Football Crazy, Football Mad!

7 February 2019

As his year abroad comes to an end, Brian enjoys the warmer weather and the arrival of the World Cup!

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Spring came, and it came hard in Moscow. The snow melted back to whichever circle of hell spawned it, to be replaced by beautiful blue skies and trees that were suddenly bursting with life. On the few occasions which it rained during those first weeks, complaints that would have been voiced in the UK were replaced by wry grins and the consolation that it wasn’t snow falling on our heads again. Sods Law being a phenomenon unaffected by the turning of the seasons, I was stuck inside for much of March, April and May writing my M.A dissertation instead of gallivanting through fields of Muscovite wheat. 

Moscow Skyline

Twenty one thousand, nine hundred and eighteen words later I was done, but faced with the gruelling prospect of defending my thesis in front of a panel of judges and my peers. It being Russia, this swiftly turned out to be a complete joke: with the present judges paying more attention to their phones, each other and the desks they sat at than to our presentations, prompting more than one presenter to inquire if they were in fact listening. (“Da, da of course...”) This was followed by an insight into the uniquely Russian grading system, with such illuminating examples as “Excellent! At the lower end, but could move to the higher end. We will see!” To the dismay of everyone, our grades were announced then and there in front of our peers. Fairly discomfiting compared to the luxury of getting your grade privately via Turnitin and contemplating whether your bank account is full enough to allow you to defenestrate your laptop. Still, living in Russia is great for making you adaptable if nothing else. 

Fortunately, my studies finished in time for me to start enjoying the good weather. Notable mentions include wrangling an invitation to a garden party at the Finnish embassy, visiting the EU delegation, hitting most of Moscow’s parks, and watching the tanks roll by during the parade on Den’ Pobyedi (Victory Day). First place has to go to the ongoing World Cup, of course. 

Moscow Spring

Moscow is by no means a closed city. It’s global and cosmopolitan, but foreigners from outside the former USSR never seemed terribly visible before June. Speaking English on the metro would draw glances or occasionally stares, and the rare request from a disgruntled babushka that we switch to Russian. So it’s been particularly hilarious to see Muscovite commuters trying to come to terms with the hordes of colourful, singing fans surging through the tunnels that connect adjacent metro stations or dancing on the trains. 

In the city centre, the streets around Red Square and the Kremlin have undergone a nightly transformation as spontaneous fiestas break out around lampposts and shops selling alcohol, and wearing any kind of flag or football t-shirt is a sure way to get waylaid for a dozen selfies on this perilous route. Love seems to be getting its chance too, if the alcoves on the more popular thoroughfares are any indication. Despite rooting for England, their wins have been nothing compared to the eruptions that have accompanied Russia’s three victories; with Russian fans spilling out onto every street with flags around their shoulders, beaming smiles and what is definitely not water in their hands. 

Although my plans for the future are not crystal clear, I’m grateful to have the memories of this summer and this year, however good, bad, weird or wonderful they have been. Hopefully whoever reads this will be inspired to come and make some memories of their own. Do it: you won’t regret it. 

By Brian O'Connor