That incredible feeling of watching a World Cup match live

BY MOYA HINDS

Sunday, July 01, 2018

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MOSCOW, Russia — The feeling of being inside a stadium watching a World Cup football match live and direct is unbelievable.

Afterall, its not every day you hear of an “ordinary” Jamaican living on the island, being able to say he or she has been to a major sporting event — specifically a global spectacle such as the 2018 World Cup in this vast European city. And usually, those who are fortunate to have such an experience are oftentimes members of a sports squad or its management team.

The opening match of the 2018 FIFA World Cup brought a handful of Jamaicans, including myself, in the midst of reality — the opportunity to watch a World Cup match without having to depend on a television set. The historic Luzhnki Stadium, which hosted the opening ceremony and first match, accommodated five Jamaicans, including myself — beneficiaries of sponsorship from Russian gas-producing company Gazprom, as an extension of its highly progressive and successful Football for Friendship programme.

The first and only Jamaican delegation to be included in a World Cup was in 1998 when the national team, known as the Reggae Boyz, made its historic appearance in France.

Despite the obvious and less than-surprising absence of the Jamaica Reggae Boyz the Luzhnki Stadium is no stranger to Jamaicans, as it is embedded in the nation's Olympic Games history.

It was originally built in 1980 for the Moscow Olympics, where Merlene Ottey won her first Olympic bronze medal and cyclist David Weller won a bronze in the 1000-metre time trial. To this day, Weller's medal remains the only reward in a sport in which Jamaica has medalled outside of track and field at the Olympic Games.

Since then, the stadium had not been used for major world tournaments and was recently refurbished to accommodate the 78,011 spectators who were in attendance for the opening festivities.

The journey to watch the home team Russia take on group A competitors Saudi Arabia, however, was not an easy and simple feat.

It began around 2:00 pm Russian time, where buses from Hotel Izmailovo where the Jamaicans were staying, began loading in an attempt to evade traffic which could have resulted in the missing of what would have been a historical and momentous event for members of the Jamaica team and myself. This proved to be a waste, because despite having a police escort, the traffic was seemingly unavoidable. What would have been a 40-45-miuntes drive turned into a 90-minute headache due to the bumper-to bumper- traffic heading into the central area of Moscow. We were eventually able to manoeuvre our way around and I excitedly came off the bus, naively expecting that everything would fall into place and I would easily find my seat. I was wrong. I quickly discovered that I was in for another journey — just to be able to find where I would watch my first professional and international match.

Before that there was the security checkpoint, which was incomparable to Jamaica's security at major events and could better be equated with security check-points at international airports.

This, however, did not faze true football fans as some could be gleefully seen going through the massive crowd while others stopped at the many booths to either have their photo taken, grab a snack and drink, or just be entertained by the electronic dance music (edm) which is quite popular in Russia, and by extension Europe.

On the other hand, one had to be bobbing and weaving through the crowd, just to locate the ticket entrance and seat, which at one point proved frustrating.

Then came the Jacob's ladder-like staircase. I was seated at the top of the stadium which saw me climbing the steep steps. As I found my seat the crowd's enthusiasm seeped through my skin giving me goose pimples. I sat in awe and amazement at the patriotism combined with the love of the sport that was on full display.

It was evident then and there for me, that the love for football has the ability to transcend, race, language and any other barriers, as patient spectators while waiting for the start of the ceremony-created their own entertainment by doing the traditional wave, interracting and jeering opposing supporters, as well as cheering for their respective team.

Though small in number when compared to the massive Russian turnout, the Saudis surely alerted everyone their presence and support by waving their flags, blowing vuvuzelas, and chanting their anthem.

Drums in the distance were always doing their thing in full swing.

Popular English singer Robbie Williams thrilled the crowd with classic hits such as Every Night/Pimpin' Ain't Easy, Let Me Entertain Me and Feel. He was then joined on the makeshift stage that was on the pitch Russian singer Aida Garifullina to perform Angels.

After his performance the crowd erupted in wild cheers as president of Russia, Vladimir Putin gave opening remaks ,telling all those present and those who tuned in on live sreams and television how much Russians love football.

Their love become glaringly evident as the Russian starting 11 took the field. Chants of what I thought was “Roshea” as in a player, were shouted by in unison by the massive supporers. It took me a few minutes to realise that they were actually saying Russia.

The result will show that the hosts, who made it to the round of 16, got off to the perfect start as they defied the odds in a 5-0 annihilation of Saudi Arabia.

There was no stopping the Russian fans when Yuri Gazinskiy scored the first goal of the competition, and there were early signs that various brands of Russian vodka would run out at nearby pubs following Denis Cheryshev's double and individual efforts by Artem Dzyuba and Aleksandr Golovin.

It did not go with the satistics that the lowest-ranked team, the hosts Russia, at number 70, would have outclassed their fellow oil-producing rivals in such an emphatic fashion.

The energetic words of Russian President Putin came to pass during the opening ceremony at the historic stadium, and in the performance by their national football team that followed.

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