Cover, FIFA World Cup, Saturday Magazine, Super Eagles

Soccer ‘Blues’ beyond the pitch in Russia

Fans watching one of the matches at Moscow Mall PHOTO: FEMI ADEBESIN-KUTI

The World Cup is a unique football fiesta, which holds every four years. Apart from football matches, there are several other undisclosed and behind the scene happenings. CHRISTIAN OPKARA, GOWON AKPODONOR (Russia), and DANIEL ANAZIA (Lagos) capture some of these memorable events outside the football pitch

Even before the Super Eagles bade farewell to the on-going FIFA World Cup penultimate Tuesday, following a 1-2 defeat to Argentina in St. Petersburg, many Nigerians, who are in the country for the championship, were already fed up.Not that the World Cup is not living up to the expectations of the people in terms of its glamour, but the situation many Nigerians found themselves made the event to be less interesting.
 
From language barriers to the cost of living, particularly in feeding, accommodation and transportation, the 2018 World Cup would go down in the annals of history as one of the most expensive for many Nigerians.The Russia 2018 World Cup is the 21st edition in history of the Mundial. Matches are being played in 12 stadiums across 11 cities, spread over 1,800 miles. This explains the large size of the country called Russia.
 
Nigerians are not used to movement with the aid of a city map, but here in Russia, every movement is based on geographic information module. One can easily get lost, particularly in navigating from one train station to another. There is also the cold weather, especially in the evening.

Language Barrier
Majority of the local residents communicate only in their languages, making it difficult for many visitors to understand them. From the hoteliers to taxi drivers, the use of signs (the deaf and dumb style), is the quickest way out. But in most cases, the Google Translator has been the key to unlock the language barrier at the World Cup in Russia.
Fans are also used the mobile app to order food, change money and meet new people, especially in cities such as St. Petersburg, where a few people speak anything but Russian. The likes of Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Ahmed Musa or Neymar of Brazil may be the stars of the World Cup, but Google Translator has been the Most Valuable Player for many fans to leap over the language barrier.

Search For Food
With language barrier on one side and cost of moving from one place to another on the other side, most Nigerians do a lot of calculations before stepping out of their hotel rooms.In St. Petersburg, a majority of Nigerians, including NFF staff, journalists, and stakeholders, operate a similar system when it comes to search for food…just walk into a nearby Super Market and place order for commodities of your choice. It comes with a high cost.In some cases, one may be lucky to have foodstuffs similar to what we have back home. From fried rice, bread (not Agege bread), chicken stew, cow meat, fried fish among others. The prices vary.
 
First, the attendant will place the plate on a scale to get the exact weight before dishing you food. Sometimes, the outcome of the prize may be scaring. Russian currency (Ruble) exchanges between 65 to 58 to US dollar, depending on the exchange rate for the day and where you carry out your deal. So, a Nigerian may end up spending up to 600 Ruble at a go, depending on what he eats. Some may eat without bothering to take water because of the extra cost.
 
At a shopping mall near in the centre of St. Petersburg, the people operate a 24-hour service. But once it is 10 p.m., any meal served will go with a 50 per cent discount. Trust Nigerians, some would take free breakfast and wait till 10p.m. before walking into the shopping mall for a dinner. Most times, they will not meet the food of their choice.

Arrival of Florence Okorodudu With Nigerian Food In Russia
Florence Okorodudu, a former athlete, operates a restaurant at the Abuja National Stadium. She relocated from the National Stadium in Lagos to the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) some years ago. She is the younger sister to boxing coach, Jerry Okorodudu.It was a big surprise to see Okorodudu in St. Petersburg with all sorts of Nigerian delicacies. She brought Nigerian rice, garri and vegetable soup into the city. It was a huge relief to many Nigerians who had been starved of their local foods. The price ranged from 500 ruble, depending on what you consumed. Okorodudu is in Russia with others, who assist her in moving from one hotel to another, while serving Nigerians with their local delicacies.

Arguments Everywhere
The trip to Russia is at a high cost. So many Nigerians would not want to incur much expenses that could further affect their pockets.However, for the locals, especially the taxi drivers, the World Cup is a period to make quick money. Majority of the fans prefer to make use of the taxis instead of using the metro buses or train, which require reading of the map or a translator and interpreter.The taxi drivers do capitalise on the language barrier to milk the visitors dry. But trust Nigerians, shortly before the Super Eagles’ last group match against Argentina, which the Nigerian lost, one Nigerian journalist decided to engage the services of commercial driver into the town. A fare of 500 ruble was agreed before their departure from the hotel. But mid-way into the journey, the driver pointed to the metre inside the car, saying: “You have spent 770 ruble so far and we still have some distances to cover.’
 
What? The journalist asked. “We agreed on a 500 ruble prize before we left the hotel. How come you are pointing at a meter? An argument ensued. Two policemen soon arrived and jumped into a conclusion that the journalist should comply with the amount demanded by the driver, saying: ‘Here in Russia, you pay per the reading of the meters.”Not satisfied, the journalist told the driver to return to the hotel, hoping to get a favorable judgment from the receptionists. The receptionists also supported the driver and the policemen. That was how our brother paid about 1000 ruble for services not fully rendered. He fumed throughout the day, blaming language barrier for his predicament.

Not Every Russian Welcomed World Cup Fiesta
The 2018 FIFA World Cup is expected to open Russia to the outside world and put to rest the ‘lie’ that the former Soviet Union country is not save for independent-minded individuals to thrive.The Vladmir Putin administration pulled all the stops to ensure that the hosts presented a competition equal to what South Africa served the world in 2010. But events of the past few days suggest that not all Russians have bought into Putin’s ideals.
 
Some of the Russians would rather have Putin tackling the country’s problems than spending money on getting people from different part of the world to come and play football. So, they took to the streets.Recently in St. Petersburg, some teenagers being goaded by older protesters took to the streets to protest what they termed government’s insensitivity to the plight of the majority poor.

One of the teenage protesters, Lika Petrovskaya, told the media she was arrested for protesting outside the World Cup stadium because she joined others in trying to draw “attention to the fact that no matter what you show foreigners, things on the inside aren’t that good and pretty. No matter the pretty things that are shown, people in Russia are still suffering.”She said she was detained when she took her protest to the foot of a statue of Zabivaka, the wolf that serves as the tournament’s mascot, outside the St Petersburg venue where Sweden beat Switzerland 1-0 in their round of 16 match between Sweden and Switzerland.
 
Among other issues, Petrovskaya said she was protesting the imprisonment of Ukrainian filmmaker, Oleg Sentsov, who is serving a 20-year term in a Siberian jail having been found guilty of setting fire to two offices in Crimea, including one belonging to Russia’s ruling political party, after Moscow annexed the territory from Ukraine. He was also convicted of plotting to blow up a statue.

The Ingenious Nigerian Barber, Food Vendor
He is a young Nigerian from one of the South South states of the country. The boy in his early 30’s came to Russia as one of the candidates of a top government official, but he could not get the type of support he expected from the delegation, which initially paid for his competition throughout the first round of the World Cup.Now faced by starvation and other hazards about six days before his scheduled departure from Russia, the indigenous Nigerian decided to make ends meet by offering to service anybody interested in having a clean hair cut. When that did not yield the desired profit he envisaged, he added food vending to his chores.
 
And so he goes to a famous Nigerian kitchen in the Kalininsky area of St. Petersburg to buy different types of Nigerian food and takes them to Pulkovsko, where the remaining editors and some other Nigerians are based. For every plate of 700 rubles food, he makes up to 200 rubles. Before he left Russia, our man had enough money to shop for his relations in Nigeria.  

These Russians Are Amazing Hosts
They said Russia was a military state. We were also inundated with tales of how Russia was a racist state, which did not tolerate other racial or ethnic groups in their midst. Coming to Russia was like going to the lions’ den to anybody, who believed the stories served by the western media. But the visitors to this ancient country have been pleasantly surprised by the disposition of Russians, which is quite different from what they were portrayed to be.

At every turn you go, there is always a Russian eager to assist you in any way he can. Most of them are not aware of the picture the outside world have of their country and in their ‘innocence’ they go all out to show that human beings are same no matter colour or language.A senior editor from one of the dailies in the Apapa area of Lagos summed up his experience this: “if you listen to the American press, you will believe that the Devil himself lives in Russia. But I have seen that these people are human after all.“The only thing I don’t understand is why they want to take pictures with visitors, especially blacks. I have heard that there are no blacks in some parts of Russia and so seeing the black man live is a novelty, which they must utilise.”
 
A British website, RT.com. told the story of an English fan, Jamie, who was bawled by the attitude of the Russians to fans at this World Cup. Overwhelmed by the attitude of the Russians, Jamie told the website: “Every Russian is so friendly. We lost our wallets, couldn’t get home, the first Russian we spoke to paid for our cab,” Jamie added. Before the Russia 2018 tournament, large sections of the UK press tried to discourage England fans from travelling to Russia for fear of ultra-violent hooligans, among other scaremongering articles.It was a different story down on Nikolskaya, which has become the de facto fan centre for the tournament, where England supporters sang merrily in anticipation of their knockout stage tie with Colombia.

Love Is On The Streets
They say love has no language, knows no colour or age, but it is real when there are no restrictions to the manner of association among adults. It is difficult for a man to search for love in a ‘strange’ country when he has at the back of his mind that any false move could land him in trouble.Such is the dilemma facing some Nigerian football fans, who feel that their stay at the on-going FIFA World Cup in Russia would be incomplete if they did not ‘mix it’ with Russian babes.

Before the World Cup kicked off on June 14, some fans of the Super Eagles billed to support their team during the competition, also planned to ‘sample Russian beds’ during their stay in Vladmir Putin’s country. These are the fans, who believe that any festival as big as the World Cup is not complete without sweet memories of their time with the host country’s women. But such enthusiasm was dampened even before the teams left their countries by a member of Russian parliament, Tamara Pletnyova, who warned the host country’s women against having ‘intimate relations’ with strangers.
 
Pletnyova, who is head of the family, women and children’s affairs committee, argued that staying away from strange men ensures that Russian children remained in Russia.She said women who had babies with foreigners around the time of the 1980 Olympics in Moscow often “suffered” as single mothers.“It’s good if it’s one race, but if it’s another race, then they really did. We should have our own babies,” Ms Pletnyova said. Biracial Russians were in the past often referred to as “children of the Olympics” or “festival children” after the huge international festivals the Soviet Union hosted with African, Middle Eastern and South American participants.
 
And so it has been difficult for many randy Nigerian fans to roll in the hay with Russian women. That was until an ingenious member of the Club Owners’ association discovered a simple way of connecting with Russian women. Brimming with excitement like Mungo Park when he discovered the River Niger, the club owner told a group of Nigerians in front of the Park Inn Hotel in Pribaltiyskaya, Saint Petersburg, “if you want a woman look on the side walks.”He continued: “These people are well organized. If you look carefully on the pedestrian walk ways, you will see drawings, heart shaped drawing together with phone numbers. When you call the phone number, somebody on the end will tell you what to do. Depending on the specification you provided, somebody will knock on your door in minutes. It’s so simple.”As if that was a cue for his audience to take to the streets, many in his audience rushed to the streets in search of numbers. Unfortunately, The Guardian did not hang around to find out the outcomes of their expeditions.

Tight Security, Parties And Fun Games In Fans Fest Zones
The spirit of global togetherness has been on display in pubs and city squares around the world, especially in Russia, where the 2018 FIFA World Cup is currently ongoing.  Supporters from all parts of the world are in the former Soviet Union to support for their teams, and millions of fans have been enjoying the goals, the drama and all the excitement of the Mundial at the various match venues as well the FIFA Fan Fest zone spread across the country.For those who don’t have tickets to see the matches live at the stadium, the Fan Fest zones provide fun places to watch the matches with fans from all over the world, who despite the rivalry, share in each game’s triumphs.
  
Since the 2006 World Cup in Germany, FIFA has set up official Fan Fest zones for visiting fans and citizens of host country to watch the World Cup matches together. And the fest zones have tonnes of games, activities, swag, and giant screens that help beam the matches live to the fans.For most people, the FIFA Fan Fest Zone is the right place to be as thousands of fans party all day while watching the matches with friends, rivals and locals. 
  
With massive screens, entertainment and activities, the Fan Fest Zones are like the world’s biggest sport bars during the duration of the tournament. The zones were opened on Thursday, June 14 and would run through July 15, when the final match of the Mundial would be play in Moscow, the Russia capital city.For the Russia 2018 World Cup, the Fan Fest Zone in Moscow is the largest, as it accommodates 25,000 fans at a time. Located in Vorobyory Cory, the Fest Zone is situated on a hill on the right bank of the Moskva River, providing fans a stunning view of the beautiful city and the Luzhniki Stadium.FIFA estimates that 30 million people would have visited the zones before the of the Mundial as the security at the Fan Fest Zones is tight with the presence of police officers, soldiers, and barricades everywhere to control and manage the crowd.
 
Where The Fun Begins
As soon as one comes through the security checks to FIFA’s official fan shop, one is welcome by the air-conditioned bubble in the shop that provides a nice respite from heat owing to sunny weather.At the fan shop, there are tonnes of swags to buy, such as the World Cup, with the theme Ushankas: Russian fur cap or hat with ear flaps that can be tied up to the crown of the cap, or fastened at the chin to protect the ears, jaw and lower chin from the cold: T-shirts, socks, balls, and stuffed animals of this year’s mascot: Zabivaka, a wolf which name means ‘the one who scores.’
   
The fun begins the moment you get out of the shop, as there are many activities and games to participate in. They include the bounce-house football match, football-ized putting green, test your accuracy at tire-goal penalty shootout, fans skills test, virtual reality, hockey football, McDonald football, angry bird shoot and goalkeeper reaction game among others.The goalkeeper’s reaction game allows its player to hit the circles when the light is up. The faster you hit the lights, the more points you get. For photo freak individuals, there are plenty of places to take cool shots, including the wall with pegs that makes it look as if you were doing a bicycle kick.Hyundai gave fans the nicest photo shoot fun as they had the best photo station. With the giant goal post flex banner in the station, it could look as if one was diving for a save.
 
#Beer Sloshing #Rival Hug Selfies
For many, the FIFA World Cup is one month of happiness where football tourists let loose and partake in the ‘celebration of humanity’, as former FIFA President Sepp Blatter succinctly described the Mundial.Like said, a few things go together just like beer and football. There has been lots of beer sloshing in the Fan Fest Zones, which is complemented with the low price of foods in the area compared to what obtained on the other side of the streets.
 
Budweiser, the official beer partners of the Russia 2018 FIFA World Cup, is making a kill among fans from North America and Europe, the continents that enjoyed the biggest number of football tourists in Russia.
  As the only beer sold at stadium, Budweiser queues are always long before and during every match but 20 minutes to the end of the game, no beer is sold, as the organisers (FIFA) say it a strategic ploy created to allow a smooth exit out of the stadium.Fans before the games and during half-time are seen carrying five Budweiser cups of beer on a holder. And just like Budweiser, Coca-Cola is the only soft drink fans access before and during matches.
   
Investigation showed that more often than not, the most tipsy and flat-out drunk fans are, the most vocal they become when chanting songs from the stands; and the more drunk they are, the more vocal become. And the more vocal they are, the more creative they become, whether booing a referee’s decision or opposing player.While the beer stalls witnessed far less traffic during the games involving Saudi Arabia, Iran, Tunisia and Egypt, reverse was the case during the Germany vs Mexico, Argentina vs Croatia, and Brazil vs Costa Rica matches respectively.
   
A Tunisian mid-aged man, Saber Moustapha, who flew in from Tunis to support his home team tasted beer for the first time during his team’s group match. “My religion does not allow me to drink, but today, I tasted beer for the first time and will also drink for our final group game against Panama because this is the World Cup,” he said amid loud laughter.Win or lose, World Cup fans will consume Budweiser, a tradition that will stretch to the 2022 World Cup bill to hold in Qatar. While a pint of Budweiser is sold at 350 rubles (Shs21,500), a bottle of Coca-Cola sells for 200 rubles (Shs12,300).One of the highpoints of the Fan Fest Zone is the ‘rival hug’, an idea that encouraged nationals to take photos with fans from a rivalry country while hugging one another.

The Fun Games
Some fans were seen gathered in a circle testing their football skills. Each person took turn trying to dribble past another who acted as a defender in the circle. Even Russian policemen could help but fell under the fans’ charm. His dexterity joggling the ball with legs even in uniform showed he is a good footballer.The virtual-reality (VR) station, help some fans test their hands at being a football goalie. For those who the VR isn’t their thing, there were air hockey (football) tables. At the McDonald stand, there was a strange human foosball area, where people are strapped into ropes to play a match.Some fans that sought for more adventurous game opted for the angry bird slingshot, where there was a spot to play a real-life version. It was not as easy as they envisaged, the slingshot didn’t have enough elasticity to get the needed force.
 
Crazy Things The Fans Did
Australia fans also known as the Aussies with their kangaroos, and the affectionate Mexican carrying their friend’s mannequin made the Fan Fest more fun as they turned the zone into a real festival. While a fan vividly impersonated a kangaroo, others brought the animal along.A female Mexican fan kissed an editor of the newspaper, Metro, while streaming the game of her home country live on Instagram. At the stadium, a male fan who was sandwiched between two female fans try to have a go with a kiss at one of the female got a hot slap on his chin. Rather than be deterred, he persisted, offering his popcorn and cup of Coca-Cola to the said lady, who again threw the popcorn and the drink away.
  
Like they say, ‘another man’s meat is another man poison’. The second lady having witnessed the scenario turn to the embarrassed man gave him a sizzling kiss to the admiration of other fans in the stadia. The man in appreciation took her up and gave a scornful dance to the other lady. And this made the fans laugh heartily.While another male fan sighted at the Fan Fest Zone came to the World Cup in search of a wife, as he wrote on the back of his shirt: “I’m not married.” A 70-year-old German fan came all the way from his hometown to Moscow in an 82-year-old tractor that only goes 20 km/h.
   
For Brazilian fans, festive costumes are a must. They were literarily seen at the Moscow Metro showing off, while the Egyptians were never left out of the show as they travel in style too.Things get pretty wild when a team scores a goal, and in the words of Beatriz Andrade, a Brazilian fan who attended the first three Fan Fests: “It is a real party atmosphere, I guess because of the mix of people from all over the world who are here to celebrate their love for football in a very relaxed and friendly way.”
 
Messi Everywhere 

Argentina talisman and captain, Lionel Messi may not have made headlines at this year’s FIFA World Cup, but the five-time FIFA Ballon d’Or winner never lost an inch of his star power. He was visible all over Moscow as he is a face of many brands. His face was on billboards and electronic boards.
 
The Beggars

The culture of begging is not new to any major city in the world and neither is it peculiar to Nigeria. London, Paris, Madrid, New York and Rio de Janeiro all have beggars and Moscow is not different.
  
The exception is that the beggars encountered Moscow are not the type sitting somewhere along a road or street as seen in Alaba-Arago in Ojo; Igando bus-stop along LASU-Isheri road; Kano Street Ebute-Meta and Oyingbo all in Lagos, with a bowl or plate in front of them, hoping to receive from good Samaritans and tourists.
  
In Moscow, the beggars walk around and generally look good, but are also brave enough to ask you for a few coins of rubles. Even with the obvious language barrier, it is not a challenge for them to put across their point of requesting for money either through sign language or elementary English.

1914 Volkswagen Car From Sao Paulo To Russia
A young Brazilian driver has become the centre of attraction here in Russia for driving his Volkwagen car produced in far back 1914 from Sao Paulo, Brazil to be part of the on-going FIFA World Cup.According to the young man, he spent about 15,000km driving from one city to another with South America, and also spent another 15,000km inside ship with his car.

English Fan Journeyed Around 11 Host Cities In His Car
Another driver, this time from England, is also making news here by deciding to drive his car around all 11 host cities of the World Cup in Russia.