To most Nigerian journalists covering the World Cup here in Russia, the trip to Kaliningrad, the venue of Eaglesâ€™ opening group match with Croatia was not a tea party.
When FIFA and the Local Organising Committee (LOC) of the Russia 2018 advised intending journalists and fans to ensure they were fully prepared by ensuring they applied and received transit visas of the countries they were going to pass through, some took the instructions for granted. Those who didnâ€™t Â merely watched the match on television here like those who didnâ€™t travel out of Lagos or any other Nigerian city or town.Â
To those of us who made St Petersburg our base, going to Kaliningrad by road was totally ruled out as such visitors will need to pass through Latvia, Belarus and Estonia. Without a transit Shengen visa, it was mission impossible. So many who didnâ€™t heed the LOC warning licked their wounds, watching from the fan zones. The journey by air took us approximately a little above one hour to reach the beautiful picturesque city.
The Fan ID, a new innovation to the World Cup by hosts Russia, is one of the newest things to happen to the Mundial. Initially, most people who had attended past World Cups sneered at the idea of an ID for fans going to enjoy spectacular football. For others, the World Cup is an opportunity to enjoy the summer differently since the global football showpiece holds every four years.Â The Fan ID was introduced at the request of the Russian authorities for all fans visiting matches at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. Unlike in the past when all that a fan needed to get into the stadium was just the match day ticket, the Russians went a little further to ensure they have the identities of every one entering all the 12 stadia for the games. With the particulars of every fan on the ID chip, the mere swiping of the Fan ID accreditation tag on the system at the entry point gives away who that particular fan is: picture, name and from which country originated, is known. I doubt if there will be any issue with familiar hooligans who make attendance at games worrisome.
Â CAGED NIGERIAN SUPPORTERSÂ
Apart from the initial problem Nigerian football supporters had with their drums and trumpets seized at the Sao Paolo Airport in Brazil four years ago, I canâ€™t remember the last time they were rendered completely ineffective in giving much needed cheering to the Super Eagles. They were denied their equipment for the world to hear those familiar Nigerian songs from the stands in Kaliningrad. THISDAY learnt the equipment were seized by Russian immigration authorities.
On SaturdayÂ with the Kaliningrad Stadium swarmed by army of Croatian supporters (almost 95 per cent of the 34,000 seating capacity of the arena), the traveling Nigerian cheering party was drowned in the midst of the Croatians. By the way, Croatia is barely two hours by air to Kaliningrad. Some of the adventurous Croats even made the trip by roads in cars, buses and caravans.
SKINHEADS ARE ALSO HERE
The Skinhead Culture started out as a protest movement against the bourgeois by English and Jamaican youths in working class communities in the early 1960 in England. Of course, itÂ was only a matter of time before radical right-wing politics buried that mission in favour of open racism and ultimately Neo-Nazism. Â The Skinheads are also here. A few of the Nigerian fans who have strayed out alone have had stories to tell. Now, most of the sports journalists here for the Mundial now think safety before going â€˜soloâ€™ story-hunting.