MANCHESTER UNITED manager Alex Ferguson has won more awards and had so much acclaim it must be difficult for him to appreciate all the honours bestowed on him, BUT DID YOU KNOW…… He is the only leader of an invading army ever to maraud the Russian capital Moscow, and to return home victorious. This is no mean feat as the previous two commanders to foray across the frontier onto Russian soil lived to regret it. And proved to be there nemesis in endeavours at world domination. Napoleon Bonaparte led an army of 500,000 men in June 1812 in his failed attempt, followed by Adolf Hitler one hundred and twenty nine years later when he launched operation Barbarossa in 1941 sending three million soldiers over the border. Fergie’s Army was much humbler in proportion; Thirty Five thousand Reds trekked the sixteen hundred miles across Europe to Russia’s seat of government. The different routes taken by fans in an effort to support the lads is amazing and shows our passion is greater than any others. Obviously if it had been CELTIC or ‘The best fans in the world’ LIVERPOOL our brainwashed media would have said they had more than Hitler and Napoleon combined. But this is a narrative about a small ‘Band of Brothers’ who made the trip, all the way by Train. As i am not happiest of flyer’s i will if possible try an arrange an alternative mode of transport whether it be by Sea, Car or Train i will investigate it, with the final in Moscow i honestly thought it would have to be by plane, its amazing how resourceful i can be when it comes to not getting on an airplane…….
It did mean having to Leave Blighty on Monday morning 19th May, and returning on Saturday Night 24th May. Five of us left on 10.00 Eurostar to Brussels from St Pancras, two father and sons, Clive who like me originates from Morecambe, and his lad Billy, me and my eldest son Mark plus Gary (Gaz) an archetypal Manc from Irlam. With Gaz everything is sorted! Yes sorted! Whereas contrarily my lad Mark who then resided at Nottingham University his answer to everything is Sweet Man!…….
. The Train arrives in Brussels at 13.03……Leaving us Twenty Minutes to catch the Thalys train to Cologne, not that easy when your baggage weighs as much as mine, at least three crates of lager taking up the bulk of my holdall on wheels, it encourages you to start guzzling, the more you drink the lighter the bag. Time flies and were pulling into Cologne at 15.45 didn’t even have time to get the cards out. We put the bags in some fancy left luggage, and wondered how to wile away the afternoon and evening before catching the Half Ten Moscow Express…..
We decided a mixture of cultural, social interactivity was correct course of action for the day……….In other words, look at the famous Cathedral which is located directly outside the station, and then find a pub. With a spring in my step and my RAF baseball hat on my head, we left the station and made our way up the steps to the Cathedral, giving me the opportunity at this point, to pass on my understanding and knowledge of WW2 and the allied campaign of saturation bombing German cities, particularly Dresden and Cologne to my four enthralled fellow travellers, I’m certain at least two of them fell asleep, never the less I persisted with the history lesson, explaining how our brilliant pilots, used the latest precision bombing techniques at the time, to take out every building in Cologne and only left the famous gigantic cathedral standing…. Billy just managing to keep his eye’s open.. Did not seem that impressed, looked at the size of it….saying “They couldn’t have been that good, if they missed a building that big!”
Enough of the culture, we’re running out of drinking time, after a couple of drinks in traditional German bars, we end up in the Corkonian an Irish Pub not too far from the station……………………………………………………………………………………………………. At about 10 0’clock, half an hour before the train we thought we better get some grub, four of us grab some Chicken and Chips and a quick pint. Billy orders a Mega Pizza (which was to be his staple diet for the next three days) He ate the last piece on Wednesday morning.
We board the Moscow express at ten thirty with our luggage and Billy’s Pizza, only to find after checking in! ……. Some Old Russian bloke, the spit of Boris Yeltsin, is in my compartment with his wife and suitcases, after a little persuasion Boris and his missus are removed, but jumped into the compartment next door which was Clive and Billy’s, The hectors now appeared after hearing the kafuffle and had a novel way of solving the problem….Each compartment was equipped for three people, and our two Russian friends were meant to be sharing with this Chelsea fan called Tim, Clive and Billy had been allocated a United fan from Scotland called Andy, the gist of it was; The stroppy rusky, and the train stewards including the lovely Svetlana, could only speak Russian. Boris was refusing to share and wanted a room for just him and his missus, and expected the other four to share a room meant for three. Clive pointed out confidently, with the old British stiff upper lip, how the numbers on the compartment doors tallied with the numbers on his ticket and Andy’s. Svetlana then to our amazement simply peeled the numbers off the door and put the numbers she wanted, on the one door and with a shrug gave a look of ‘that’ll show you lot’. Clive’s face was a picture, eventually it got sorted after I’d nearly wet myself laughing……..The Russians got moved further up the carriage, Clive and Billy got a room to themselves….. Svetlana was the prototype Russian steward never smiling and stern looking, She could have played a russian agent in any James Bond film…. anyway she seemed to like my cheek and after this incident we got on really well, even though we couldn’t communicate verbally, and as Holmsie tells everyone whenever he saw Svetlana, he knew I’d be a few metres behind calling swet, swet,
The first night on board the Moscow Express was a bit of a blur, we drank some more I know, because my luggage was a lot lighter the next morning, and when I woke up, I was sleeping with some of what only can be described as Desperate Dan’s empty cans of lager. During the night the train passed through Frankfurt and Berlin heading east, not that I noticed I didn’t wake until we were approaching Warsaw.
. A cup of coffee provided by the lovely Svetlana in her compartment, and some breakfast courtesy of a hamper containing a variety of goodies, made by the wife and kept fresh with frozen bottles of water went down a treat, followed by a shower on the platform of Warsaw station, it entertained a few of the locals anyway. The train added a few carriages and another restaurant car, before carrying on its journey. In advance of the Polish Belarus border Svetlana checked our transit visas, which we needed, along with a genuine Russian visa, not just a match ticket. It was a requirement before applying for the Belarus transit visa. She did it in preparation for a much closer inspection by the Belarusian border patrol. For what must be regular procedure ,Swet and the other Russian stewards seemed nervous at the impending inspection, but when the state security boarded the train I could understand Swets trepidation, it was like a scene from a spy film, with the heavily armed guards constantly looking us, up and down, “PAPERS” ….I felt uneasy as they scrutinised our paperwork, it was all done in complete silence, everything was in order and one of them, before exiting the train even managed to smile and muttered an inquisitive, Manchester?…….. All five of us in unison said ‘Yes’
Once inside Belarus the track gauge changes, the aftermath of the cold war, Russia didn’t want potential invaders from using the rail system, and changed from a international gauge to a much broader one, so the train is shunted into a rail yard, just outside a station, where each section is jacked up before changing the undercarriage. This procedure takes about two hours. Officially passengers are not allowed off the train in Belarus, but my charm was working on swet, and she understood my request for us to find a pub, while the wheels were changed, admittedly she rejected the invitation to join us, she did though take us to a cash point, to get some Belarus roubles, before showing us where nearest Bar was located outside the station, and in her own inimitable way explained, be back in the station in an hour. As we only had an hour in Belarus it was pointless everybody getting the local currency. Holmsie said “he’d treat everybody” and just withdrew the lowest denomination possible from the cash point, and off we went to the pub, Andy and the Chelsea fan Tim joined us making seven, we all had two pints and some bar snacks, Clive’s 10,000 Belarus roubles had gone by now, so we went back to the station in good time for the train. On his return home Clive found on his bank statement the 10,000 Belarus Roubles had cost him the mighty sum £2.37. As the credit crunch bites inEngland maybe a holiday in Belarus is on the cards, it might be a shithole, but it’s fucking cheap!
The train returned to pick us up in an hour just as Swet had told us, with our new undercarriage now in place, it was time to finish off the wife’s hamper and drink the remaining contents of my luggage bag, before freshening up and heading off to the restaurant car and bar and settling down for a good session, only as a means to help us sleep the night before the big game you know, I wouldn’t want you to get the idea were some sort of pissheads. The beer was going down really well and the time just flew by, we met a few Chelsea lads in the bar which was good news for Tim the Chelsea fan with us, he didn’t feel quite so outnumbered, I can understand a few of you thinking how can you drink with the opposition when tomorrow we could easily be having a tear up in Moscow, its easier than you think especially as these were old school Chelsea fans not Corporate slag’s that infest the rent boys support nowadays, they detest those sort of fans much the same as we do the JCL’s who have tagged onto our club since the Premiership began. Another thing we have in common now is that they hate the vermin nearly as much as we do, and have sussed out how the Press/media pander to the hype around their lowlife fans. Chelsea fans are now the only other set of fans that see Liverpool as the Murdering scum we do. These lads were sound, just like me Holmsie and Gaz passionate about football, their club, who liked booze. Only difference been we support United…..
We had a good crack with these lads hopefully they will go back to London a little wiser as well because they seemed to believe the Myth about Chelsea taking the Stretford End in 1984, me and Holmsie were straight on it, asking were you there? Because we were, they said yes! …But in the Scoreboard End, Then we asked you know all the faces down at Chelsea do you know anyone who was actually in the Streford that night? Fair play to them, old school Chelsea fans, they had to admit they didn’t, that’s because none of them were, we told them. Anyway Holmsie and I gave them a full run down of events that night. And now they can go back to London and tell the truth of what really happened, when someone starts talking shit in the pubs around Stamford Bridge on match days.The beer is flowing nicely, the rusky behind the bar has cooked me a fried egg sandwich (life doesn’t get much better than this) as we enter Russia and get closer to Moscow, some Bright spark thinks its time we tried some of the local brew VODKA….Why? Don’t they know Winterbottom can’t handle spirits especially when it comes in half pint glasses, not little miniatures like in England? After knocking some of these back, why is it! You have to down it in one? Holmsie thinks I’ve had a stroke when I seem to be paralysed down one side of my body there is egg yolk dripping down my chin and I shut up for thirty seconds, anyway the panic is soon over as he realises both sides are paralysed…….I really don’t know what time I got to bed, but thank god for Swets coffee she brought me a cup in the morning to wake us up about an hour before reaching Moscow. Giving us just enough time for Billy to eat his last piece of pizza, have a wash and get our things together. Billy wanted to bring the empty pizza Box; he felt it was part of the family having been with us so long, Clive declined, so we said our goodbyes and deposited it in one of swets rubbish sacks.
Moscow itself and the Game to follow!….