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Welcome to Moscow

By Jonathan Stevenson
BBC Sport in Moscow

Fans have been playing football in Moscow's Red Square
Fans have been playing football in Moscow's Red Square
Welcome to Russia, home to the biggest club game in English football history.

It's almost as though Premier League chief Richard Scudamore had plotted this most fitting of all epitaphs to the 2007/08 season.

A season during which he saw fit to introduce to the world his vision of a "39th league game" overseas for English clubs - an idea that was widely ridiculed by both those in football and the fans.

Yet here we are, a few months down the line, in the capital city of the biggest country on earth, 1,500 miles from home, for a game between two English clubs.

Uefa's decision to go ahead with Moscow as the venue even when three English teams and a Spanish side made up the Champions League semi-final quartet was condemned in some quarters.

Especially with long-winded and frustrating visa applications holding the process up.

But Uefa was right not to backtrack and, aided by the Russian government's decision to scrap visas needed for those fans with tickets, they have done their best to ensure a relatively comfortable passage to the game.

If only my journey had been quite so straightforward.

606: DEBATE
BBC Sport's Jonathan Stevenson
I hadn't envisaged any problems when I set off for Heathrow at 0830 BST on Monday, but maybe in my excitement I was a touch naive.

Let me quickly run through the list of hazards I failed to foresee:

1 - The plane took off an hour-and-a-half late.
2 - It landed at the wrong terminal.
3 - They neglected to mention the last bit.
4 - They spectacularly failed to put on a shuttle bus from the wrong terminal to the right one.
5 - No-one spoke English at the wrong terminal.
6 - Having found a bus to take me to the right terminal, the driver spat scorn in my face when I offered him 500 roubles (about 10). Luckily, he still let me on.
7 - Having got to the right terminal, the shuttle to take me to the hotel was 45 minutes late. One taxi driver spent an hour asking me if I wanted a lift. The last time he asked, I could only offer hopefully, "No, my shuttle's coming any minute". He replied (they spoke some English at the right terminal): "Are you joke?"

When the shuttle arrived minutes later, the joke was on him.

But travelling abroad, like a good cup final, very rarely follows the script - and wouldn't it be boring if it did so?

It feels almost perverse to be so far away from home for a match between two English sides but the Russians are endeavouring to put on a show for their visitors.

There is a gigantic 'Welcome to Moscow' banner at the airport, there are Champions League adverts all over town and Red Square has been transformed into a Uefa Champions Festival, with all manner of activities planned leading up to the game.

Russians view this occasion as an opportunity to dispel the cold reputation they have in the West, which they see as little more than a relic of their Communist past.

A successful Champions League final would do much to boost Russia's standing and perhaps encourage more people to come and see one of the world's most remarkable cities.

The supporters I spoke to on Monday are absolutely delighted the game is being played in a city they may otherwise never have seen.

And some of them genuinely suggested the fact that the game was being played in Russia would make it so much sweeter when they lift the trophy on Wednesday night rather than their opponents.

But then they were Manchester United fans.

From Russia with love,

Stevo.




see also
Fans head to Moscow
20 May 08 |  UK News
Moscow pitch causes final concern
20 May 08 |  Football
Man Utd v Chelsea
19 May 08 |  Europe
Moscow Diary: Football fever
20 May 08 |  Europe
A fan's view of Moscow
19 May 08 |  Europe


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