against world champions Argentina, the world cup winning captain Daniel Pasarella had been quoted saying Chivadze would “grace any footballing nation”.  He was the best thing since sliced beetroot in the Soviet Union AND was clever to boot, studying for an Economics degree whilst playing for Dinamo.

It seemed that all attacks stemmed from Aleksandr bringing the ball out of defence.  He swayed past Trevor Brooking and rang rings around Alan Devonshire.  David “Psycho” Cross, at that moment the leading scorer in all of the English leagues may as well have been on a beach in Magaluf – he simply did not get a sniff out of Chivadze.

Chivadze opened the scoring in the game, starting and finishing a move that swept from one end of the pitch to another.  A second followed from Gutsaev before half time but the near 35,000 had seen enough to realise that the Hammer’s European adventure would go no further.  Cross pulled one back after the break but Shengelia added two more to put the Russians out of sight.  At full time, to a man the West Ham fans applauded Dinamo off the pitch, rubbing their eyes at what they had seen.

“I think West Ham underestimated us but even by our standards, that was a very special performance. We had 11 players playing at their best” said coach Nodar Achalkatsi after the game whilst John Lyall could only comment that “if you are going to lose then you want to lose to a team like Dinamo.”

Only a couple of journalists made the trip out to Georgia after the first leg result, giving the Hammers very little chance of overturning the 4-1 deficit and their brief reports simply focused on the 1-0 win rather than the trip itself. A few Hammers fans made the trip, and with their reputation preceding them were surrounded by hundreds of soldiers for their time in the Georgian capital. Very little was ever heard about their trip, but fortunately, West Ham’s Club Doctor, Dr Gordon Brill wrote a report for his diary.  Below is an extract, published in West Ham United’s official programme in April 1981:-

“In retrospect, we cannot be sure which (if either) reflected the true situation, because the 27-hour “outward bound” venture contained so many incidents that we were beginning to feel like James Bonds of soccer.

The almost incredible snags which interrupted schedules, frayed tempers and brought physical discomforts to many were eventually overcome thanks to the bonhomie and mutual co-operation of the 40-odd members of the official party.

Stories filtered out of the plight of our squad in Moscow Airport.  This included the fact that it took approximately one hour to obtain permission to leave a departure compound in order to visit the toilet some 20 yards away under the vigilant eye of four strategically placed guards, visibly equipped with walkie-talkies.  The rules were “go one by one, and the second cannot go until the first one comes back”.  It was just as well that during the preceding four hours at the immigration desks most of the party had only been able to grab a small beer or a coffee.

Eventually, after three passport checks of anything up to 15 minutes per person, and two close scrutinies of every piece of luggage it was decided that we should stay at a hotel overnight.  Fortunately permission was obtained for some food to be unloaded (after a specially convened doctor’s certificate was signed), but unfortunately our baggage containing the grub was back on the plane and could not be unloaded – so it took a whip round on what was in everyone’s hand luggage to provide some sustenance.

The efforts of our catering team produced a meal in the airport  restaurant and we arrived at the hotel around 2am GMT.

Orders were for an 8am alarm call in preparation for a 9am departure on the second leg to Tblisi.  Those above the third floor had a cold water shower and a lucky few found some coffee and stale rolls in the restaurant during a further wait until 11am when the bus eventually arrived for the five minute back to the Airport.

We eventually took off just after noon and arrived in the Georgian capital at 4pm local time.  Our hosts had literally been awaiting us since the previous night with no word on our whereabouts.

From thence on it was roses all the way.  Our hosts catered for our needs and entertainment in various ways.  For the players it was training in the Olympic stadium – indeed being allowed to use the Dinamo Sports Science Complex – a real honour for the club.

The match is dealt with elsewhere but a 1-0 victory for the Hammers was a great result, although it was the Russians who went through on aggregate.

And then we came to the journey home.  We arrived at Tblisi airport to find that our plane was still some 1,500 miles away in Moscow.  Thanks to our hosts we at least had some food as they had given us all before we left, not knowing when our next meal would come from.  We were luckier this time at Moscow airport as it only took two and a half hours to be processed through a deserted airport, although a few questions arose over some of our declarations.

For instance Trevor Brooking’s “cash declaration” showed that he had more sterling to bring out than he brought in thanks to Trev’s card school win that took some careful explaining.

Twenty seven hours after we left we landed at Stansted airport in Essex, and with a day and a half until we faced Oldham Athletic.  The club would like to thank all those who helped make the 8,000 mile trip as smooth as possible, especially Tescos for kindly donating some steak for the players.”

An interesting summary of what travel was like then.  Dynamo went on to win the European Cup Winners Cup in that season before slowly fading into the background of Soviet football.   Chivadze stayed at Tbilisi his whole career, making nearly 350 appearances for them before going on to coach the Georgian national side on two separate occasions.

Footballers today with their private jets don’t know they are born and what happened to those disciplinary rules?  Can you imagine them in force today?  Ronaldo and Drogba would be permanently banned!  Can I have the number for FIFA please?

It’s in the shops…..


Passport to footballThe UK locked in a frenzy with the launch of “Passport to Football” .  Thirty chapters, thirty unforgetable trips (well, the bits we can remember in between all the foreign beer) and of course a fair few classic games.  Who can forget Hvidovre v AB, FC Orgryte v Jonkopings Sodra and Akademia Sofia v Radovski Sevlievo – well quite a few of us actually but many will want to remember Euro2008, France v England or Palermo v West Ham.

All your favourites are in here.  The “Jugtastic” CMF, Football Jo and all of her perversions and a cast of literally a dozen.  None of the tales can be found anywhere else apart from in the hallowed pages of “Passport to Football”.  So buy a copy by clicking here – you know you want to!

Well done to Neil Campbell who found an obscure interview I did some years ago and that my first ever game was between West Ham and Burnley from April 1976

Moscow


Moscow

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What is Russian for “Who’s the bastard in the black?”


A weekend of football in the Russian Capital – 4 – 6 August 2006

Dinamo's stadium

A weekend in Moscow at first didn’t appeal as a football trip, but with UEFA deciding to award the Champions League final to the city in 2008, and England due to visit in October 2007 in a Euro2008 qualifier it seemed like a good place to arrange to visit for a bit of research. With six top flight clubs playing in or around the city centre, there was always going to be a couple of games on each weekend during the summer. The weekend that caught my eye saw four games in four days in three stadiums which would give me a full taste of football in Russia.

There are a lot of misconceptions about Moscow, and Russia in general. Firstly it is only a 3 hour flying time from London. Most people assume that it is hours away, although the fact that it is a three image time difference does back up the fact. Secondly, people think it is impossible to get a visa to get in. Wrong again. If you go through a private company you can get them to do all of the leg work for you and deliver your passport back within 48 hours with all of the right paperwork. Finally, people assume it is snowing all of the time. Well, August in Moscow saw temperatures of over 35 degrees.

I’d planned to originally meet Dennis and his happy band of ground hoppers at a hotel in the north of the city, but at the last minute I had a change of heart and decided to upgrade my booking to the Swissotel – the tallest building in Russia at 33 stories high, and the newest 5 star hotel in the capital. But first I had to get into the city. As I was flying with British Airways I was landing at Domodedovo airport, the newest of Moscow’s five airports. I had completed my landing card correctly, or so I thought but at the first security check after disembarking I had my forms thrown back at me because I have put my name the wrong way round. To the back of the queue I went, but soon I had reached the front as they obviously had a quota of travelers to reject off each flight. Next came the currency exchange. With roubles still almost impossible to get in the UK you have to change your money on arrival. And none of those tatty English £5 notes thank you – only pristine £20’s for roubles here, but don’t forget to sign your currency release note in triplicate and carry round a copy just in case you are stopped by the police. Then you are ready to take your chances into the big bad world of Moscow. The sliding doors open into the arrivals area and you are hit by utter chaos. People everywhere, going nowhere and making a lot of noise about it. The advantage of flying into Domodedovo is that it has its own railway station that runs direct to the city centre. So with purpose I set down along the terminal to the railway ticket windows and purchased a single ticket for 100 Roubles (about £2). I got a receipt and promptly on the floor and tried to enter the platform but needed a ticket. So where was my ticket? Well it appears that the tatty bit of paper I had just screwed up and thrown in the bin was my ticket and so I can to push a tramp out of the way to rummage in the bin to get my ticket.

The train took me through the most uninspiring of suburbs on its way to Paveltsky Vokzal station, which took around 45 minutes. The Swissotel was a short walk from the station, so in theory it was a short walk away. But surprise number two for the day was the sheer number of people who just mill around. Outside the station at 4pm on a Friday were hundreds of people,standing around with nothing to do. This would come to be a common scene in Moscow. People obviously classed a day out here as standing around in Red Square having a can of beer. So I fought my way through the crowd, past the slot machine arcades that were full of Asian looking men and walked towards the Swissotel which was the visible from everywhere. A guard on the main road asked to check my passport and my reservation before he let me walk up the drive into the lobby. Top of the range BMW’s and Mercedes lined the car park and I was welcomed by Bellboys galore. With check in completed I was told that they had upgraded me to a mini-suite and I was shown to my room on the 20th floor with ceiling to floor windows with a view to die for over the Moscova River and one of Stalin’s Seven sisters buildings, the Kotelnicheskaya Building. It was going to be a quick turn round as I was due at the CSKA Moscow v FC Saturn game on the other side of town.I was hoping to meet up with Dennis. They had arrived the previous day and had already got a game under their belt by traveling up towards Sheremetevo Airport to watch 2nd division league leaders FC Khimki. I knew that he would be at the CSKA game and thought that he would stand out in the crowd. CSKA had been the team to beat in Russia for so long, vying for top spot on an annual basis with Spartak. They were also one of the most hated teams having originally been synonymous with the army, and more latterly the vast cash reserves of Roman Abramovich’s Siftnet Oil company, although the club still deny they had any funding from him apart from sponsorship. They had finished the previous season as league champions as well as having the audacity to win the UEFA Cup in the backyard of Sporting Lisbon against all of the odds. However, despite all the money of the Russian Chelsea owner they still lacked a stadium of their own, and had recently moved from the Luzhniki stadium across town to the Dinamo stadium to share with Dinamo Moscow, their long term plan of a stadium of their own still not moving off the drawing board.

I ventured onto the metro for the first time. This was one area where I had researched, not feeling confident of walking into the heart of Russia with not a clue. I knew that I need to buy a multi pass ticket so I simply approached one of the fearsome women behind the counter, slapped down my 150 roubles and grunted my thanks. What initially struck me about the metro was there was absolutely no security or prevention of fare dodgers. I went down the long escalators and saw one of the reasons why nobody would dare to try and sneak through the barriers. At the bottom of the escalators was one of the most fearsome looking women I had seen- ever! Apparently they are the real meaning of the world “Babouska” and they frightened everyone into behaving.

The journey across the city involved a single change, but Moscow is renown as having one of the most efficient metro systems in the world, and even with a change of line required, the 9 stop trip took less than 15 minutes. I left the train at Dinamo station and followed the crowds into the streets, passed the impressive statue of legendary goalkeeper Lev Yashin and into the car park where temporary bars looking like sheds had been opened up to serve the fans beer and sausages. I wandered around for a while trying to find Dennis, but had no luck. I bought my ticket from a small booth outside the metro station for 150 roubles and took my place in the main stand.

Dinamo’s stadium was a classic Eastern European ground. Completely open to the elements with massive dominating floodlights, it is hard for any fans to generate an atmosphere, especially as the rain was falling heavily. With a crowd of less than 2,000 on a hot, rainy night the empty blue and white seats made picking out some of the blue and white shirted teams hard on occasions. CSKA scored two early goals which effectively killed the game off and ensured they would stay top of the league irrespective of other results. I scanned the crowd looking for Dennis but couldn’t see a six foot big English looking bloke anywhere in the crowd, especially as he had as much hair as most of the CSKA “fans” who had populated the stand behind the goal.

After fruitless search I headed back to the hotel for the evening. I had arranged dinner in the hotel’s 33rd floor restaurant which was an absolute treat, with the whole of Moscow laid out in front of me. All of a sudden I was joined by a guest. A female guest. A strikingly beautiful female. Blonde, thin and in a little black dress. She had her own drink with her and immediately tried to pour me a glass of Champagne. With the speed of a gazelle I placed my hand over the glass and declined the offer. After a few minutes negotiating when I was offered the services of the lady sitting opposite me for $500 for the night by saying I was here with my wife, who was about to join me. “Ok, no problem….So I join you as well yes? $700 for both of you.” Now CMF has a very wicked side but I am sure even she would have drawn the line at paying such a price. I quickly finished up, gave her a long last smile and headed back to the room to find a note from “Carolina” who was available to me 24 x 7, and giving me her mobile number. Nice – I am sure for a price I could have had her do my laundry whilst I was here.

The following day I had planned as my sightseeing trip. The football later in the day was at the Luzhniki stadium with a local derby between Torpedo and Dinamo. So I headed up to Red Square for a bit of sightseeing. In the course of the next few hours I managed to squeeze in a visit to Lenin’s tomb (unreal and surely its not him), the GUM department store opposite and St Basil’s cathedral. One thing you need to get used to in Moscow is queuing. For instance, if you want to see Lenin’s tomb you have to queue outside Red Square. There, you have to leave your bags and are individually checked for any cameras. You are then escorted in parties of 4 along the edge of Red Square (which is neither Red or Square) to the red marble tomb, where you wait again to enter on the 15 minute mark. You are then escorted into the darken room where you stay for exactly 7 minutes before being escorted through the back door past the monuments to some of the other Russian leaders such Stalin and Brezhnev. The GUM store was interesting as it was absolutely deserted. All of the stores were open, with the likes of Adidas, Nike, Louis Vitton and even a Gap displaying their wares but absolutely no customers. I bought a few items from the shops and realised what the issue was. all of the shops had absolutely no interest in customers. They ignored you when you entered the shop,ignored you when you needed help choosing and then ignored you when you tried to pay.

My last visit of the day was to St Basil’s Cathedral – one of the most iconic buildings in Moscow. Try as hard as I could, I simply could not find the main naive. Surely there had to be a main bit somewhere instead of all of these little crypts and chapels. After 3/4th of an hour I gave up, took my shopping back to my concierge at the hotel and then headed by metro down to Sportivnaya station. On exiting the station the road was lined by soldiers who were obviously expecting a different class of supporter than the fat sweaty Englishman who was walking towards them. The ticket office is located to the north of the stadium in a very historic looking building. Tickets for the game were either 120 roubles for a ticket in the end stand or 150 in the VIP section. I headed for the latter, still looking for Dennis and assuming that this would be where he would head. The stadium itself was crumbling. From the outside you saw in what disrepair the stadium was in. Each entrance had its own metal detector to check for any weapons ( and if you didn’t have any you could take your pick of theirs!!) and I was searched twice by burley looking lesbian soldiers. This was manageable with 500 or so fans but if they were planning on hosting England in October 2007 it would be a disaster.

The inside of the stadium was impressive. The seats were done out in red, orange and yellow and were a great backdrop to the game being played out in front of no more than 1,500 fans. This was for a local derby being played in a 80,000 all seater stadium. To say the game lacked atmosphere was an understatement. Torpedo eventually ran out 3-0 winners and moved above Dinamo at the foot of the table. I was still looking for Dennis, and half way through the second half I moved from the VIP area (plastic seats with arm rests) to the normal seats (ditto but no arm rests) but I still couldn’t find him. I was beginning to wonder if I had got the wrong weekend and he was not actually here at all.

I walked around the stadium and had a look at one of the few remaining statues of Lenin still left in the country. Most had been pulled down by Stalin in his purge during the 1950’s. The stadium was supposed to be the jewel in the Russian sporting empire and it was here that the Soviets hosted the 1980 Olympics. Since then the stadium had not been used much. It had been the home to club side Torpedo since 2003 when the owner of the stadium bought the club and moved them from the small and homely Strehov stadium, which I would be visiting later on in this trip. CSKA had also had a tenancy here but moved out when Spartak arrived after their stint at Dinamo’s stadium.

Lining the route back to the station were hundreds of soldiers, the oldest one looking about 12. They stood their menancingly, batons at the ready as the few hundred of us fans walked silently back into the metro. Lots have been written about the beauty of the metro system, and I have to say that stations like Dobryninskaya, Prospekt Mira, Belorusskaya and Krasnopresnenskaya on the central ring line are stunning and are more like museums.

After the previous nights escapades in the hotel’s restaurant decided to head back to Red Square, or Okhotny Ryad as I had come to know it to find out what Moscovians got up to on a Friday night. The square was buzzing with people although nobody seemed to be going in a particular direction. I decided to be cultural and headed for the McDonalds in the shopping centre opposite the Kremlin. Now this wasn’t just any old McDonalds. During the 25 years since it became the first branch of the chain to open in Russia, it had become the busiest in the world, turning over more cash than any other branch. I waited in line and was impressed with the speed in which I was served and that they still had the same pickle inside as you got in the western world. One day they will run out of these pickles and the world will be a better place. I was trying to track down the legendary Hungary Duck bar, where women are let in free of charge until 8pm and plied with free drink before any men are let in at 8.30pm. The ensuing chaos is supposed to be jaw dropping, although in the age of rampant capitalism the bar had been taken over more by working girls who pretended to be drunk and out of control when the men arrived, only to hit them with a big bill at the end of the evening. However, I could not find it anywhere (later I was to learn that I walked passed the entrance on a number of occasions, mistaking it for another entrance to the metro station of Kuznetsky Most. Instead I found the biggest sports bar on the planet, apparently on Novy Arbat, close to Smolenskaya station which was rammed full of TV’s and remarkably getting ready to show a game from the Amsterdam tournament featuring Manchester United and Ajax.

I had planned to trying to get into the Kremlin on Saturday so set off early to avoid the coach parties of Japanese and Chinese tourists. I booked a ticket for 11am and went back to the shopping centre opposite the Kremlin to sit and watch life go by. It seemed that every Saturday wedding parties queued up to have their photos taken at the entrance to Red Square through one of the historic gates. Whilst they waited their turn they all went into McDonalds (now you know why it is the busiest in the world – 143 Big Mac Meals please) in some form of weird wedding breakfast routine.

The Kremlin, is not as many think, one building. It is a huge complex of buildings all within the massive fortified walls. There is simply too much here to see and do in one day so I satisfied myself with a visit to the impressive Armoury, Assumption cathedral and the Diamond Exhibition. It was hard work as most of the exhibits were only displayed in Russian, and the number of tourists shuvving their cameras everywhere was annoying to say the least.

I was heading back down to the Luzhniki to watch the Russian’s (current) Premier team, Champions and richest club, Spartak Moscow play Rostov at 3pm, so not knowing how many fans would be present after the team got 70,000 for a midweek Champions League game, I set off along the banks of the river at 1pm. The plan was to walk through Gorky Park on the way, The park was made famous by the film of the same name in the 1980’s and is comparable with a Greenwich Park in London with a small amusement Park. The reason I wanted to come here though was to see the Sculpture Park on the opposite side of the road. Basically this was the resting place of all of those wonderful ex-Soviet Statues,including those of leaders such as Andropov and Brezhnev. It was used in a wonderfully moody scene in Goldeneye, where 007 comes face to face with 006, played by Sean Bean who had turned traitor. It didn’t have the same effect in the boiling hot sunshine though.

Crowds were certainly more impressive than for the game the day previous, and bizzarely there was noticeably less policemen and soldiers around. Tickets were 30% more expensive so I declined paying the £15 for a VIP seat and instead opted for a £10 seat, simply because the entrance was the closest to the ticket windows. On entering the stadium this time with the game just kicking off the scene was unreal. Behind the west goal the Spartak hardcore fans had filled the end right the way to the top. Opposite them were a handful of Rostov fans who had made the 400km trip to the capital. In my section on the halfway line there were at least 100 fans (but still no Dennis!) and opposite in the VIP area there was another 100 or so.

Spartak dominated the game scoring four goals in the first half an hour. It was only at this point, for some strange reason, that I realised that this was being played on a plastic pitch. Despite watching 90 minutes the previous day, and 30 minutes today I had failed to realise that the grass was a very strange grey colour and the bounce was untrue. Spartak eased off in the second half and allowed Rostov to come back into the game, and for a period when they had pulled 2 goals back it did appear if they may actually get something out of the game. However, a last minute goal by one of their expensive foreign imports restored their three goal advantage.

With less than 24 hours left in the city I had only seen two of the four grounds that host top flight football. FC Moscow, who play at the Brighton-esque Strelstov stadium were due to play at home on the Sunday pm but I would already be enroute to the stadium at this point. So my plan was to try and sneak a peak in this stadium as well as Lokomotiv’s impressive Cherizovskaya stadium, widely known as the best in Russia. It was the latter I headed to first as it sat one stop from the end of the red metro line, and on a direct course from the Sportivnaya station outside the Luzhniki.

The journey took around 30 minutes and when I got off at Cherkizovskaya I was met with another chaotic scene. This time is was down to a local market that was coming to an end, which seemed to be comparable with a Sunday Boot Fair at Flamingo Park in Sidcup. I wandered around to the entrance to the stadium and noticed a number of people going in. So I followed them into the main stand. On the pitch was a presentation. It appeared to have been going on for quite a while judging by the long line of people wearing medals. Meanwhile on the pitch a group of old footballers (50+) were kicking balls around as if in preparation for a game. Does this count I thought? It was a game in the stadium, granted, even if it was one that would be played at walking pace. The presentations finished and a number of the girls that had been giving out awards came and sat in the stands. Dressed in long evening dresses, with heavy make up it wasn’t hard to see what their next assignment would be later in the evening. One of them struck up a conversation with me, and on hearing I was a) English, b) staying in the Swissotel and c) On my own immediately offered to be my dinner date for the evening. As flattered as I was I do have some morals and the thought of an evening with Tatia and having to pay for the honour was not exactly an appealing one. Anyway I do not think that CMF would have been too impressed, even if I use cultural exchange as a mitigating circumstance.

I stayed for 30 minutes or so, not really watching the game but admiring the stadium. It had been built less than 5 years ago, and was a very smart two tier stadium, with a canopied roof in each corner. Each stand had different coloured seats, and the roof and facia was red to reflect the club colours of Lokomotiv. It was the favoured home of the Russian national team, and also played host to CSKA’s Champions League matches. Lokomotiv are one of the best supported teams in Russia with an average attendance of over 20,000 and since moving to the new stadium in 2002 they have won the title and the Russian cup. The area around the stadium is not exactly plush as apart from the market, large blocks of flat loomed over the ground and a car scrap yard complete with burning tyres topped off the effect.

I had originally planned on diverting towards VDNKh which as every Soviet knows is the Vystavka Dostizheny Narodnogo Khizyaystva SSSR. For those who don’t understand Russian then it is the old exhibition centre that showcased everything that was great about the Soviet Empire. Today it is more famous for the massive Central Museum of the Armed Forces with its display of nearly a million military items, and the Cosmonautics Museum. Unfortunately due to an issue on the metro system at Komsomolskaya where I was due to change trains I had to push back my visit by 24 hours.

I returned to the hotel around 7pm and toyed with the idea of another night out in Sportland. One of the best bits of the hotel room was the fantastic bathroom which had a full wet room and a special glassed wall that allowed those in the shower to see out but not those in the room to see in. It also had a wall mounted remote control for the TV and so I started surfing the channels. All of a sudden Jeff Stelling came on the screen, then Tony Cottee and then Chris Kamara with his soul glow perm in all its glory….I had found Soccer Saturday. I was so excited by finding this that I had to call CMF. She was also very excited when I told her, especially as she was driving home from Chessington World of Adventures at the time and had to pull across three lanes of the busiest motorway in the world to take my call.

I stayed in the hotel glued to watching the opening day of the Football League, and engrossed by Birmingham City v Colchester United. Sad but true – fly a 1000 miles from home and such things had become very important and unmissable!

I headed back to the city centre to find Rosie O’Grady’s for a couple of pints of Guinness (at 200 roubles a pint they were actually more expensive than the ticket to watch Spartak earlier in the day1) but it passed a few hours and I had a decent chat with the ex-pat West Ham supporting barman, who liked me thought our changes of actually staying in the Premier League were slim to non.

After an early start on the Sunday I headed back up to VDNKh for a look at the space museum. It was certainly worth few hours of any visitors time especially for the superb videos that displayed of the space missions. What does strike you is that for a company that spent so much time and money in their space programme, how they have now fallen so far behind the Americans.

I had a couple of stops left to make before I headed back to the airport. First was to Detsky Mir, the biggest toy shop in the world (although I thought this was the honour of Hamleys) to pick up a few things for the kids. The shop was an aladdins cavern, with typical Russian service that I was becoming used to. The shop was on top of a steep hill that ran down to Red Square. On this road were a number of “exclusive” shopping streets that included Porsche show rooms, Hugo Boss and Gucci shops, all with armed guards outside. What made this more remarkable was that these streets were side by side with the “peasant” shops that made Aldi’s upmarket. It seemed to be a common sight in Moscow – extreme poverty next door to absolute wealth.

I finished off my very entertaining weekend with a brief trip down to Avtozavodskaya to visit the Strelstov Stadium, home of FC Moscow. Despite being just one stop south of the hotel on the metro, the walk took around 20 minutes along some very pleasant tree lined streets. The stadium sat down in a valley, and you enter the ground via a public park. The stadium was open so I had a wander in. It was basically an athletics track with a couple of temporary stands, although the traditional ceremonial stand dated back to the 1920’s. It was almost a spitting image of Brighton’s Withdean stadium, although the open air nature would not have made it very pleasant for supporters. The views from the top row was impressive though with the city skyline silhoutted in the distance. FC Moscow had only existed for 2 years, having been created after the Torpedo club had been taken over and moved to the Luzhniki Stadium. Whilst money was tight, and the support base was small, they had held their own in the top division, and saw both Torpedo and Dinamo struggle whilst they had gained some stability. They reached their first cup final in 2007, although they lost 1-0 to Lokomotiv in the Luzhniki.

So that was it. The airport was a chaotic as it had been when I arrived 72 hours earlier, although having been pre-checked in by British Airways I passed through the almost non-existent security, exchanged my roubles back to pounds (after completing the forms in triplicate of course) and attempted to buy something (anything) from duty free to use up the final few roubles. However, I had obviously time warped back to the dark days of communism as the only thing on the shelves was potato vodka. I boarded my flight, put the IPOD on and fell into a comforting sleep all the way back to London. I can certainly say it had been an experience, some good, some interesting and some crazy. I would be back that is for sure, armed with the knowledge to cheat the system and made some kind of madness from the capital revolution.

About the Dinamo Stadium
The Russian ground merry-go-round continues at a pace as the Dinamo stadium is now home to Dinamo Moscow and new tenants and Soviet champions CSKA Moscow. However, the stadium is now showing signs of age, having originally opened in 1928. Amazingly, considering the harsh climate in eastern Russia, the stadium is completely uncovered, offering no protection from the wind, rain and snow that categorises the Russian seasons.

One of the most notable things about the stadium is the huge floodlights that seem to have enough light bulbs to light up the whole city, let alone the stadium at night. Seats are of the bolted onto the terrace type, meaning that they have little legroom and the rake of the steps is poor. That said, the stadium does look quite smart in the sunshine, but very miserable when the autumn rains start. The ground has a small athletics track, which pushes the end stands back, adding further issues to those fans behind the goal. Very little has changed in terms of stadium feel and design since the ground was chosen to host the 1980 Olympics football tournament.

Who plays there?
The Dinamo Stadium is home to both Dinamo and CKSA Moscow. Dinamo Moscow are traditionally known and hated for being the Russian Army Club, although they can actually trace their roots back to the 1880’s when Charles Charnock, an English industrialist based in Moscow, put a factory team together.

The team were the premier team of Moscow during the pre-revolution years, winning the Moscow Championship from 1910 to 1914. After the Revolution in 1917, the club fell into the hands of the Secret Police, the Cheka who were certainly influential in building a formidable team during the early 1920’s. In 1936, Dinamo won the first ever Soviet Championship, and followed it up with the double in 1937. The club then regularly won the Soviet Championship, albeit with some strong rumours of influencing the opposition and officials alike. In 1949 the club’s dominance really came to the fore, with six Championships between 1949 and 1959 along with a couple of Soviet Cup’s. It was during this period that legendary goalkeeper Lev Yashin started his long career with the club.

As the interests of the Interior Ministry was diverted away from football to the Cold War in the 1960’s, the club’s on the field success started to wane. Two further Championships in 1963 and 1976 were supplemented by Soviet cup wins on four occasions, as well as a European Cup Winners Cup Final appearance in 1972 when they lost to Glasgow Rangers 3-2.

Since the creation of the new Russian order, the club have one solitary Cup final win in 1995 to their name, and they have definitely fallen down the pecking order in terms of football in Moscow. Last season they finished 14th, avoiding relegation by one place. Current manager and ex-Dinamo and Russian International Andrey Kobelev has a mixed squad of internationals at his disposal – including four Brazilians, four Portuguese and a couple of African players. Despite all of their success, in recent years the club has failed to make an impact at all on European football. Whilst during the 1970’s and 1980’s they were regular starters in the UEFA Cup, the Champions League qualifying has still eluded them.

CKSA Moscow – the former Red Army team were considered for most of their history as Moscow’s third team, behind the mighty Dinamo, and the new billionaires Spartak. However in recent years, thanks to the money of their own billionaire, Roman Abramovich and his Sineft Oil company, CSKA have been the team to beat. They have also broken nearly 20 years of European emptiness by becoming the first Russian (as opposed to Soviet) team to win a European trophy when they captured the UEFA Cup in Sporting Lisbon’s backyard in 2005.

The club were formed in 1911, and did very little in the years during the revolution. In 1923 the Red Army took control of the club, and retained a major shareholding and ownership right up until the late 1990’s. The golden period for the club came just after the Second World War when the team won five Soviet Championships and three Soviet Cups between 1945 and 1951. The club also provided eleven players to the Soviet Olympic Team that won a Gold medal at the Helsinki games. After the 1951 season the team fell on hard times as the hold of Josep Stalin took effect on Russian life. The rise of their close city rivals Dinamo also had a major effect on the team. Their next championship came in the 1970 season, and then the club had to wait until the Soviet Championship in 1991 to capture the title again.

In 2003 the club turned back to former coach Valery Gazzaev and with Roman’s money the team was rebuilt on a basis of buying the best Russian players, and carefully selected foreign imports such as the Brazilian’s Vagner Love and Jo who fired the club to Russian Premier League Titles in 2003 and 2005, and into the Champions League Group stages where they met Arsenal, Porto and Hamburg in a tough group. Unfortunately after a promising start, CSKA lost their final two matches to finish 3rd in the group. After winning the Championship last season they will be hoping for more luck this season in Europe.

How to get there
By far the easiest way to reach the stadium is the Dark Green Metro Line 2 that runs straight through the centre of the city to the Dinamo metro stop. The ground is just behind this station. Obviously, on a busy match day this station may be a bit crowded so it may be wise to use the next stop at Aeroporto and then walk back down Leningradsky Prospect. Dinamo station is 5 stops from Red Square and takes no longer than 10 minutes to complete.

Getting a ticket
Ticket prices vary a little depending on whether CSKA or Dinamo are at home. Tickets for a seat behind the Dinamo goal start from just 300 Roubles (£6) ranging to 4,000 Roubles for a VIP seat (although still uncovered!) that converts to around £80, but will come with all of the trappings of Russian luxury. For CSKA games (excluding the Champions League), tickets start from 200 Roubles behind the goal (£4) to 2000 Roubles for a VIP seat (£40). Neither team are very well supported in the grand scheme of things. Despite being top of the table for most of the season, CSKA only average just 12,000, whilst Dinamo’s crowds have dropped to below 8,500. A few games do sell out though, such as the derbies versus Spartak and Lokomotiv. Please bear in mind that CSKA play their Champions League matches at Lokomotiv’s stadium across town. Tickets at the smaller stadium are harder to come by.

About the Lokomotiv Stadium
The Lokomotiv stadium is an oasis in the middle of chaos in terms of Russian football grounds. It was built on the site of the former stadium in 2002, and is a shining beacon of modern design that would not look out of place in the Premiership here in England. It has four almost identical two-tier stands, all linked together with a pillar at each corner used to hold the roof up. All of the seats are covered, and offer protection from the harsh Russian elements as well as offering unobstructed views.

Each stand has different colour seats, which helps indicate your stand if you don’t understand the Russian script on your ticket. The low roof also helps the crowd generate an excellent atmosphere on match days, especially when the visitors are CSKA or Spartak Moscow.

Who plays there?
Lokomotiv are now a serious challenger to the former domination of Russian Football by Spartak and CSKA. A third place finish in 1994 was their highest placed finish in the new Russian order, and the following season they went one better by finishing runners up to the surprise package Spartak-Alania Vladikavkaz. After a quiet few years the team bounced back into the limelight with a first ever Russian Cup Final victory in 1996. In 2002 with the goals of Dimitir Loskov they finally took their first title, repeating the success in 2004. The following season they led the league almost from day one before a series of strange defeats let in CSKA to take the title and relegating Lokomotiv to third place.

The team have also been one of the most consistent on the European scene out of all of the Russian pretenders. They reached the European Cup Winners Cup Semi-Finals in 1998 and 1999, losing to Stuttgart and Lazio respectively. In the Champions League they have had a surprising couple of campaigns. Their first ever campaign was in 2001/02 when they finished third in the group stages after coming through the qualifying rounds.

In 2002/03 they were drawn with Bruges, Barcelona and Galatasarary in the Champions League, and managed to sneak 2nd place in a very open group with an excellent win in Turkey. In the second group stage the team only managed to gain a single point from their matches versus Borussia Dortmund, AC Milan and Real Madrid in a group that couldn’t have really been any harder.

Two years later they pipped Inter Milan into 2nd place behind Arsenal to reach the Round of 16. There they met in form Monaco who won on away goals, and then went on to reach the final against Porto. Unfortunately last season’s UEFA Cup campaign lasted 2 matches as the club went out 3-2 on aggregate to the Belgium’s Zulte Waregem.

The current team is managed by Serbian Slavoljub Muslin and includes a huge mixture of nation’s including Cameroonians, Serbs, Brazilians, Ukrainians and even a Scottish player (Garry O’Connor). They will be hoping to break the CSKA / Spartak rule at the top of the table this season after another 3rd place finish in 2006, although they did win the Soviet Cup.

How to get there
The stadium is located in the North East quadrant of Moscow, just outside the second ring road. The area around the stadium isn’t what you would call plush, with a market and a few “budget” supermarkets. The stadium has its own metro stop on the Red line 1 at Cherkzovskaya that is one stop from the north end of the line. From Red Square (Oxhotny Ryad) it is 8 stops and around 20 minutes to the stadium. There is also an overland train station above the Metro station as well – trains here run on the outer Moscow Loop line.

There is an alternative route that involved using the purple line 3 to Partizanskaya (5 stops from Ploshchad Revolutsii in Red Square), and then a 15-minute walk northwards from the station, passing Izmaylovo market on your way. The final option is a taxi. You can hail down almost any car in Moscow, and if the driver feels like stopping you can commandeer his car as an unofficial or “gypsy” taxi. Agree a fee beforehand for the journey but you should not pay more than 200 roubles for the journey from the city centre to the stadium.

Getting a ticket
Despite having the best-looking stadium in Moscow, the adage that you should “Built it and they will come” hasn’t quite held true for Lokomotiv. Average attendances at the old ground were always low, reaching at best 6,000 and whilst these have increased to around the 12,000 mark since the completion of the new stadium, it still means lots empty seats each week. CSKA have recentlymoved their Champions League matches to the stadium and sold out their games versus Hamburg and Arsenal in 2006. Tickets for a Lokomotiv match go on sale online via the website from ten days before a game, or can be bought from the ticket booths on the main road to the south of the stadium. Tickets range in price from 1,400 Roubles (Approx £4.50) behind the goals to 6,000 Roubles for a seat in the VIP section of the West Stand. Tickets for CSKA’s Champions League games start from 3,000 Roubles (£9).

About the Lukhniki Stadium
Whilst many see the National Stadium as a relic of the past, UEFA have decided that it is important enough, and more relevantly capable of hosting big games still and awarded it the honour of hosting the 2008 Champions League Final. The stadium was originally built as part of the Luzhniki Sports Complex for the 1980 Summer Olympics, and is still the biggest stadium in Russia.

It is also one of the few major stadiums in the world that uses artificial grass – although this will have to be replaced for the 2008 Champions League Final. The stadium originally had a capacity of 103,000 and has hosted events in the past as varied as Show Jumping, Speedway and Ice Hockey. In 1982 during a UEFA Cup game between Spartak and HFC Haarlem over 60 people were killed in a stampede caused by a last minute goal. Initially the Soviet media completely ignored the incident, dedicating no more than a paragraph to it in the local press and even then only stating there had been a few minor injuries. There is now a small plaque at the stadium commemorating those who died. There is also a magnificent statue of Lenin on the main North Boulevard.

The stadium is very smart looking from the inside, with seats in three bands of yellow, orange and red. The athletics track does hinder the atmosphere, although the roof does mean that the noise generated by the home fans in the west end of the stadium can be quite intimidating. The concourse areas are really showing their age though. Views are unobstructed, and at night the stadium roof is lit up from the outside, making the whole area literally shine.

For most league matches, only the north and south stands are open. When Torpedo are at home, the fans are placed in the South stand, with any away fans located opposite. When Spartak are at home, the home fans use the west curve as well. Crowds for most games are not too impressive. Torpedo manage to average just 6,200, whilst Spartak have an average of just under 20,000. In the opening game of the 2006 Champions League, Spartak drew a crowd of 75,101 for their game versus Sporting Lisbon.

Who plays there?
Spartak Moscow have had a nomadic existence, playing in the last twenty years at Dinamo’s stadium, Lokomtiv’s old stadium and now finally ground-sharing the huge Luzhniki Stadium with Torpedo, moves are afoot to give them a permanent home. Land has been secured for a new stadium close to Tushino airfield and building should commence in 2007, with a completion date of late 2009.

Up until the introduction of Roman’s Roubles at CSKA, Spartak were the team of the new Russian Republic. From the start of the first Russian Premier League in 1992 until the end of last season, Spartak have won 9 titles – although the last one of these was in 2001. They have also won the Russian Cup on three occasions although European progress has always eluded them.

Finishing second to CSKA in the 2005/06 season at least gave them the opportunity to try and qualify for the Champions League Group Stages. An unconvincing win over Sheriff in the 2nd round on away goals gave them a tricky tie away at Czech Champions Slovan Liberec.

A 2-1 victory in the Luzhniki however, was enough to take them into the Group stages for the first time since 2002 where they played Sporting Lisbon, Bayern Munich and Inter Milan in a very tough group. Their European pedigree has been less than successful considering they are Russia’s biggest club. Their best performance in any competition has been the Semi Final stages which they reached in 1991 in the Champions League, 1993 in the Cup Winners Cup and finally in the UEFA Cup in 1998.

The club can trace is origins back to the early 1920’s when they were formed as a recreational off-shoot of a Trade Union. The team won their first Championship in 1936, and followed it up with the double in 1939. Further titles followed with regularity until the mid 1970’s when the club was relegated. They returned to the top division in 1978, and won the title the following year.

In 2000 the club was taken over by oil magnate Andreu Chervichenko who owned the Gazprom Oil Company. Initially funds were made available to strengthen the team including the likes of Fernando Cavenaghi for over £6.5m from River Plate, although this situation was soon reversed and Spartak became a selling club. Such talent that has left the club recently includes Nemanja Vidic leaving for Manchester United in January 2006. The current team has an international feel with young talent such as the German Martin Stranzl and ex-Arsenal teenage star Quincy Owusu-Abeyie.

With so many teams playing at the highest level in Moscow, it is obvious that some will attract more media interest than others. Torpedo currently sit in the latter category. The club have had a quiet existence to date, capturing 3 Championships since their inception in 1930, the last one over 30 years ago in 1976. The club had traditionally been the team of the working classes in the south east of the city, and are named after a car manufacturing plant that funded the club to some extent for many years. Since the creation of the Russian Premier League in 1992, their best finish was in 2000 when they finished third. However, last season they could not find any consistency and finished 2nd from bottom.

In Europe the club hasn’t hit the headlines either, with their best performance coming in the European Cup Winners Cup with two quarter final appearances. The team currently play at the huge Luzhniki Stadium, although they only average 6,200 for league matches. However, the same company owns the club as the Luzhniki and so any chances of moving back to their roots at the Eduard Streltsov Stadion are remote.

How to get there
The Stadium forms the focal point of the whole Sports Complex, and is located on a bend in the Moskova River in the south west of the city. The State University overlooks the whole area. The stadium has two metro stops close by, and on a nice day is walkable in around 30 minutes from Red Square along the river, and through Gorky Park.

The closest metro stop is Sportvnaya, which is just to the north of the stadium, almost under the central ring road. From the city centre, it is just 4 stops or 7 minutes by metro. To the east of the stadium, and built on a bridge over the Moskova River is the newly constructed station of Universitet, which is one stop further down the line from Sportvnaya. During the summer, regular river boats also run from the Kremlin and Gorky Park to the landing pier just to the south of the stadium – certainly a much more relaxing and scenic way to reach the stadium in the better weather.

Getting a ticket
With over 65,000 spare seats for most Spartak and Torpedo home league games, turning up a few minutes before kick off is never a problem at the Luzhniki. The ticket windows are located on the left hand side of the main entrance, at the north end of the stadium.

Once you have bought a ticket, bear in mind that if you are sitting in the South Stand (will say either Section B or C on the ticket) it is a good 10-minute walk around the stadium to go through your gate. As with most public places in Moscow, terrorism is still a threat and so you will be expected to have any bags inspected as well as going through an airport style metal detector.

Ticket prices vary according to the game. For a run of the bill “B” grade league game, a seat watching Torpedo in the south stand costs less than 2,000 roubles (£5), whilst prices are almost doubled for Spartak matches. Spartak recently got over 75,000 for a Champions League match with prices starting from 5,000 Roubles – which in terms of average weekly wages in some parts of Moscow is a significant part of their salary.

Getting Around
By far the easiest way to get around Moscow is to use the metro system. The Metro system is safe, efficient, reliable, cheap and beautiful – it’s not often in the world that all of these adjectives apply to a public transport system – especially for those of us used to using the London Underground on a daily basis. Trains run every 2 minutes from around 5.30am until 1am daily. The metro system is incredibly safe as well. Tickets can be bought from the automated machines at the stations as well as the ticket windows. All of them have basic ticket prices in English – a 10-journey ticket costs 120 Roubles (making each journey less than 25p!).

Local Hotels & Bars
Moscow has hotels to suit all budgets. Whilst it is a good idea to use booking sites such as Expedia and Opodo, they cannot provide the necessary accommodation voucher that you need to get your Visa from the embassy. However, if you are using the services of a Visa agency then this will not be a problem and you will be able to book any hotel you want. The hotels below are just a small range of what is available.

Swissotel Krasnye Holmy – Kosmodamianskaya Nab 52
Tel: + 7 495 787 9800 http://www.swissotel.com
Hotel Ukraina – 2/1 Kutuzovsky Prospect
Tel:+7 495 9335656 http://www.ukraina-hotel.ru
Zarya Hotel – Gostinichnaya 4/9
Tel: +7 495 788 7272 http://www.moscowzaryahotel.com

Moscow has restaurants and bars to suite all budgets. Most of the 5 and 4 star hotels are where the top names hang out and so don’t expect a cheap night out if one of these is your venue of choice. Moscow also has one of the busiest McDonald’s in the World – located opposite the entrance to Red Square on the top floor of the Okhotny Ryad shopping centre.

In terms of places to eat, Moscow has just started to wake up and smell the coffee – in terms of the growing number of small café bars who serve excellent snacks. If you want a more traditional meal, then One Red Square, located in the State History Museum, may be a good bet although a bit touristy. For a different experience head down to the Sword & Shield located opposite the former Lubyanka prison and decorated to look like the hang out of the KGB. The food is good and atmosphere definitely Cold War! Nearest metro is Lubyanka. For anyone longing for an Indian, head down to Maharaja in ul Pokrovka 21 (nearest metro Kitay Gorod) which is the most establish Indian in the city. Most top end hotels have excellent restaurants such as the 34th Floor Skyline café in the Swissotel.

You can still eat and drink cheaply though. There are a number of street vendors in the popular areas that can sell you a hot dog and beer for less than 100 roubles or £2. If you are looking for a place to watch a Premiership game then the following will satisfy your desires for football and Guinness.

Night Flight – Tverskaya ul 17
Rosie O’Grady’s – ul Znamenka 9
Sportland – Novy Arbat ul 21

Nearest Airport – Sheremetyevo (SVO)
Telephone: +7 933 6666
Website: http://www.sheremetyevo-airport.ru

Sheremetyevo was the original Moscow airport and hub for Aeroflot, who fly here three times a day from London Heathrow. The second terminal now used as the international arrivals and departure point for most airlines was opened for the 1980 Olympic games. The airport serves almost 12 million passengers annually and chaos reigns on most days. In December 2008 an express rail link is due to open, linking the city centre to the two terminals in less than 30 minutes. Until then the easiest route to the city is to take the express line from Savyolovsky Railway station to Lobnaya metro and then catch a bus. Alternatively you can do what the locals do and use the Marshrutkas (mini bus taxis) that run from the terminals to the metro station at Rechnoi Vokzal at the end of the Green Line 2. If you must get a taxi be prepared to pay upwards of $80 for an hour journey.

Domodedovo International Airport (DME)
Telephone: +7 933 6666
Website: http://www.domodedovo.ru

Located 22 miles south of the centre of the city, and linked directly to Paveletsky Rail Terminal in the city centre by the Aeroexpress, Domodedovo is gaining in popularity and importance each year. Since 2003, the airport has also been home to British Airways and Emirates.

The train station is located at the far end of the terminal – trains run every 30 minutes and a ticket costs 125 roubles each way – make sure you keep your paper ticket as you will need it to get through the barriers at each end.