World Cup diary - part four: England fans were a brilliant part of an odd week in Russia
It's been a rather eventful seven days covering the World Cup for our regular Norwich City photographer Paul Chesterton, who witnessed England's semi-final heartbreak - and veered off the beaten path.
The support at the end of England’s World Cup semi-final loss to Croatia was absolutely unbelievable in the Luzhniki Stadium.
Our fans did themselves proud in Moscow, singing the Gareth Southgate song and Three Lions – there was a lot of love between the fans and players, I’ve never seen anything like it.
As a fan I was devastated to have come so close to a World Cup final and taking photos of England players falling to the floor so upset at the final whistle was tough, but that’s the job.
Since my last diary entry we’ve survived the 16-hour train to Samara ahead of England’s quarter-final against Sweden but before that we had a memorable six-hour taxi journey to Kazan.
It was one of those things that you can look back on and laugh but it was four blokes, with all our camera kit, in an old taxi and once we were an hour out of Samara I would think the surface of the moon is smoother!
Our driver, Naseem, found it all very amusing but I reckon the 350 kilometres in each direction was more like 400km by the time he’d swerved around all the potholes.
We went there to cover Belgium’s 2-1 win over Brazil in the quarters. Before the game we wanted to just get some kip in the media centre but me and my son, Dan, wanted to go and see Kazan so we went into the centre and the kremlin there was great, so we were pleased we made the effort.
Then we had to get back after that evening game for England’s afternoon game in Samara on the Saturday, so we’d arranged with Naseem to meet at a McDonalds at 1am, which became KFC at 1.30am. We tried to get some kip but it was too bumpy and the last 50km the shaking had broken the mechanism on the driver’s side window so we had the window open as well – it was all a bit mad but only cost us the equivalent of £200 in total.
We did get back to the hotel at 7.30am though and then planned to get up at 9am, but an alarm mistake meant I eventually woke up at 9.30 to the sound of a yapping dog and then we all had a mad rush to get ready.
So it was a mad 24 hours but we saw the sides of Russia that Vladimir Putin doesn’t want the world to see – there certainly wasn’t too much Fifa fairy dust on the wooden shacks and dusty towns we saw.
The England game was actually pretty straight forward, a 2-0 win and comfortable, which just felt a bit strange. There weren’t many fans of England or Sweden there either because Samara is so difficult to get to.
The next day it was a 2.30pm train back to Moscow, the 16-hour journey back, but luckily we managed to get our own compartment so it wasn’t too bad and then we had a four-hour wait at Moscow station before a 10am train which got us to St Petersburg at 4.30pm.
We were really feeling it by then so we decided not to do the press conferences for the Belgium v France semi and instead went to a good steak restaurant we’d found – that was a high priority, to have some proper food, after media centre and train food for a few days. It was nice to switch off and have a beer because it’s so easy to get caught up in how hectic it all is, then get some proper sleep.
Tuesday morning was 45 minutes of England training in Repino and then France’s 1-0 win over Belgium in the evening and, again, with it being the business end of the tournament it was a tense game, no more 4-3 thrillers at this stage.
As soon as that game finished though my stomach was doing back-flips, knowing that it was an England semi-final the next night. Heading back to Moscow for that I was excited as a fan but as a professional you know there could be one big moment and you don’t want to miss it.
There were three or four times more fans for both teams then there had been the night before, less neutrals, so it was a great atmosphere and with Kieran Trippier scoring that brilliant free-kick, I was allowing myself to dream at half-time. But fair play to Croatia, they came out and got at us. Harry Kane looked a bit off the pace, Raheem Sterling was going his best but Jordan Henderson also looked like he was carrying an injury – it all just took it’s toll eventually.
It’s meant we now have an extra flight, to St Petersburg for Saturday’s third-place play-off against Belgium and if Fifa emailed us to say it was cancelled we wouldn’t be that bothered.
But then if we can come third then Southgate will be our second most successful manager and it will basically be an England Xi v a Premier League XI, so there will be bragging rights up for grabs.
Then we’ve just got to hope we can get in to cover the final on Sunday, as with England not in it we’re no longer guaranteed a pass and we’ll be on the waiting list – so keep you fingers crossed for us!