Lions of Teranga, Russian joy, Kremlin walls...

After broadcasting into Off the Ball AM from outside the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow (below) on Tuesday morning, it was off to Spartak Stadium for Poland v Senegal.  The Cathedral you see looks 200 years old, but it was reconstructed in the new millennium.  Built in the 19th Century on this site, the original was demolished by Stalin's Communists, who in their anti-religious zeal turned the area into the city's largest outdoor swimming pool.  Yes, a swimming pool in a city which has a severe winter climate!

En route to the stadium I had something to eat and a cup of tea, which bore a quirky CCCP logo and a hammer and sickle to depict the old Soviet Union.  I should have asked to purchase one to go with the Ushanka (furry hat) I acquired. 

When I arrived at the stadium, there was a great atmosphere for the first ever international game between Poland and Senegal, two very different countries and cultures from different continents.  However, the language of football bonded the supporters, who posed for photos with each other warmly.  During the game, the Poles applauded the Senegalese national anthem and after the game the Senegalese fans cleaned up their area.  If I was in a police cell with a hooligan, I would love to show them the picture below. 

In my opinion, football can retain its level of passion and colour and tribe without hooliganism, without violence, without racism.  The sense I have in Moscow is that because the police presence is so overwhelming, nobody wants to step out of line and be the first to misbehave.  The consequences are not worth the risk.  However, it makes me think about the Premier League (and club football elsewhere); the segregation of sets of rival fans and buses being parked in pens, and disgusting chants from a minority about tragedies (Hillsborough, Munich).  It's time that type of behaviour is wiped out of football, that there is zero tolerance of it.  Banter and good chanting can still exist, but I think the world has moved on from the 'we hate' mentality.  It's time to grow up and say that it's not on.  It's also why the Mexico chant of 'puto' which was heard during the win over Germany was disappointing from the country that have brought the most joy to the World Cup so far.  I won't explain it for you.  Look it up. 

When I attended the 2013 Champions League Final, Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund fans travelled together on the London Underground to Wembley Stadium.  No problems.  I couldn't imagine Liverpool and Manchester United fans doing the same.  Count me as naive, but I don't know why every football match cannot be celebrated with passion and craic, rather than there being an undercurrent of tension.  Republic of Ireland fans have been the best example of this, as a Polish man told me before yesterday's game, based on what he saw at Euro 2012 in his country. 

As for yesterday's games, Poland were insipid against a physical and pacy Senegal that have good footballers, if they don't necessarily know how to get the best out of them.  It was an ordinary contest and Senegal's goals had a slice of luck and the bizarre about them.  I would love to see Sadio Mane in a deeper role.  Senegal are nicknamed the 'Lions of Teranga', with Teranga loosley meaning hospitality in their native tongue.  It's a word which is a symbol of their value system, their psyche. 

I then made my way to Paddy's Irish bar to watch Russia v Egypt with the locals.  Mo Salah couldn't turn water into wine and the Russians prevailed 3-1 in Saint Petersburg.  Host countries always perform well at World Cups regardless of form entering the tournament.  England, Argentina and France won on home soil in 1966, 1978 and 1998.  Mexico reached the last 8 in 1986, South Korea the last 4 in 2002.  

For the first time, I saw Russians embrace the 'greatest show'.  They enjoyed the match, the shots of booze flowed, car horns beeped outside and flags waved out of windows.  It's not inconceivable that Russia will now top Group A on goal difference if they hold Uruguay to a draw in their final match.  

My experience of Russia so far has been like any other major city.  I might as well be in Berlin or Paris.  It's exactly as I expected, having covered an Olympic Games in Rio.  Ahead of that, I heard horror stories of shakedowns and robberies.  It was completely safe.  Moscow is the same, and far more advanced than one would believe from media dissemination.  Metros arrive at peak time every 30 seconds and the suburban trains are modern.  The weather is great.  If you really want to, you can buy Bounty bars, eat a steak and drink Guinness, just like home.  As I may have mentioned already, the toughest thing I have encountered so far is the Cryllic alphabet.  Some of the historical sights are breathtaking, and I hope one of the legacies of the World Cup will be that perceptive walls around Russia and the outside world will crumble for curious natives and visitors alike. 

The Kremlin walls are staying though.  They are not going anywhere.