When Anita Sambol agreed to be part of FIFA’s Fan Movement for the World Cup this summer, she never imagined she’d end the tournament watching her home country in the final at the Luzhniki Stadium. Here, over four parts, she tells her extraordinary tale.
Day 1 in Moscow
The next day was filled with errands, but we still slept in a bit. We had the most expensive breakfast of our lives at the hotel but it kept us full until the bronze medal match later that day.
After breakfast, we put on our club kits – me my Nacho Monreal, Nikola his local club Slaven Belupo – and took an Uber to the Fan ID center near the Luzhniki Stadium to pick up our laminated Fan IDs.
Passports and Fan IDs were our most precious possessions in Russia.
The trip to the other side of the town was surreal, mostly because of all the massive billboards that said France was playing our little Croatia in World Cup freaking final! I took too many photos of said billboards because it really felt like it was not actually happening.
The process of getting the Fan ID was super fast thanks to the fantastic organization – a leitmotif of our World Cup experience – but not without a glitch. There was a problem with our passports in the system, something to do with the date format on them – a silly glitch that wasn’t a problem at all but you know how it is, your heart stops for a second when anything goes wrong in a foreign country!
While we were waiting for this to be sorted, I was approached by a volunteer who saw my Arsenal kit and wanted to hear my thoughts about the new manager and “all those signings we’re making”. I loved it, and was happy to discuss it as it really helped calm me down, to be honest!
We finally got our Fan IDs and went to change currencies. When I said the Fan IDs and passports were our most valued possessions, I wasn’t joking – we needed them to get Russian money as well.
Once all of that was sorted, we took a too-expensive taxi ride (not Uber, rookie mistake!) to the city center, where we were supposed to meet the Fan Movement crowd and pick up our tickets for the final.
We met such an amazing and colorful group of people at the Radisson hotel ! Colombians (not Columbians!), Mexicans, English, Russians, and one amazing Scottish dad with his cute son, Alex – you might know him from a viral video when he was crying during the Poland-Colombia match and Colombian fans were consoling him.
We also met with Sandra and Natalie, the people who arranged all of this for us and were always there if we had any questions or needed any help. They were an amazing group of people and we felt lucky to know them. We chatted a bit with everyone, just football – our common love.
Once we got our tickets, we embarked on another adventure – one to buy a Russian SIM card and meet up with Croatian friends. We went to a nearby shopping center to get a Megafon card thanks to recommendations from friends who had been here for a while. 15 GB of data for 600 rubles which is slightly over £7. Our hotspot was on all the time!
Once that was sorted, we jumped on the Moscow Metro. We wanted to, of course, see Red Square before we start drinking!
The Metro was cheap as well – one pass is 550 rubles, and it was beautiful. The Metro stations are works of art, decorated beautifully. There was a Metro train every 2 minutes at every station we went to – simply amazing. And, even though 80% of signs were in Cyrillic, it was much easier to find your way than in London!
I have mentioned that the amazing organization was the leitmotif of the trip. We found the SIM card store thanks to volunteers – there were thousands of them in Moscow, more around the stadium of course, but you could find them at information points in the city center as well. All smiling, helpful and young.
We took the Metro close to Red Square and walked around a bit, and that’s where we ran into Croatian fans who occupied one pub. There were a lot of them on the terrace but there were more people filming them sing! It was a fantastic sight.
There, as it goes in life, we ran into that cousin of mine from the airport! In a city of 12 million, what are the odds?
We took a stroll to the Red Square and, let me tell you, photos do not do it justice.
It is stunning, not only the famous colorful cathedral but the surrounding buildings, the Kremlin, the streets around the square.
We were amazed. Coming from a town with 40k people, Moscow was simply stunning.
All the streets are wide, like 3-4-5 lanes in the city center for each side of the road, and there is still lots of room around the roads too. Open squares, huge buildings, lots of people but everything so tidy and clean.
You don’t see gum stuck to the pavement or cigarette butts anywhere. They are very strict on smoking, it’s not allowed anywhere, not even electronic cigarettes.
There were metal detectors and bag scanners at all Metro entrances, in shopping centres, and at all entrances to Red Square. Police and army officers could be seen around a lot, and many streets near hotspots (like stadiums and Red Square) were closed. No-one seemed to mind – you felt very secure, which was the whole point.
After we did our sightseeing and souvenir shopping, it was finally time for beer.
We met up with people from Croatia with whom we had been talking a lot with on Twitter but never actually met! Isn’t life just amazing? And Twitter too!
We met at a steakhouse to watch the match for third place and get some lunch. I was sad to miss the Arsenal-Borehamwood match but, alas, what can you do? Surely Arsenal will forgive me!
The Croatian crew was really cool and fun, so naturally, we continued drinking even after it got dark. We were walking through Moscow city center on our way to another pub, and stumbled into a Nike store to ask for Croatian kits They were all sold out and they couldn’t get new ones.
Moscow by night was fantastic, so many people in the city, the weather was warm and there were street musicians on every corner. It was a really really nice experience.
We ended the night in a pub on top of some building before a drunk Uber ride back to the hotel – just as every Saturday night before a World Cup final in Moscow should end!
Look out for Part 3 at the same time on Tuesday night! Read Part 1 here.