I left the last blog post with us waiting to head out to greet the England player’s arrival in Repino. We weren’t sure exactly what time they were going to arrive so we headed to the team hotel about 5.30pm. The players didn’t end up arriving until 7pm but the 90 minute wait allowed us to secure our position – there were probably 50 media people there including photographers, TV crews and reporters – and shoot some pictures of the Russian security that’s in place.
Apparently the media have been told by the FA that we will be allowed to work outside the hotel as long as nobody starts filming players on their balconies. I give it until Friday…
Eventually, the coach arrived. It drove down the road and straight into the hotel with the whole event lasting a total of 29 seconds according to my photos. Nevertheless, it made for an ok photo with the team bus adorned with FIFA branding. Jack Butland waved to the waiting media as they pulled in and I managed to quickly grab a frame. Not the most exciting photos but it was about as good as we could have hoped for. Unfortunately, the papers were filled with the photos of the team getting off the plane this morning, something we did not have access to.
This morning saw us heading off to England’s training ground in nearby Zelenogorsk for their open training session. As it was their first training session out in Russia, they were presented with gifts by local dignitaries and local school children were given the morning off to see their “heroes”. When asked to name their favourite player the vast majority said Kane, a few said Dele Alli and one said that Gary Cahill was his favourite. Each to their own…
After an hour’s training session, the England players and Southgate signed autographs for the local kids before heading in. All-in-all it was a good day with plenty of opportunities for nice photos, which were a bit different to the standard training shots we get when we’re given 15 minutes and the players don’t come within 100ft. Having an hour to shoot the training also allowed me some time to play with the autofocus settings on my new camera and body and I think I’ve found some settings I’m happy with, as I was not 100% pleased in the warm-up game at Elland Road.
Overall, the players seemed very relaxed and there seemed to be a good atmosphere around the team. We’ll see how long that lasts once we’ve lost to Tunisia in Volgograd.
We started editing the training photos before being told we had to leave the training ground as the army was going to do a bomb sweep. As we walked out to catch an Uber, I shot a couple of frames of an soldier with his minesweeper device. He seemed to spot me as I then received a telling off from a security member – my second time in only two days and I’ve not even encountered a steward yet!
We proceeded to do a quick edit back at the hotel before de-camping to head into Saint Petersburg itself. A 50 minute Uber journey – just 1,181 Rubles or £12 – and we were at our hotel a literal stone’s throw from the train station we need tomorrow. On arrival at the hotel, we encountered a very dilapidated entrance, complete with bare pipes and some electrical work which I doubt would pass any kind of standard back home! Despite our initial fears we headed inside and found a surprisingly nice hotel and room.
We dumped our stuff and headed out to a local shopping mall for some dinner – a steak with mashed potatoes – and to buy a backpack each. Normally at these tournaments, you’re given a complimentary backpack when you pick up your accreditation so we decided not to bring one out with us, as space in our suitcases is tight as it is and we didn’t want to lug a spare bag around with us for 5 weeks. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem we will get one this year so we needed to pick something up. A World Cup-branded drawstring bag each was just the ticket and set us back only £6 each.
We’re awake at 4.45am tomorrow to catch the 5.30am fast train to Moscow for the opening match, where the tournament will truly begin. The various battery powered devices we have with us have depleted in the last two days, so I have a total of 9 different devices charging overnight and my Dad has 6. We may only be here for 8 hours or so but we’ll get our money’s worth via the hotel’s electrical bill at least.