My first hosts in Volgograd were Yulia and Mikhail. I knew they were not big football fans so I was a little worried about asking to watch the match straight after arriving at their home. Luckily for me though, they understood the first match of the World Cup is special so we had it on live stream straight away.
Yulia and Mikhail are cycling activists who are involved in trying to promote cycling infrastructure across the city. They had arranged for the local news to come meet and interview me about my trip. The interview process was slightly overwhelming, there were various interviewers asking the same questions about what I thought about Russia, how well I thought England would do in the World Cup, how I found the new cycle paths in Volgograd and whether I thought England fans would cause any trouble while they were here. This line of questioning was a bit misleading considering what happened in Marseille, but I think the truth of that situation has not been widely reported in Russia. The interview was quite a novel experience and I even got filmed cycling for a segment on the local news.
The next day, while in the fan-zone, I met some England fans for the first time; Brighton brothers Clarke and Ellis, and Dave Mills. Dave has walked/hitchhiked to Volgograd on his way to walking around the world – http://www.davemillscontinentaldrift.com
The four of us wondered where the rest of the England fans were as we had only spotted a few in the fan-zone or around town. We were far outnumbered by Tunisian fans who had travelled en masse to the match and were not afraid of making their presence known around Volgograd.
I was trying not to outstay my welcome with one host, especially as I was out drinking most nights, so I moved to Maxim and Svetlana’s house for the remainder of my time in Volgograd. I arrived at Max’s in the middle of Sveti’s birthday party and was greeted with a huge meal, shots of vodka and told it was my turn to make a toast. I was made to feel right at home.
I remembered the time I hosted two Romanian cyclists who were touring the UK. They arrived on my birthday and we had a BBQ together with my family and friends. I hoped the way I was feeling now was how they felt at my house.
Many more shots of vodka, and some party games later, a bloke turned up and led a chakra healing meditation. Not something I have seen at a birthday party before but looked like everyone was enjoying themselves.
Max is part of a Randonneur Club of Russian cycle tourers. The day after the party he took me to an event with his club. It was bike handling involving figures of eight’s, ramps and all sorts of tasks. It was basically an obstacle course for a bike and having the only ‘racing’ type bike I felt at a bit of a disadvantage but performed okay considering.
Following this, we went together to the WWII Museum with Misha, Max’s son. This museum is an important place in the history of Volgograd – which was formerly known as Stalingrad. One of the turning points in WWII was after the heroic Soviet defence of this city. The museum and the stadium are overlooked by the impressive Motherland Calls Monument on the Mamayev Kurgan Hill.
I spent most of my time in Volgograd in the fan-zone watching the early matches and swatting off the same midges that seemed to have followed me from the countryside. It was a great atmosphere with fans from all over the world mixing and curious Russians approaching us to practise their English.
When I made the decision to go to Volgograd, I had consequently given myself a slight logistical problem for when it was time to leave the city. I needed to catch a pre-booked early morning train to Nizny Novgorod before 24th June in time for the next England match. My last attempt at a train hadn’t gone to plan as there was no space for me let alone my bike. However, if I didn’t sort out a way of getting to Nizny Novgorod I would miss the match. I posted a speculative message on the FA fans forum asking if anyone could help. I got a reply from Cedric that he was driving from the UK and could fit me and the bike in his car for the journey to the next England match. This was great news, so I ditched the train idea arranged to meet Cedric in the fanzone.
Once in Volgograd, Cedric had no place to stay. Luckily Max kindly welcomed him in, as well as my friend Josh from home. Josh had arrived by train from Moscow and has spent the last year cycling to Kazakhstan -www.cyclingfordays.bike. Josh arrived on the day of the first match just as Cedric, Max and I were tucking into some breakfast beers and the vodka that Ivan had gifted me in Mikhaylovka.
From here we caught the free transport into town and met up with the England contingent; Dave, Clarke and Ellis.
A good old fashioned English pub crawl to the stadium and we were ready.
Josh had pulled a Houdini act but managed to reappear just in time for us to take our place behind the England goal. The match started off so well but looked to be fizzling out slightly, which seems to be a very English way to start the World Cup. Then, as if he could hear our singing, Harry Kane’s injury time winner changed everything.
Agony to ecstasy; the joy of football. We stayed in the stadium singing and jumping, until the stewards kicked us out. Then, it was onto an Irish Bar along with our small English contingent, to sing some more until the early hours of the morning.
Next morning outside the pub with new Rusisan friends, knackered, hoarse and ready for bed
Volgograd was a great host city and a brilliant way to start the World Cup – with a win.