World Cup Postcard from St Petersburg – Fan Fest fun as Russia 2018 kicks off

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Thu, Jun 14 2018

The fan zone in Konyushennaya Square, St Petersburg

Credit: Macdara Ferris

We don’t have a man in Moscow but we do have a person in St. Petersburg. Our reporter Macdara Ferris may be only in Russia 24 hours but his first World Cup postcard from St. Petersburg has already arrived. We’ve stuck it to the fridge in Extratime Towers and, deciphering his small handwriting, here is his first story from St. Petersburg.

On Thursday evening I made my way down to the FIFA Fan Fest in St. Petersburg to watch the opening game of the World Cup amongst 15,000 football fans.

Located in Konyushennaya Square, adjacent to River Moyka and the Field of Mars park, it is a magnificent venue for the fan zone. It is right in the heart of the historical city centre, directly next to the main sights.

It is adjacent to world famous Hermitage museum and the Palace Square and right below the stunning onion domes of Church on the Spilled Blood.

It was more like the Church on the Spilled Beer after 12 minutes as the locals celebrated wildly Yuri Gazinsky scoring the first goal of the tournament.

There was already a party atmosphere before that opener as Russian fans mingled with the visiting football supporters.

With Morocco taking on Iran in St. Petersburg this Friday, it just added to the amount of red colour on display in the Fan Fest.

Even though Colombia, Mexico and Australia aren’t playing here in St. Petersburg, many of their supporters seemed to have used the city as the starting point for their World Cup adventure.

With three separate massive screens located around the square, the fan zone is a great place to watch a match, particularly when the hosts are playing – as I can testify to down the years.

In 2006, FIFA instigated the official Fan Fest, which has been very successful – and lucrative, with plenty of official sponsor merchandise, food and drink available in the fan area.

3.5 million litres of beer and 3.5 million bratwursts were consumed by 18 million visitors to the fan zones in 2006, according to FIFA.

For the Germany v Ecuador game during that tournament, I found myself sitting in the old main stand in the Glückauf-Kampfbahn stadium in Gelsenkirchen, where the fan zone was located!

It is adjacent to the Parkstadion where Ireland lost 1-0 to the Netherlands in Euro ’88.

The St Petersburg fan zone is very picturesque but unsurprisingly it can’t quite match the venue in Rio four years ago on the golden sand of Copacabana beach.

During that tournament I watched Brazil take on Chile on the beach. There were cliché laden sights and sounds all around me with loud samba tunes the soundtrack, slinky Brazilian swimwear the attire (not for me mind you!) and all with the Sugarloaf mountain as a backdrop.

Yes, it was actually a carnival atmosphere watching on the big screen, even if it was nervous for the home team who prevailed in a dramatic penalty shootout.

This time around in St. Petersburg fans were in early ahead of the kick off time which was 6pm here in Russia.

Maybe they are massive Robbie Williams fans or just wanted to hear their President Vladimir Putin or FIFA President Gianni Infantino give their opening speeches.

The Russian national anthem was belted out with great gusto and the early goal settled whatever nerves there were.

This is not exactly a Russian side saddled with much expectation but Russia delivered to maintain the run of the host nation avoiding defeat in their opening game, and then some.

The biggest cheer on the night came for Russia’s third goal scored by Zenit St. Petersburg player Artem Dzyuba within 90 seconds of him coming off the bench.

Russia would add a further two goals in injury time to send everyone home happy. The World Cup is well underway.

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