John Duggan's World Cup Diary
I am in Moscow less than 24 hours and already I feel I have been here a week. 28 thousand steps later and I have an intuitive sense of my bearings. A lot of this is down to a really decent Dublin native, Alan Moore, who has lived here for a few years and was a very welcoming guide on my first day in Mother Russia. Some people are just intrinsically good, and Alan is one of those people. A nod to humanity, because I felt like a Stone Cutter from the Simpsons today. I was fast tracked through the city, which is a relief because I have a lot of football statistics to pore over and shows to check in with ahead of Thursday's opening World Cup game between Russia and Saudi Arabia in this capital city.
First impressions? Well Moscow is not the ogre that some in the Western world would want us to believe, a grim beast populated by cold people, politburo types and Lada vehicles. It's a modern global city like any other, with designer shops, nice boulevards and slick cars, interspersed with those that by choice or necessity live more simple lives. The first thing I felt today was safe. I felt I was walking around Paris, London, or Berlin. A city no different from others on the surface, but with its own distinct character underneath.
The Metro is how everyone should get around Moscow. It's the London Underground in unvarnished form, brown and grey, loud, fast and efficient. You are hurtled from pillar to post, but it does the job very well. The Cyrillic alphabet is difficult to understand, but like all of these systems, once you add the colours and the numbers and wait for the English speaking lady, it's alright on the night.
There is a huge police presence, and with terrorism still a threat, there are security scanners at metro stations and shopping malls. It's hard to imagine it at Tara Street in Dublin. The word on the grapevine here is that there will be no trouble, no Russian fan violence. None of us have a crystal ball, but the police are everywhere. There were even 4 of them at my budget hotel when I checked in! And all this before the real influx of supporters from all corners of the globe and a ball is kicked.
Security at the Luzhniki Stadium below, from where I picked up my accreditation, was good enough to grace JFK Airport. I was somewhat dazed and flustered as every item on my person was the subject of a direct "what is that?" before I was frisked thoroughly. The daze turned to awe as I took in the perimeter of the Luzhniki, the venue for the Final, the Olympic Stadium of 1980 before redevelopment. It's a fitting amphitheatre and 80,000 fans will generate thunder and lightning.
The key landmarks are quite tightly bunched, with the Kremlin, Red Square and the magnificent Bolshoi theatre in close proximity. There is an Irish pub, Kitty O'Shea's, across the road from the official residence of Vladimir Putin. You have to laugh. The Boys in Green may not be here in person, but in spirit...
As light began to fade, I really enjoyed observing those fans lucky enough to be here, as I am. It was people watching at its best. Colombians, men and women, danced and sang with joy to their own musical beat. Uruguayan fans banged their drums, awaiting Luis Suarez and Co. and a soft draw. The Peruvians are just thrilled to be at a World Cup after a wait of 36 years.
Oh and I noticed that vodka, 500 ml of it, costs around €5 in the supermarket. No joke...