For the Love of the Beautiful Game, Football

Friday, October 6

Zenit 3-1 Real Sociedad at St. Petersburg Stadium | Europa League, Group Stage | 28.09.2017

I've been writing and rewriting and rewriting again what could've been the introduction to this entry for the past 15 minutes. Turns out it's not that simple to compose a love letter - even if that letter is devoted to football, a game that, oddly, became an essential part of who I am during the past 10 years.

I genuinely don't know what to begin with. I suppose it would make sense to start off by telling you about the very first time I went to a football stadium in the late 1990's - although back then I was much more interested in the concert of the Swedish pop band Vacuum (whose single "I Breathe" I was obsessed with at the time) than in the club legends fixture. Or should I recount that Sunday morning in November when I was watching the derby between CSKA Moscow and Zenit St. Petersburg together with a handsome dark-haired young man that the 15-year-old me was in love with? Needless to say, I was cheering for the "militarians" just to tease the aforementioned guy. But maybe I should've started this entry by describing how I listened to the live match commentary on the newly founded Radio Zenit - instead of listening to what my preparatory classes professor at St. Petersburg State University was saying?..

Then there was the game against Bayer Leverkusen - my first ever game at the stadium which I attended together with my school friend - and the epochal two-legged tie between my hometown club Zenit and FC Bayern Munich in May 2008. I remember how I was walking home and how I passed by a few supporters in our blue-white-sky blue scarves; deep down, I really did not believe that we could win against the team that had the great Oliver Kahn to defend their goal. But that night St. Petersburg couldn't sleep: we won 4-0 and a couple of weeks later our players put on the golden jerseys and brought home the UEFA Cup. In June of that same year Andrey Arshavin made the ball go right between Edwin van der Sar's legs - and straight into the net, earning the Russian National Team the bronze medals of the UEFA Euro 2008. Despite my family's explicit protests, I rewatched that game on New Year's Eve.

Four years later, I traveled to Ukraine to take part in UEFA Euro 2012 as a volunteer. There I met Keisha who became one of my closest friends - we rented an apartment next to the National Opera of Ukraine (cockroaches and all), worked as part of the Hospitality team for a month and spent our evenings watching the games at the Khreshchatyk fan zone. In the end of the month we visited Donetsk to attend the semifinal match between our beloved Spaniards and Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal - and during the final we were there, on the front rows of the Spanish fan sector, waving flags and making up chants about Sergio Ramos, who we met a few days before that. It's funny, but 5 years later I'm still passing the exams I had to miss because of that trip - but I've never regretted going to Kyiv, to this day I still consider it the time of my life.

Shortly after, I heard the news about Total Football (the only magazine I read from cover to cover in 2008-2010) being shuttered, and my full schedule was not allowing me anymore to watch the games regularly or follow all the latest news about Zenit and Real Madrid.

But once you let football into your life, don't expect it to ever leave you. And it doesn't even matter how often you tune in to see the game, whether or not you know the names of all the benchwarmers and how long it's been since the last time your team lost. It only takes 90 minutes - 90 minutes at the stadium, where the atmosphere is charged with electricity, at the stadium that sings as one and where people truly feel united by the love for this beautiful game. You will want to come back, you will want to jump out of your seat again, you will want to support your team until you lose your voice. Because football truly makes us experience the most pure and unfiltered emotions.

Dear football, thank you for all those unforgettable memories I got to make thanks to you. I'm looking forward to many more adventures together.

Photo and editing by Sergey Povoroznyuk

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