THE AWAY GAME


I'd love to say "I've been living the dream" my whole life but, if I did, I would be living a lie. Unfortunately, I haven't won Lotto, haven't inherited a castle in Scotland, haven't written a Booker Prize-winning novel and the sporting teams I follow haven't had unending success.

But, I did marry the woman of my dreams, had three great kids ... and saw the Australian football team (the Socceroos) play in the World Cup in Russia.

Yep, as far as dreams are concerned, travelling overseas to follow your team is pretty much the pinnacle (apart from the partner for life, kids, family and blah, blah, blah). So, when Australia qualified for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, a couple of BringBitz blokes decided to embark on a Russian odyssey together.

And, what a trip it was. Dave and I met up in Moscow and from that first night spent drinking at the amazing Beer Happens bar in Moscow it was, to use the Australian technical phrase, "a complete hoot".

With the magnificent support of our tour organisers - Discovery Russia (and its hard-working mastermind Varya Topolyanskaya) - we saw three amazing Socceroo games at world-class stadiums, countless other matches at live events and pubs, pre-match parties with fellow football fans, post-match parties and experienced a part of the world we would probably never have seen if not for football.

Of course, as Socceroos fans, the results of the matches were pretty disappointing losing 2-1 to eventual winners France in Kazan, drawing 1-1 with Denmark in Samara, then losing 2-0 to Peru in Sochi.

But, the pure joy of singing the classic Men At Work song Down Under with thousands of other Aussies in a Russian stadium, cheering on the men in green & gold, chanting for VAR decisions that gave our boys a penalty, mingling with incredibly hospitable Russian fans and the friendly banter with opposition supporters made the stadium experience unique.

One of the highlights of the trip was watching the opening match of the tournament - home team Russia versus Saudi Arabia - with a pub full of Russians in Moscow. There were a handful of us Aussies in the pub and we were made completely welcome. And, it would be fair to say the exuberance of the home fans was infectious as nearly all of them downed a shot of vodka after each of the five unanswered goals their heroes scored. What a night.

All three after-match parties went off like fire crackers. I think the best was after the Denmark draw in Samara. There's a video somewhere in the online universe showing the BringBitz blokes dancing around a Russian bar, something you don't see every day. How the whole Discovery Russia party made it back to our digs that night is now being called the Russian Miracle.

Curiously, at all the after parties, I seemed to know the words to Daryl Braithwaite's song Horses despite never having liked it. Aaah, the power of beer. I never did work out how it ended up on the playlist. A mystery still.

Of course there were many other amusing and memorable experiences, including eating some of the finest food I have encountered (who knew Georgian food was so amazing), meeting members of the families of some of our international stars, getting a photo opportunity with the future Socceroos coach and drinking an entire city dry (Kazan, it was in the papers, and it didn't have anything to do with Dave and I ... no really).

So, you get the picture ... we had a great two weeks or so in a great country at a great event. Travelling to see your team play in a tournament is an amazing experience. I will definitely get to a World Cup again. It's called "Living the Dream"!


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