*Alarm buzzing in the background*
I stand up surprisingly quick to turn it off and set about taking a shower to accelerate the awakening process and getting ready, before saying discreetly bye to my hosts still half asleep, who offered me their couch for free, and to thank them for their help. It’s 5.30 am and I have slept 2.30 hours.
Effortlessly, I get into the train after getting my luggage from the cloakroom and embark on a 3.30 hours journey on the free train to Nizhny where Andrew my host for the day is hosting me. I even manage to rest on the train where I do not have a seat, squeeting myself in an empty luggage compartment, not very comfy, but possibly my best chance for the past 3 days. At this point I understand that my goal has already been completed and all new encounters and experiences will just be a bonus. Amazing feeling!
Andrew is now standing in front of me, in the train station hall. He is just about 18, with babyface like russian features and speaks decent english. As he takes me to his place I get to know a little more about him, he is a student in IT studying in Moscow but visits his parents during the summer holidays in Nizhny Novgorod and more importantly a big fan of football and his local club the former FC Volga, then Olympies but recently renamed FC Nizhny Novgorod playing in the Russian second division. I explain him about the Freecouch4fans concept and he seems very excited about it since this is what he wanted to do, host a fan during the tournament. We would naturally agree to have him as ambassador in NN and to be our first recruit!
Our local bus journey ends some 30 minutes later (!), and along the way I get to understand that Nizhny Novgorod, from which I had never heard off before is a 2Mn + inhabitant city, where 2 rivers, including the famous volga are meeting. We reach the outskirt of N.N in a very typical and modern residential area with numerous blocks of modern big buildings in what looked a lot like the ghettos of my hometown which is where the comparison ends.
I step into a very charming and well decorated flat and am welcomed by Andrew’s mum with a french greeting (“Bienvenue”) in an quasi solemn way which is extremely touching and a second later I am being told that some traditional dishes have been prepared for me. Climax.
I quickly figure that all this generosity need to be answered if I want to be able to look at myself in the mirror ever again and decide to take Andrew to the game. He is ecstatic but we now have a mission to complete, get him a Fan ID and a ticket while I have to meet a journalist for a short interview and the game is 2 hours away. The clock is ticking.
Stroke of luck, born under the right stars, relentless, call it how you like but everything went smooth and we even manage to get the time to buy beers before the game and to listen to the national anthems and to enjoy a game where France wins a tensed game leaving the impression of control over most of the game against a team from which Cavani was missing.
2-0, the atmosphere is friendly and quite gripping as french fans are gathering and singing while exiting the stadium with wonderful view of the sun setting on the Volga. After Andrew and I met at an earlier agreed location we continue walking in direction of the city center of N.N and make 3 important encounters:
- Jay, a british journalist working for Goal.com standing at the exit of the stadium asking fans for their immediate reaction. He quickly realized that a better story was to be told. We exchange numbers and agree to meet in the next few days in Moscou.
- Faisal and Ali, two UK football fans cheering for France in the context of this game, with whom we quickly bond and start exchanging stories.
The four of us then spend the rest of the evening together having dinner and partying in N.N with locals and football fans from all over the world, until 2 am in the morning when my body reminds me of its limit and the journey ahead. Though Andrew his having the time of his life he accepts (disappointingly) to take me back to his place since I have to wake up at 7am again to check the free train possibilities.
- Transport: 55 RUB, 0.75 EUR
- Food and beverages: 4400 RUB, 56.2 EUR
- I’m excluding the game ticket price but will sum everything up at the end
Total : 4455 RUB, 56.9EUR