Хорошо играл товарищи!
Mickey Blue Eyes
The laziest student of history will know nothing good ever came out of nationalism. Which always complicates matters when we play a European game, particularly against German or Italian teams. After all, you cannot shout the usual insults if you cannot speak their language. This is known in England as "banter," but is actually nothing more than a hog grunt. For example, your average English fan would struggle even with, "Yer scheiße an' yer know yerrar" at the November rematch in Wolfsburg.
It boded not well for our Europa League visit to FK Krasnodar in South West Russia. All East European languages are wildly beautiful, as is the Krasnodar dialect of Ukrainian-Russian. All of them are well beyond any linguistic or geography talents of most Brits. Example: Gordon Lee was once asked what he thought of playing Dukla Prague and he replied, "Dunno. I've never been to Dukla." Sometimes 'tis folly to be wise.
The city of Krasnodar has a growing population of 750,000. You can visit their civic website here: http://krd.ru/ (but have your Cyrillic dictionary ready). Sadly, on medical orders I was unable to make the four thousand kilometres journey to the land of the Cossacks. Our small but happy band of six hundred or so followers - heroes all - would have to travel via Moscow and skirt East Ukraine on the road south to Samarkand.
Last time I was in Russia it was part of the old Soviet Union; you must remember what was once the biggest country in the world......they won World War 2, in the process losing twenty million people and infrastructure and industrial resources equal to the USA East of Chicago. Not that you will find these uncomfortable facts mentioned or even acknowledged in many British or American histories. It explains a lot, including the smell of bleach and Ron Perelman lookalike trolley dollies on a 1989 Aeroflot flight.
If by some mishap you have forgotten what is going on in East Ukraine, and why, you can check out the affects of West-supported resurgent anti-Semitic Kiev Nazis at http://unhcr.org.ua/en/. Scroll down to "Internally displaced people." Be prepared for facts that fail to coincide with BBC, ITN and Sky propaganda. If you are located in the USA your situation will be even worse, since you have to suffer Fox News, CNN and a motley crew of affiliates and outright fascist journo jobsworths. Our media is awful, but not quite as bad as the US gang. Not yet anyway. Meantime, the internet is a rich source of reality if you have the patience and nous to go look for it.
As we all know (because newspapers tell us so, and it must be true) the Russians have sinister "oligarchs" like Roman Abramovich, Alisher Usmanov, Vladimir Putin, Boris Berezovsky, Alexander Smolensky, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Alex Konanykhin, Mikhail Fridman, Anatoly Chubais, Vladimir Gusinsky, Vitaly Malkin and Vladimir Potanin. However, we in the West have only intellectually sensitive, scrupulous, democratic, dynamic "entrepreneurs," "businessmen" and "magnates," such as Rupert Murdoch, Alan Sugar, Gerald Grosvenor, David Rockefeller, the Barclay brothers, David and Simon Reuben, Leonard Blavatnik, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Donald Trump, Dieter Schwarz, Albert von Thurn und Taxis (I must say I love that name), Liliane Betancourt, Bernard Arnault, Serge Dassault, Silvio Berlusconi, Michele Ferrero, Leonardo del Vecchio, Paolo Rocca and Stefano Pessina. Plainly the Russians cannot know what they are missing.
Therefore, if we followed the Daily Mail Hurrah for the black shirts! goose-step party line we would strike a blow for "democracy" if we defeated FK Krasnodar. It would also be a victory for the Anglo-Saxon version of competitive capitalism, since FK Krasnodar are owned by Russian oligarch Sergei Galitsky, CEO of Magnit, Russia's biggest supermarket chain and cosmetic retailer. According to Forbes magazine his real time net worth is $10.7 billion (about £6.5 billion). This sort of dwarfs the unreliably-reported combined wealth of Bill Kenwright (£30 million), Robert Earl (£270 million) and Jon Woods (£40 million). Yes, Sergei La is just the sort of well-intentioned international "investor" they should sell the club to - if he can avoid doing meerkat impressions while laundering money through Switzerland or the US Virgin Islands: capitalism at its finest. Given Terry Leahy loyalty, if you stretched your consumer imagination you might even dub the match Magnit V Tesco.........Well, why not? After all, it rules the rest of your mortgaged wage slave life.
Like most of us, my awareness of Russian footy is miniscule. In my case my earliest "knowledge" was of exotica such as Moscow Dynamo and Moscow Spartak and their earlier visits to post war austerity-ration book Britain for friendly club games. This was supplemented a few years back when a tory-voting friend, straight-faced, gave me a small booklet titled Soviet Football by Andrei Starostin, published by Soviet News and priced 6d in 1957, which he rescued from a car boot sale. Once you filter out its totalitarian propaganda nonsense it has some genuinely interesting photographs and text. That apart, my nearest Russian interest was our acquisition of Diniyar Bilyaletdinov for about £9million, who in all competitions made 48 starts, 29 substitutions, and scored 9 goals for us in 2009-2012 (for which information, see Steve Johnson's wonderful Evertonian treasure trove at http://www.evertonresults.com/allaz3.htm). Bily was a fine and skilful if erratic player who never looked suited for English football. Most of us regret it never worked out for him.
All I knew was mere-six-years-old FK Krasnodar qualified for Europe by finishing fifth in the sixteen-club Russian Premier League, or Sogaz, after three seasons in it. If reports are to be believed they only got into the upper reaches of Russian football because some other clubs went bankrupt. I knew none of their players or their manager. Their nearest neighbours are eighty-six years old Kuban Krasnodar, also in the Sogaz. In fact our match was played at the Kuban stadium while a new one is constructed for FK. Odd how even ex-Iron Curtain East Europeans can manage to get stadia built while Merseyside bickers and keeps shooting itself in the foot over the issue and squabbles over absurdities, a few hectares of land and crackpot mythical "tradition." Often I get the feeling our local "leaders" are too busy picking fluff out of their "traditional" navels to actually take an initiative. But I digress.
So, unable to make the journey, I settled down reluctantly to watch the match on ITV 4. Of course televised football is no substitute for a real game. It is an antiseptic electronic soap opera of artificial enthusiasm and quasi "expertise" designed to fill time between advertisements and Beeb waffle. But at least we have escaped the appalling spot adverts that ruin American sports, the neocon wet dream that may yet poison the remnants of The Beautiful Game. No, live TV games are just not my thing. When we are on screen I usually I end up throwing orange peel at the screen while shouting disgraceful oaths that panic domestic pets and eject loved ones to the kitchen to heat half time soup. Too many compromises are necessary, whereas one can act and sound like a total twat at the real thing and nobody bats an eyelid.
This time the programme was fronted by punctuation-challenged, talking-head Matt Smith from Wirral, who suffers from an acute case of misplaced commas, full stops and erratic breathing exercises. How he survived this long without treatment in the Grammar Intensive Care Unit is a mystery. This time round Matt was a strange faded mud colour - usually referred to by sun-starved Aryan North Europeans as "a tan" - made worse by enough studio makeup to block a combined drainage system. The studio "pundits" were solid Kevin Ratcliffe, cheerful Les Ferdinand and curmudgeonly Tim Sherwood; since a Tottenham game followed ours Lahndan controlled TV was plainly intent on demonstrating its usual objectivity. The commentators were Jon Champion and Clarke Carlisle, both of whom I like. Alas, Matt has improved his delivery and failed to provide any light relief. Everyone else behaved themselves. The only mild comedy came from the director choice of wide angle lens for studio group framing: Smiffy, out on the edge of shot, suffered severely from parallax and barrel distortion.
The teams were announced: Everton - Howard, Hibbert, Stones, Jagielka, Baines, Gibson, Barry, Atsu, McGeady, Osman, Eto'o. Krasnodar - Dikan, Kateshin, Jedrzjczyk, Granqvist, Sigurdsson, Pereyra, Ahmedov, Laborde, Izmailov,Gazinskiy, Ari. Brits who have trouble with extended words like "kick-off" would be in deep trouble with all those multi-syllables, consonant phonemes and unstressed vowels, though Ari was a doddle and Ragnar Sigurdsson's first name reminded me of Ernie Borgnine in The Vikings.
Within two minutes we almost conceded two goals. After ten minutes the Russians could, should, have been four up. In the first fifteen minutes we crossed the half way line three times. On twenty minutes Tim made one of his magnificent low right saves. It was Swansea all over again, a complete shambles, midfield almost invisible, defence under constant siege but determined. We were getting battered. All credit to them, Krasnodar had obviously done their homework.
Then we woke up for ten minutes and had three good chances of our own. First Aiden McGeady weaved through quickly on the left and brought a superb low right save from their 'keeper. A few minutes later Barry almost bent one around the 'keeper's right hand only for him to again save well. Then Stonesy looped a header just over. And that was that.
After that it was back to the previous shambles as the enemy continually pressed, ran around us and through us, often only a touch or two from a breakthrough. The only thing they failed to do was go under and over us. Once again - there are no other words - we were utterly pathetic and outplayed. So no surprise when Krasnodar took a well deserved lead with two minutes of the half left. They always looked likely down our left; sure enough, the goal came from there. It was harmless at first, then their man centre mid right looped one to the near side of the penalty area, Jags and Gibbo looked at each and ushered the attacker through, no cover, only Tim to beat. It was a no brainer and he knocked it home. It was much, much less than Krasnodar deserved.
Romelu Lukaku came on at half time for Atsu, who had looked well out of his depth. Surely things could only improve in the second half? Surely we could hardly get worse? If not, humiliation loomed.
No chance. Krasnodar went straight on attack from the restart and got two quick corners, and should have scored from the second, but it was scrambled clear. The game settled down into the same pattern, all Krasnodar, no Everton - unless you count the kind of hacked clearances and hesitancy you can see at Jericho Lane every Sunday morning. Corner followed corner against us. They were running rings around us, then standing on their heads and doing it again. They hit the bar after a wonderful weaving run made simians out of three of our defenders. It was another quarter hour before we even managed to get into their penalty area. After which it was back to "normal," us second to everything, losing every 50-50, wretched passing, hopeful hoofball up to a very lonely and outnumbered if gallant Lukaku.
Then Krasnodar tired a little and we got back into it - relatively - with fifteen minutes left. Yet every time the enemy broke out they still looked likely to score. But undeniably, they were now back pedalling. I stopped throwing orange peel and shouted oaths at the screen. Maybe, just maybe......
Then, would you believe it, an equaliser with eight minutes left. For a few minutes afterwards it even looked as though we might perform the biggest thievery since loveable Heathrow staff last looted passenger luggage. It came when Stonesy won an untidy scrimmage wide right and angled a pass forward to centre right. Eto'o picked it up, turned through a circle, sent it back wide and forward to the right again and then raced into the centre. Bainsey - what was he doing there? - checked it back on his left foot and curled it into the centre where Sammy the veteran got between their two tired-looking centre backs and glanced it home. I nearly swallowed a wine glass. It was cruelly unfair on the Russians. Ever so faintly, right at the edge of sound, the few hundred hero Evertonians came through with, "Allez allez ohhhh."
The fact is when we play like this it honestly gives me the willies. If we were lucky at analfield we were thrice lucky in Krasnodar. We deserved nothing, but in the end superior staying power and huge doses of luck got us through. If it was a mighty relief it was sobered by the thought that many repeats like this will one day inevitably get us a terrible hiding.
There's no question European football can break your heart. I just hope we avoid the need for surgery. Manchester United will be a different operation altogether. And no anaesthetic.