Lost in…Krasnodar (Kuban Krasnodar)

Another guest blog – this time from ardent Swansea fan Matthew “Matt The Jack” Phillips. Matt describes his recent trip to Krasnodar in Russia to watch Swansea take on Kuban Krasnodar in the Europa League.
When the Europa League group stage draw was made, a lot of Swansea fans, myself included, didn’t have a clue where Krasnodar was. I was to find out that the Russian  city is located 100 miles from the Black Sea with a population of around 800,000 people. Krasnodar is not exactly your classic European city trip, but luckily for me, places in the middle of nowhere do, for some strange reason, very much appeal to me.
Airport
I flew to Krasnodar via Vienna from Heathrow on the Tuesday and arrived at 4pm Russian time on the Wednesday, after a 10 hour connection. The planning for this trip was a little more difficult than the previous 3 Swansea Europea League trips (Malmo, Ploiesti and Valencia) – TripAdvisor doesn’t exactly offer much information regarding decent hotels and places of interest in Krasnodar, apart from a Splash Fountain which did look impressive. The Russian city isn’t really a tourist place, so a definite trip into the unknown was in prospect.
This time I travelled to Krasnodar on my own, as my sister (@swansforever) and my mate Paul (IceWithNoLemon) decided against it. It didn’t bother me, as I knew quite a few who were going. Ashley (@Biggles_Boy), Mat Tossell (@avenuez) and Huw and Egy who I know well from Wales away game trips.
We landed on time in Krasnodar, but had a long wait to go through customs, though the sight of a Russian workman walking along some metal girders, with no helmet or harness at 100 foot up, kept the waiting Swans fans entertained. Health and safety laws haven’t reached this part of Russia yet I’m guessing!
Finally I was accepted to enter the country through one of the smallest airports I’ve ever been to – even Cardiff International is bigger and we were soon outside being hassled by some Russian taxi drivers (well we assumed they were taxi drivers!).
Three of us got into a taxi after about a 10 minute discussion; well I say discussion, it was more 5 Russians all talking over each other with nobody having a clue what they were saying.  We walked 10 minutes to the car. There was no taxi signage and he stopped to phone a friend for directions. I was also holding on for dear life as he swerved in and out of traffic whilst on his mobile phone. It was like Bucharest all over again!
Krasnodar river and bridge
I did get to my hotel in one piece in the end and a common theme was developing – the female receptionist looked at my confirmation form for about 10 minutes without saying a word and we were both struggling to get across what we wanted to say. However, I did manage to find my room after walking around dark corridors for a little while.
With the help of the free wi-fi- and my map app I met up with Ashley at his hotel (which took me 40 minutes) and went to get our bearings and try to find some food. The restaurant we managed to find was called ‘The Holmes Pub’ in reference to Sherlock Holmes. Elementary I thought!
The smiling Russian waitress was very helpful, but again couldn’t understand us (I knew I should have learnt Russian at school!). Though in fairness to her she was trying her best and she even typed in what she wanted to say on her translation app on her phone. Technology these days eh!?
We just did our best to point at what looked quite good from the pictures on the menu and in the end we both ate chicken and spaghetti; it was pretty good, though I’d like to have known what else was on offer!

Thankfully trying to pay wasn’t too difficult, though I did think it was going to be like Bucharest again as our waitress just seemed to disappear for 10 minutes, but we did get our change. As we left, we were asked if we wanted to play a game of mini golf – a traditional game our waitress said! Whether it is or not I don’t know, but we had 3 shots to hit the ball into the hole. I had 2 out of 3 and won a keyring. A good memento I guess from one of the most random pubs I’ve ever been to.

We then went to meet Alan Lewis of the Supporters Trust who was with the Swansea City Commercial team at the Cipollone Cafe. It was nice to see some other friendly faces and chat about the trip and the football the next day. After a few cokes (I was asked by the waitress if I wanted a cold one), I walked back to my hotel, as my hotel was a fair way out from the centre, plus it had been quite a long day of travelling.

The next day I was up early to see the sights of Krasnodar. I wanted to see this famous fountain, but everyone we asked looked at us blankly. We just walked around aimlessly until we found something interesting: the odd statue, churches and the river. We took a walk to the ground to see where it was and took a shortcut over a few railway tracks – seems like it is the norm in Russia!

Pushkin Statue

Church Krasnodar

We were able to walk into the ground and take photos with no problems and I rarely turn down the chance to have photos at a football ground!

A short walk back to the hotel to drop some stuff off proved to be a good idea as the male receptionist, Kirill, spoke a reasonable amount of English. So I took this chance to ask him a lot of questions, as I found out what time check out was, what time the bar was open till etc. Though he looked at me oddly when I told him I was in Krasnodar to watch Swansea play football.

After a day of sightseeing, we went back to the Cipollone Cafe to relax after a long day of walking. I had food after more finger pointing at a menu but paying for it proved more difficult this time. The employees had changed shifts and the waitress didn’t know I had had food, but we got there in the end!

As usual for me, I got to the ground pretty early, but got delayed getting in due to being stuck behind the Krasnodar Ultras (See my Instagram for the videos), it was quite impressive though, even though I was too close to the flares for comfort! We had no problems at all, but just hid colours and blended in just to be on the safe side.

Poster

There was a look of surprise on the police’s faces when we did turn up; I don’t know if they were expecting any Swans fans at all, but in fairness to them they were great, quite friendly and helpful and they almost outnumbered the away crowd of 53!

The Kuban Stadium has been the home of Kuban Krasnador since it was opened in 1960.The stadium was originally built with a capacity of 20,000, which was later increased by a further 20,000 in a second tier in the 1980s. Now the stadium’s capacity stands at 31,000 after another redevelopment in 2008, which saw the stadium have more seats added to it and thus the reduction in the stadium capacity. The ground is also shared by their cross city neighbours FC Krasnador, who’ve groundshared with Kuban since their formation in 2008.

Kuban Stadium

Krasnodar 1

Some Swans fans

With the World Cup going to Russia at the end of this decade, Russia is due a whole host of new fancy stadia. Originally, it looked likely that Krasnodar would be a host city and with that would come a new stadium for Kuban Krasnodar. However, the city was overlooked as a host city, yet the club is still going ahead with the building of a new, 45,000-seater, very futuristic-looking stadium.

The current Kuban Stadium consists of two large, two-tiered stands on either side of the pitch and one small tier behind each goal with four huge floodlights surrounding the stadium. The Kuban Stadium reminded me of the stadium I went to in Osijek for Wales v Croatia last year thanks to the running track surrounding the pitch meaning that from the away end you couldn’t even see the goal line on the goal in front of us.  It was difficult for us Swansea fans to make ourselves heard but I thought their fans were loud.

Huddle

I’m not good at writing match reports on the game, plus we were quite far away from the action. I did think the Swans played better than previous weeks, but it was like déjà vu when the Kuban once again equalised in the 92nd minute, just like they had in Swansea two weeks before, and once again it was through the Mario Melchiot look-a-like, Ibrahima Balde.

Disappointing to concede so late, especially as they were down to 10 men too but I suppose that’s what happens sometimes when you don’t take your chances. I know some fans were annoyed that most of the players didn’t acknowledge us at the end, we all have differing views on this. I think I would have been so disappointed with the equaliser that I probably would have walked down the tunnel too. The players did acknowledge us before the game and just before kick off, but depends how strongly you feel on the issue I guess.

The police, with the help of Nick Rees (@MoscowJack), organised a bus for the Swans fans to take us back to the Hilton Hotel as it was suggested some of their fans may kick off. I wasn’t convinced personally but I got on it anyway. Even though my hotel was only a 15 minute walk away, I ended up catching a taxi back!

The next day when I was in hotel lobby, as the wi-fi connection never worked anywhere else, my new Russian friend Kirill asked me if I could decipher some speech from a YouTube video as he couldn’t understand some of the American accents. He seemed surprised I could, but then I said I can’t even speak Russian. My good deed for the day done!

I wandered off to buy some food before checking out of the hotel, where there was now a new receptionist on duty. I managed to get her to order me a taxi for a hours time; she told me I could wait in the room but I didn’t want to attempt the conversation of ‘The wi-fi doesn’t work there.’

I don’t tend to get flustered in life, but the journey from my hotel to the Airport was pretty stressful. There was a massive traffic jam, along with another non English speaking Russian. All sort of thoughts were going through my head ‘I’m going to miss my flight’ ‘My visa ends today’ to ‘Are we even going the right way!?’

It all worked out well in the end though thankfully, but it did take a hour to get, good job the airport is so small I guess!

So all in all a great and interesting trip. Krasnodar isn’t a place anyone would choose to go unless you had a reason, but I can’t say anything bad about it. The people I met were friendly and helpful, despite the massive language barrier.

There is always a lot of scaremongering from people who have never been to a place but think the worse and have pre-conceived ideas. I felt safe there at all times, even when walking back to my hotel at night.

The Swans didn’t win and I guess most were frustrated. I didn’t see the reaction, but for me personally, watching Swans or Wales away in Europe is not solely about the football. I tend to enjoy the trip more, so it does annoy me when people say I should have had my money back. I chose to go, I had a great time.

Good points Nice weather, got up to around 21 degrees on the Thursday . Not stereotypical Russian weather There was a good choice of wi-fi (even at the Airport) helpful, friendly locals.

Bad points: Quite a few stray dogs (but not as many as Bucharest), I didn’t have a Russian phrase book handy, I still never found that famous fountain!

Follow Matt on Twitter at @matt_the_jack.

One thought on “Lost in…Krasnodar (Kuban Krasnodar)

  1. Pingback: Lost in…Madrid | Lost Boyos

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