Wednesday, June 20, 2012
Donetsk - Kharkiv
I bumped into Copa America Nick at the Donbass stadium – the sound 21-year-old Danish journalist I met in Argentina last summer. He is head of the volunteers for Donetsk (I wouldn't be surprised if he's head of UEFA by the time he's 30) and joins us at the Shaktar Plaza beer garden at 2am for a couple of post-match beers. He is staying with a family in Donetsk so unfortunately we cannot crash down with him but he does help us kill a couple of hours as we swap humorous stories about Argentina 2011 and Ukraine 2012. Nick has got twice the confidence, energy and get up and go mentality that I had at his age. I look forward to meeting up with him at Brazil 2014.
By 4am it is fair to say that we are struggling. We had one hour’s sleep last night and our current predicament nescesitates staying up all night as we have no bed or way of escaping the city. We make three beers stretch as long as they can in the hotel lobby bar - Neil snoring his way through the third - and then chance it down the local bus station in the hope that there might be a 5am bus out of the city. No joy. A taxi ride later at Donetsk train station we discover that every train out of the city until 2pm is completely full. Quite what we can do for another nine hours after two whole nights of no sleep is a question causing a certain amount of tired niggle between the two of us. It is fair to say that we should never have ended up in this situation but, it is how it is. Fighting to the death with one another probably isn't going to solve anything.
There is a secluded ‘VIP’ zone in the station where train ticket holders can sit and rest. Fortuitously for us the VIP room is not only empty but is staffed by security guards, is air conditioned and has several empty leather sofas going begging. With 2pm tickets to Kharkiv bagged, we both crash down on said comfy sofas at 6am, in this oasis of calm, and are away with the fairies until noon. Where there is a will there's a way.
We awaken to find the train station heaving with sweaty, hungover football fans, 99% of whom I’d imagine had hotel beds last night. The good news is that our train to Kharkiv is Moscow-bound which means we have four-bed births on board, while our companion in the compartment is a decent Russian lad called Zhenya. Consequently, most of the seven hour journey is spent catching up with badly needed sleep. Not bad for six quid.
Back at Kharkiv at 10pm it is 29 degrees and the amazingly atmospheric train square, with its fountains and terraces, is full of men and women sat chatting on benches and enjoying a cooling drink in the outdoor cafes. We each sip a beer amazed in truth that we managed to pull off the whole Donetsk trip without accommodation or transport. Elvera comes and picks us up and drops us at our new apartment in the centre of town on a leafy boulevard. She's a hell of a character and is muting the idea of joining us in Kyiv for the Italy v England quarter.
We slurp down a couple of soups and with no matches tonight to watch, crash down in our 30 euro two-bedroom apartment. Mission accomplished. Where there is a will there is a way.