Following my early morning flight on Saturday morning, I land in Marseille where I am set to watch my very first Olympique de Marseille game.
It is my first time in Marseille and I found an accommodation at Belinda’s on FreeCouch4Fans.FreeCouch4Fans works in a similar fashion as Couchsurfing, it is however aimed at Football fans’ (as well as sports fans in general). Local supporters can during fort he fixtures day offer to host fans from all over the world for free for a night or 2. Therefore a very cool idea to bring football fans together and to enable an overall great experience.
Over the first day, my host shows me around Marseille, a lively and fascinating city. We visit the Cathedral, the Old Harbor, and wander around the many pedestrian zones. We then spend the afternoon on the beach. For dinner, I offer Belinda to cook a typical German dish. Tonight’s menu: Fricadelle and German beer.
Marion, a South African supporting Marseille, arrives during the evening, and will also stay at Belinda’s tonight to go and watch tomorrow’s game.
On Sunday, we spend a relaxing day in Belinda’s flat, watching the day’s football games, one after the next. We set about being on our way to the stadium around 5PM to get ourselves a handful of beers in a supporter’s bar before the game. 3 hours before the game and the atmosphere is already electric, almost everyone is wearing either a white and blue shirt or the club ‘s scarf.
The Vélodrome is simply astounding, a wonder of stadium. What is making it even more incredible ist the extraordinary atmosphere, which is brought by the Ultra groups. Indeed, both Northern and Southern tribunes contribute to the atmosphere while backing their football team.
Icing on the cake, Marseille beats in a spectacular 4:0 victory its today’s opponent, Guingamp.
Belinda has been a very friendly host and we enjoyed great conversations. It was all-in all a super interesting and successful week end in Marseille.
Thank you Belinda and FreeCouch4Fans.
New adventure during this season with Rennes coming to visit the Vélodrome Stadium for the 3rd fixture of the season. Mathieu president of the Occitanie fan section is just like every week travelling from his hometown of Carcassone along with his other members. In total more than 50 ultras travel across France and Europe to light up the Vélodrome stadium. They frequently meet up to prepare their journey, be it when Marseille plays home or away even during the European cup ! Real passionates that I met last year during the Olympico (Marseille vs Lyon).
Our friends and partners Football club de Marseille, famous local online media, wanted to interview those fans living their passion afar from Marseille. Only a few texts were necessary to setup the interview and Mathieu used of course #Freecouch4Fans to book his sunday night stay. The team and fans disappointment was however great after struggling to draw against Rennes. We therefore decided to drink our sorrows away in a notorious pub on “La pointe Rouge” a location by the Marseille shoreline. Until 2AM we discussed and replayed the game in our heads with friends and my guest also took part in giving his concession free opinion about the game. After a few drinks, we finally went home to rest before tomorrow’s shooting at our friends from Football Club Marseille.
Short stop for Breakfast at “Les Terrasses du port” overlooking the Marsillian coastline to get some energy before confronting the question of our mighty duo Mourad & Benji, local journalists. After an hour shooting, it was time to get back on the road for Mathieu, direction his hometown Carcassone after an awesome week end !
It’s on for a fantastic football year, my name is Byllel, unconditionnal fan of the greatest french team: “Olympique de Marseille”
Season ticket holder since the age of 14 in the northern tribune, my passion for the fan atmosphere led me to visit many stadiums all over the world. From Maracana to the Vélodrome, my thing is to share my passion with other football fans.
For tonight’s game between the Olympique de Marseille and the Toulouse Football Club, there are many a fan travelling and who have contacted me through the Freecouch4fans platform to live the renowned Vélodrome atmosphere, one of the hottest in Europe.
Host 3 #FREECOUCHERS and show the olympian passion to fans that have come from all over the world.
Here’s a quick introduction of today’s guests:
Evgueni, Young sport student coming straight out of Moscow, huge CSKA Moscou fan, on holiday in the south of France. He likes to discover the hottest atmosphere from all over Europe, from Istanbul to Marseille, and is having big expectations for his first encounter with the “Vélodrome” (how much I’d like to step in his shoes and discover this wonderful stadium for the first time).
Anna, a young New Yorker, spending a holiday in Marseille, Rodrigo and his 2 friends from Paris as well as Aurélien and his brother coming from Switzerland will also join myself and Yevgueni, discoring for the first time the atmosphere of le Vélodrome.
Departure from Aix en Provence 4.30PM towards the Yankees office, to meet some friends from the Dodgers Occitanie Section, meeting each other before the game to grab a drink, a Pastis (“Pastaga”) and discuss the still ongoing transfer period which a slow starter this year, big disappointment for the fans.
The Swiss brothers and my guests come to join us to discover from closer the passion embodied by an entire city. The Marseillan road trip will take us around 18h at the notorious bar “l’Olympe” a few meters away from the stadium for us to meet the rest of the guests while having a drink with a Marseille fan legend René Malleville.
Party atmosphere around the story of our team, Anne and Evgueni join us and share this pregame moment where we get to all know each other and some of the historical Marseillan ultra songs.
7.30PM, time to get into the arena, eyes full of stars, my guests are all sold.
4 goals later with a broken voice, it’s now time to say goodbye to our friends from Switzerland, New York and Paris.
Heading back home with today’s guests.
On the way back we share our best fan memories, from Marseille, Moscow, Rio and all the way to Istanbul.
We end the evening around the table talking about our respective projects, lives etc.
It’s 2am, and tomorrow’s alarm at 7am is going to hurt !
We leave at 8am for the Marseille Saint Charles Train station to drop off my new friends after a new unforgettable experience.
Looking forward to the next games !!!
I am experiencing that way-too-rare-yet-amazing feeling of a decent night of sleep as I wake up. I hear some shuffling about in the other room and I realize that Svyat’s wife Ksenyia has arrived, she’s super kind and as in love with France as Misha who sang us the national anthem yesterday (“La Marseillaise”).
She takes control of things here and start preparing breakfast and give me some sort of traditional Russian crepe that her mum has prepared. Yummy.
Post breakfast and some talks, I am being offered a tour in a nice park prior to my departure.
After getting ready we jump in the metro and a few stops later wait a very long time for a monorail which takes us to the park called” Exhibition of Achievements of National Economy”. Sounds pretty soviet propaganda to me 😉
It is the symbol of the former stars (districts) and successes of the USSR (most notably the Soyouz rockets), absolutely magnificent!
We enjoy our very last moments together by taking a couple of pictures together and return home.
We get some Borscht on the way, some sort of beetroot soup with meat and I pack up all my things. I am being offered Misha’s local football club jersey and I trade him my France t-shirt one of my only pieces of fan item left. I offer Ksenyia my French wig and she in return gives a headband with 2 russian flags popping up.
I thank them a lot for everything and order myself a Uber (600 RUB, 7.6 EUR) to the airport. I feel like I’ve been gone for over a month but it’s only been 5 days! I note while getting to the airport that my plane is on time meaning I should be able to watch a good part of the game after having landed in Zurich.
While waiting for the plane I summarize my budget of the trip:
Return flights ZUR-MOS : 300 EUR
Quarter final ticket 15000 RUB, 188 EUR
Quarter final ticket Andrew 12600 RUB, 158 EUR
Total: 646 EUR
Average daily on-site expenses: 66 EUR
Total: 395 EUR
Grand Total: 1041 EUR
A pretty cheap budget especially when you know everything I’ve done (parties, dinners, additional train ticket, one extra ticket for Andrew and so on…), but that was totally worth it.
Savings on accommodation (depending on the type of budget you usually spend)
Low Budget: 30 EUR per night = 150 EUR
Medium Budget: 60 EUR per night = 300 EUR
High Budget: 100 EUR per night = 500 EUR
Quite some nice savings !
I land in Zurich, 20 minutes into the game against Belgium and manage to meet my friends to witness France beat Belgium, possibly the toughest game of all! We are in final!!
Ouch … I hear Anzhe getting ready for work and I have the feeling I should doing just that myself, but last night’s celebration took its toll on me. Anzhe looks like he could use some more sleep too. We quickly catch up and I convince him to leave me his keys for the day and will meet him in the afternoon prior my departure. I manage to rest for another extra hour and a half and then set about meeting the French fan for my appointment with FIFA.
Not fresh, but that’ll do.
Red Square, 11.30am, in the lobby of the 4 Seasons hotel, after getting through security who gave me an odd look while getting in, I meet Antonin and Marlène.
Marlene, early 20s, is from Marseille, just like me, and has been travelling during the world cup on her own and meeting people.
Antonin owns a French pastry business in Washington DC and him and his brother closed the shop during the world cup.
We exchange about our own world cup journey and the Freecouch4fans concept and they explain me that they have been sleeping in hostels and using when it got too expensive some freecouching websites, especially in Nizhnyi Novgorod where the prices were jacked up.
Michael calls me and we meet at Starbucks around the corner. We are being offered free coffee and we start going down the details. We will get in the FIFA car filled with cameras and sing our hearts out! We start agreeing and rehearsing the songs we will be singing and as I’m feeling the adrenaline flowing through my body I forget all about the lack of sleep and a possible hang over. This is on!
After pouring all my energy in the car, I actually feel awesome and hungry.
I write Jay to tell him to meet me in a café nearby the Red Square, actually close to Nikolskaya street. After ordering a club sandwich and water to complete my recovery process, he shows up accompanied by his colleague Peter.
We start getting to know each other and discussing our journey through the world cup, pretty nice lads so we fairly quickly get very comfortable and after a good 2 hours, we set about finding a suitable location for shooting the interview.
After contemplating with the Red square option, we decide to find a cozy lounge bar instead, featuring guess what, a superb couch! Post the interview, we finish our beer and take a selfie together to freeze this brilliant moment, promise to stay in touch, say goodbye and part.
I am so late! I quickly get back to Anzhe’s, who apparently got back fairly early pretexting being sick, get my bag and set off to meet Svyat my host for tonight.
In the meantime, I get texts from Sergey who has organized a football game not far from Svyat my host for tonight.
Svyat has responded on our hashtag to my request on Twitter and am pretty curious to know how he ran into it.
Off I go, to the outskirt of Moscow a 45 minutes ride followed by a 15 minutes walk to Svyat’s place.
He explains me that during our first week he has seen us and his wife took a picture with us and the freecouch4fans flag and that’s how he understood the initiative and was ready to help if somebody asked.
As we get into his flat I explain him about the potential football game Sergey (met during my first journey to Moscou) has organized and he explains that he will not play but his friend Misha, who is to spend the evening with us, might play. His friend gets here we quickly greet each other and get into their Lada, the soviet car symbol, and drive to the stadium for about 15 minutes.
Not being in the form of my life, after this crazy 5-day ride, I still manage to somewhat play decently and Misha coming on the pitch at about half time helped a lot. After greeting each other Svyat, Misha and I get to the supermarket buy some food and drinks and get back to his place where despite being exhausted we manage to stay up until 2 AM talking about our mutual lives and culture. I’m literally struggling to keep my eyes open and eventually excuse myself to sleep, my last sleep of this journey.
7h, à chaque matin sa vérité. Cette fois-ci je décide de complètement ignoré mon réveil et accepte les consequence possibles, malgré qu’Andrew ait voulu me réveiller pour que j’aille prendre le train. J’ai besoin de me reposer.
11h30, encore fatigué mais près à commencer la journée, je sors de la chambre et Andrew m’accueille, l’air inquiet, et m’informe rapidement qu’il n’y a plus de train gratuit pour aujourd’hui, que sa mere et lui avait passé la matinée à essayer de me trouver une solution de secours. Je me sens un peu bête car je savais qu’en restant au lit ma seule autre option serait de payer mon billet de train, mais ils ont passé leur matinée à essayé de me trouver une alternative, pas cool de ma part.
En prenant mon petit déjeuner, je commence donc à regarder les possibilités restantes, très limitées et réussi à acheter ce qui devrait probablement être le dernier billet pour un montant assez important (~65€) qui me permettait d’arriver à temps à Moscou.
En effet, je dois arriver au plus tar chez Anzhe une heure avant le début du match (Russie – Croatie), il m’emmène dans un bar avec ses amis voir le match.
Je dis aurevoir à Andrew qui me ramène jusqu’à la gare de N.N et lui offre la plupart des mes accessoires de supporter français, ainsi que mon drapeau Freecouch4fans avant de monter dans le train, super comfortable et cher mais tellement mérité.
Il pleut des cordes à Moscou et Anzhe et moi devons accélérer le pas pour arriver chez lui, dans l’hyper centre de Moscou a 7 minutes à pied de la Place Rouge, afin de ne pas être complètement trempé. Je dépose mes affaires rapidement et nous nous dirigeons vers le bar pile a l’heure pour le coup d’envoi.
L’atmosphère est électrique et le match animé, la Russie mène au score par 2 fois mais la Croatie joue avec son coeur et ses tripes et réussi à revenir au score a chaque avant de sceller le sort de la Russie durant les tirs au but. Le pays est en larme sachant qu’ils ont frôlés les demi-finales mais est fière de leur héros que l’on attendait pas a ce stade de la compétition et dont le jeu était relativement plaisant.
Anzhe et moi rentrons donc après une longue nuit et décidons de profiter du lendemain afin de mieux apprendre à se connaître. 2eme nuit d’affilée plutôt longue, je me sens presque en vacances !
Nous allons déjeuner dans un restaurant du coin et passons une la plus grande partie de l’après midi à échanger à propos de nos vie respectives, carrière, façon de penser etc. Anzhe est Slovène de Ljubljana, a 31 ans, vit depuis plus de 3 ans en Russie et travaille dans l’industrie pharmaceutique comme j’ai pu le faire par le passé. Nos échanges nous mèneront dans un autre bar ou nous continuerons jusqu’à très tard dans la nuit. Et dire que je me remettais a peine du manque de sommeil des mes premiers jours !
En effet demain Anzhe travaille et j’ai moi-même une longue journée qui m’attends. Je dois rencontrer Jay de Goal.com et vu la proximité de la demi finale France – Belgique, Michael de la FIFA que j’ai rencontré lors de mon premier séjour m’a rappelé durant la soirée. Il veut faire le tournage demain avec 3 fans français que Byllel mon associé a pu trouver en 2 temps, 3 mouvements depuis chez lui dans le sud de la France.
*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
1 hour, this is what I have managed to sleep with a long day ahead of myself. I’m not too worried, and will sleep hopefully in the train to Nizhny later during the day.
As I leave the plane and go through security everything goes smoothly for my second trip using my Fan ID, though I sense the custom agent to be looking at my passport a bit puzzled, 2 trips in the course of 20 days !!! But Russia is definitely open during the world cup, Vladimir did the job.
First bad news while getting connected to 4G, my potential ticket reseller is ditching me but is kind enough to indicate a place where I should be easily able to get one. I wait for a couple of hours at the airport since it’s too early to do anything and decide to get a feel for the cheapest possible transportation. I hop on the bus at 5.30am and after a subsequent ride on the metro get to the train station Kurkskaya.
As I get to the ticket counter, I’m being told of my options. I either take the train leaving in 15 minutes for Nizhny or will have to wait until tomorrow. Given that I am to get a ticket for the game in Moscow and have no idea about how it’s going to work in Nizhny l, I decide not to risk it and will get my train tomorrow. 2 hours later around 9.30 I am given a free train ticket leaving the next day, game day, at 7am.
Second bad news, I don’t know where to sleep tonight.
On the plus side in the meanwhile I get a positive answer from my now host Andrew that he will be hosting me in Nizhny today (sic) and tomorrow.
After leaving my bigger bag at the locker room I now move on to getting my ticket and get to the place indicated by my supposed reseller. 5 minutes later after getting there I find a ticket half heartedly negotiated by its seller, who had still a lot left and get a ticket cheaper than the listed FIFA price (approx.. 200 vs 250 USD). Some good news.
It’s now 10 o’clock in the morning, I’m exhausted and have nowhere to rest. I realise that I have to be on the move and set about visiting Gorky park about 15 minutes walk from where I stand. There my dream comes true: giant bean bags laying in the sun.
I wake up 30 minutes later dizzy, though rapidly feeling a better and starts sending messages on social network and freecouching websites to get a free stay for the night and start preparing the ground for the other nights.
3 hours later as I am eating lunch I find hosts for all my stay (4 in total) in Moscow and Nizhny (1) is already covered. Some GREAT news !
My first host is French and lives in the city centre close to Kievskaya. I will meet him around 6 o’clock and will continue roaming around the city in the meanwhile, and get myself a nice souvenir from this trip.
Sebastien welcomes me by the building entrance gate and leaves to run an errand while introducing me to his flatmate. I rapidly decide for an hour nap, my salvation.
Where am I ? Who’s talking ? Oh yeah, I start remembering, 24 hours earlier I was In Zurich and I am now sitting on some stranger’s couch. He is offering me food now, salvation number 2, and pretty great local food actually (Plov). As I am getting fit again we start getting to know each other along with his flatmate and drinking vodka ! A lot !
Long story short after going clubbing with one of them and almost losing them, I get to bed at 3am with the alarm clock set for 5.30 am.
Another long day ahead and a train not to miss !
Sim Card 8 Go : 700 RUB, 9 EUR
Transport: 110 RUB, 1.5 EUR
Train ticket: Gratuit
Luggage locker: 500 RUB, 6.4 EUR
Meals: 1910 RUB, 24.6 EUR
I’m excluding the game ticket price but will sum everything up at the end
Here I am, Mathieu, 30, originally from Marseille France, sitting in the airport lobby in front of the gate departing from Zürich to Moscow. It has been a crazy day, with little sleep as I booked my return ticket in the spur of the moment and the excitation at 3am, leaving the same day at 10PM.
This adventure had started about a month ago when my friend & now business partner and I decided to create Freecouch4fans (link to landing page). Passionate about sports and entrepreneurship, at a crossroad in my life, this idea had formed in a timely fashion, with a twist of destiny.
Inspired by the dramatic events in Dortmund (vs Monaco in 2017) as well as the firstly revolting and the inspiring events in Kiev, we decided to structure a new way to consume sports, human, ethical and responsible.
During this month we had been doing all the necessary preparations needed for setting up a concept project scope definition, logo, advertising, website building, social networks etc. We already embarked on a first trip to Moscow of 6 days during the early days of the world cup from which I got back a week ago full of wonderful memories.
But this was different. Though our first trip was successful, this would be the first time we would try our concept ourselves. I wasn’t entirely sure about the how I but I knew what would be my aim:
Sleeping at locals, preferably fans of football and experiencing the world cup in a totally new way and in the cheapest possible way, for which I will be keeping a diary, as well as a tab on my daily expenses.
I will land in Moscow tomorrow early morning at 2.30am in Shermetyevo Airport and am planning to leave the same day for Nizhny Novgorod by train.
Today I’ve been trying to prepare my arrival, crucial step given that the game is in 2 days in Nizhny Novgorod. I have sent a few messages on some freecouching website in Nizhny Novgorod and social networks to get a ticket for France – Uruguay and a couch to spend 2 nights.
So far the result is null:
I couldn’t book the free train online, the time schedule is aweful (departue at 2 am and arrival at 9 am).
And I only have a shaky contact with some guy selling a ticket whom I contacted on Facebook.
Anyways I know this will all be system-D type of trip so I will have to convince and “charm” my way through on the spot.
I’m now boarding the plane in a strange state of serendipity while knowing this ain’t going to be easy…