"I still think we've got enough to beat them," says Nick from Cleethorpes, my bunkmate on the Russian train. The reality that we are on our way to watch the most important England game for a generation has not yet sunk in as I've been worrying about getting to the station, sliding my case through 24 different x-ray machines and making my bed
Samara itself is a surprisingly interesting and beautiful city. Having read nothing about the place beforehand, I didn't know what to expect but I open a tourist guide that one of the kind volunteers handed me the moment I arrived and I knew I was in luck. So what'll it be... visit Soyuz 1, the very rocket that blasted Mr. Gagarin into the cosmos? A stroll along the Volga? Perhaps something a little more Soviet... an enormous monument to the Soviet space program and the first hydroelectric power plant? That'll do.
Samara’s dusty roads are lined with charming wooden houses that Ivan the Terrible might have recognized but they are dwarfed by modern flats behind them. I make my way along to the monument and find that it is even more impressive than I had anticipated. It towers over the embankment on top a gentle slope that leads to the river. Not far from that great testament to scientific progress shines a beautiful church that looks up at the steel superman with crooked eyebrow and suspicion
Shuttle to the station and into a very
"It's comin' home, it's comin' home," we all chant hopefully.
"GET IN!" someone shouts into my ear... 2-0. The England fans behind the Swedish goal erupt again, glasses of beer rocket into the air, strangers hugging strangers, hoarse voices and sweat. We've done it. A semi-final, the World Cup, Russia! The party goes on right to the final whistle before we leak out of the stadium. "How on Earth are we going to get back to the center?" the question is answered as an army of white buses appears on the horizon
Finally, we filter back to the train station. Happy and tired the cabin is already full of snoring before the train lurches forward. England's going to Moscow!
I say the only disappointment was that Russia lost but that isn't entirely true. In almost every conversation the fact that so few English fans were there was mentioned. "Only the brave!" we had joked as we jostled through the smiling faces of welcoming Russians earlier that day, some shouting "Kharry Keyne!" with thumbs up. We all hope that back home many more will see through the exaggeration from the British press and make it out here to show their support. So many Nicks from Cleethorpes, Barrys from Burton-on-Sea, Sams from Ipswich... How they'd love to be here as well. Whatever happens next, thank you Russia, you've been fantastic.
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