Last journey abroad of the year: This is Rostov on Don

On the left side oft he main stand, there is a rather unremarkable door. It leads into a hallway that resembles an old school gym: A couple of windows six feet above the ground on the right hand side, several doors on the left hand side – the locker rooms.

On Wednesday, the Bayern players will walk through that hallway: This is the home of FK Rostov, who surprisingly finished second in Russia last season, and it’s there they play their last home game of this Champions League’s group stage, too.

Stadium Olimp-2

Had Lewandowski, Robben and the others not played at Darmstadt’s Böllenfalltor already last year, the culture shock they’re about to witness in the „Olimp-2“ Stadium in the city in Southern Russia would be even bigger. The Arena on Sholokhova Prospect, the big street leading out oft the city in eastbound direction, with a capacity of around 15,000 spectators, doesn’t exactly resemble Champions League level.

It starts with the desolate conditions of the locker rooms, of which I could assure myself five years ago, when the Women’s National Team of Austria played a EURO Qualifying match there. Of course, it’s possible that they renovated the locker rooms since then. But since there’s a new, modern Stadium being built right now on the other side of the River Don for the 2018 World Cup, it’s not very likely.

The toilets in the locker room hallway give a little foretaste of what expects the players in the locker rooms themselves. Just this much: After the game, die Austrian National Team players refused to take a shower in them, instead hopping on the bus and driving off the the Don Plaza Hotel hardly 15 minutes after the game ended – just to take their showers in their hotel rooms.

The pitch itself is surroundes by 15,000 blue seats, but only the main stand with the VIP seats is covered with a roof. The north stand with the scoreboard is actually round, the south stand is parallel to the goal line, however. Neither the VIP section nor the journalist’s section is really big. And whoever thought, reporters get to use fancy toilets, will be disappointed: A narrow passage leads from the stands to the interior, then turn left, through the glass door – and right next to the little tables for the VIPs, there’s another unremarkable door. And what’s behind it? The proof that privacy is quite obviously overrated.

The city of Rostov

Rostov on Don ist he tenth biggest city of Russia and hat, you won’t believe it, over one million inhabitants – making it around the size of Cologne. It is situated on the nothern bank oft he River Don, which flows into the Asovian Sea a couple of kilometres to the west. The inner city is characterized be hellish treffic and three big, parallel streets in east-west-direction. The most important of those is den southernmost one, the Bolshaya Sadovaya Street: It is home to the Provicial Government, City Hall, the biggest hotels, the train station and the park, which is named after Maxim Gorki and has a big Lenin statue beside its entrance.

Most striking is the contrast between new, modern building and houses in various degrees of decay. There are a lot of excessively gussied up women with seemingly 15 pounds of make-up in their faces (no, I cannot discard this cliché, sorry) and lots of older folks begging on the streets.

The taxis (yes, this cliché also applies, they fleece anyone who’s not Russian) for the most part drive around town in new city cruises, beautiful and shining, with giant roof windows, build-in navigation systems an brand new radios. Police, however, have to squeeze themselves into old, ramshackle Ladas from Soviet times.

And otherwise…

If you’re not acting as too much of a tourist, you can at least in the daylight walk around freely without having to worry all too much – should you choose to do so, because Rostov isn’t all that beautiful. Basic knowledge oft he Russian language is advisable, since most of the people there aren’t too fluent in speaking English.

The airport of the city with, remember, over a million inhabitants, is a special treat: The waiting hall is so small it could very well be the one of the Fürstenfeldbruck train station – the same applies for its shops. It only takes a delegation of 25 people of Football players plus its staff and one journalist to push the airport staff to its capacity limits. Thank god that next year, the brand new airport on the outskirts oft he city will be ready to go, just in time for the World Cup.

To conclude: Rostov is a city you don’t necessarily have to have seen with a stadium that, in Germany, would be outdated even in 3rd Division. On the other hand: The arena ist, just like the highly provincial airport, obsolete within a year from now. You might regret that. Or not.

Due to the different time zone, the game will kick-off at 6pm CET on Wednesday.

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