Leicester City Fan Travels To Belarus v England
Thursday 16 Oct 2008 19:52:00
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Belarus away 15th October 2008

The original plan for this fixture was to fly to Warsaw and get the overnight sleeper train to Minsk but due to having four England away games in the space of three months, and three of them mid-week, I couldn’t afford the time off so instead I had to opt for the practical and boring option of flying direct from Gatwick in the early hours of the morning of the game.
I was greeted at Minsk airport by fearsome looking border guards with rifles, I half expected them to start goose stepping at any moment.  However it wasn’t the rifles I was worried about, I was more concerned about the one wearing rubber gloves!
I read on the coach from the airport to the city centre that Belarus has been barred from joining the EU since 1997 due to ‘election irregularities’ and President Lukashenko has even changed the country’s constitution so he can stay in office for an unlimited amount of time after each election!  Plus Belarus is the only country in Europe that still uses the death penalty!  So perhaps a good idea to stay out of trouble on this trip!
As far as tourism goes, Minsk is the least visited capital city in Europe.  I’m fairly sure this is entirely down to the fact that it’s twinned with Nottingham.  The tourism numbers won’t be helped by the Belarus government putting the price of a visa up from £19 to £63 to come into line with what our government charges Belarusian citizens to enter the UK.  The crime rate in Minsk is very low and it’s hardly surprising when the streets are crawling with police all the time, and they’re just the ones in uniform, apparently the secret police like to follow Westerners around the whole time they’re in the city.  This is one paranoid nation.
I spent the first couple of hours having a wander around the city looking at the various landmarks.  The Red Church in Independence Square, The Palace of the Republic in October Square, The State Circus, The Patriotic War Museum before a walk down the River Svishloch to The Island Of Tears – an Island in the river with a memorial to the Belarusian soldiers who died in the USSRs 9 year war with Afghanistan.
The main thing you notice about Minsk is the Stalin-era architecture, all the buildings are huge grey concrete monstrosities that all look very similar and there are statues of Lenin all over the place.  When The Soviet Union broke up in 1991 I think someone forgot to tell Belarus.
The other things you notice wandering around Minsk are the women.  I don’t know why but Eastern European girls are fucking gorgeous and when the women’s fashion in Belarus seems to be high heeled thigh high leather boots with tight short skirts there’s certainly plenty of sight-seeing to be done.
On to the pub.  1800 roubles for a large bottle of 6% beer, that’s roughly 40p!  A pint would set you back between 50p - £1 and a pint of Guinness was £5!  And the bottled beer was pretty good too.  “Drunk on a fiver, we’re getting drunk on a fiver”, it was like being 14 again!  Had a chat with a few Leicester lads out there before moving on to a different bar.
belarus stadiumI walked to the stadium, which was conveniently in the city centre.  It’s a typical Eastern Bloc stadium – bowl-like, no roof, an athletics track, crumbling concrete terraces and the biggest floodlight pylons I’ve ever seen leaning over the pitch.  2,500 was the official figure for travelling England fans but there certainly seemed to be more than that in the away end.  Standing room only in all the stairs and aisles.  And then the police came in, just to make it even more crowded.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a match so heavily policed and there was really no need for them to be there (is there ever?)  A line of police for the segregation was all that was needed but instead they were all over the place, one hand on their batons desperate for a reason to use them.
11 minutes into the match and Steven Gerrard finally shows the England fans that he can do for England what he consistently does for Liverpool with a superb strike to put us one-nil up.  All week the talk in the press had been of England not under-estimating Belarus but for a while in the first half that looked to be exactly what we were doing.  We gave the ball away a lot and Belarus frustrated England, they seemed well up for it and fully deserved their equaliser in the 28th minute.

belaarus pitchWayne Rooney put us back in front 5 minutes into the second half, but full credit must go to Emile Heskey who, while winning his 50th cap, went on a superb powerful run and put in the perfect cross for Rooney to score.  Rooney certainly looked back to his best but Emile was different class, sure he doesn’t score many but his team contribution has been one of the main factors in our recent up turn in form. 

He does the thankless jobs and gets on with it quietly and professionally, man of the match for me.
Another goal of the highest quality for Rooney in the 74th minute all but killed off Belarus’ efforts.  Gerrard could’ve made it 4 but hit the post with 5 minutes to go.

belarus policeAt about mid-night after being locked in the stadium  for 20 minutes the police, who all looked a bit disappointed at not getting to use their batons on us, let us go and I had to catch a bus to the airport for a 3am flight.  Arrived at Gatwick at 4am (UK time) and was home in bed for 7am.

Another excellent away trip, beautiful women, a good performance, 3 more points, 4 wins out of 4, top of the league, did I mention the women?  “You’re shit, but your birds are fit, you’re shit...”
Pete – England and Leicester October 16th 2008


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