Email/Newsletter Update: Issue #21 (July 1st, 2001)
Lisa and Joel's Excellent Adventure: Issue 21
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-All Hell Breaks Out In Russia!-
by Lisa A. Listro and Joel A. Sward

Saturday afternoon, June 30th, 2001, day 362 of Lisa and
Joel's Excellent Adventure, we found ourselves walking
across Birzhevoy Bridge to the Petrograd side of St.
Petersburg, Russia.  Once we crossed the bridge, the
first thing we noticed was a huge group of people
working their way into Petrovskiy Stadium.  Many of
the people in the crowd were dressed in blue and were
waving blue flags with Russian letters.  It turns out
they were proudly displaying the colors of St.
Petersburg's football team and everyone was going to a
football match.  We thought, why don't we try to get
in.  This could be interesting. What an
understatement!

As we became absorbed by the huge, disorderly crowd,
we began to notice that most of the people around us
were young Russian men, many with shaved heads, void
of shirts and covered in tattoos.  (Not that we have
anything against shaved heads, or going without a
shirt or having tattoos -- we're just trying to set
the scene here.)  Soon the crowd pushed us up to a
security check point.  Armed soldiers in full riot
gear were physically searching every entrant from head
to toe, in addition to checking tickets.  Since we
didn't have a ticket and couldn't see any way of
getting one we put our heads down and ploughed our way
out of the crowd.  We were just about to give up on
our attempt to enter when a scalper approached us.  He
spoke excellent English (which is always a bad sign --
English speaking touts are more likely to rip you off)
and offered us two tickets for 800 Rr.  We had no idea
what the tickets were actually supposed to go for, if
the tickets he was offering were good seats, or if
they were actually real tickets for that matter.  As
we tried to dicker him down, he continued his sales
pitch and motioned us to get away from the hundreds of
police and soldiers standing guard over the
proceedings.  (Scalping must be illegal in Russia
too.)  We finally got him down to 400 Rr for two
tickets, which was still a rip off, in more ways than
one -- the tickets actually were supposed to cost 40
Rr each and the seats he gave us literally put us in
the eye of a storm.

After fighting our way back to the security
checkpoint, we were padded down from head to toe and
our bags were emptied and searched.  Anyone trying to
get through with anything heavy (which could be thrown
at opposing fans), booze, bombs, flares, firecrackers,
even lighters (we guess so they couldn't light things
on fire) were confiscated and thrown into a huge, and
ever growing, pile of contraband.  It turned out that
this checkpoint was just one of four that we had to go
through.  More physical searches of our bodies and
bags and more passing through metal detectors.
Remember, this entire time we are literally sandwiched
between thousands of drunk young Russian skin heads.
Adding to our anxiety were the stares and glares we
got from the security forces as we passed through the
checkpoints.  When it became apparent that we couldn't
understand the orders they were barking at us in
Russian -- probably "Raise your arms over your head!",
or "Open that bag!" -- they would kind of stare at us
with slanted eyes like they were saying "What the hell
are you doing here?"

Soon we found ourselves pushed and smashed into what
was supposed to pass for our seating section.  It was
literally a pen or jail, surrounded by wire fences and
hundreds of soldiers in riot gear.  There were metal
planks, which served as seats, that is if everyone
wasn't ripping them out of their screws so they could
throw them over the fence at the opposing fans.  Plus
because everyone was so smashed together, there was no
way we were going to try to sit down -- it would be
too easy to get trampled.  To make matters worse, the
tickets that jerk pawned off on us were in the section
for the fans of the visiting from Moscow.  Situated in
one corner of the huge stadium, literally surrounded
by a sea of opposing Blue, the two or three thousand
skin heads, who had suddenly become our allies,
adorned in Moscow Red, seemed small and vulnerable
matched against forty thousand testosterone driven
skin heads who wanted nothing more than to climb over
the wire fences and the riot police to beat the shit
out of every one of us.  Many of the Blues tried to
get over, only to be beaten back by riot police with
hard rubber mallets and  clear plastic shields.  When
they couldn't get over the fence the took out their
aggression by throwing anything they could get their
hands on.  Sharp metal belt buckles, glass bottles,
and even as we said, the very seats they were supposed
to sit on came flying through the air directly at us.
More than once we had to duck, not to get hit. 

Suddenly everything was put on hold, as a deafening
roar greeted the players as the ran onto the field.
Flares, burning flags of the opposing team and smoke
bombs went flying out into the hundreds of riot police
that surrounded the field.  The police were trained to
run and grab the flaming object and throw it in tin
cans that were strategically placed all around the
perimeter.  Seems that they were expecting this kind
of behavior.

Thirty minutes into the match Moscow scored a goal and
all hell broke out.  Somehow a Blue skinhead got
over the fence into the Moscow section and everyone
started beating him.  Then the riot police charged the
crowd and started beating everyone with their rubber
mallets.  This was all happening within 20 feet of us!
On one side the crowd was trying to get away from the
police and their weapons of pain and on the other side
the boys who were looking for a fight were trying to
push their way into the fray.  It turned really ugly
when some of the crowd started fighting back against
the police.  At this point we had enough.  It was time
to bolt!  Lisa grabbed Joel around the waist and Joel
just ploughed his way through the crowd to the gate.
Guess what?  The police weren't going to let anyone
out!  The exit was blocked with a large metal gate. We
guess they wanted to contain the dangerous elements
around us, but we had to get out of here!  We yelled
at the guards through the gates -- "Out, Out, Let Us
Out!", while motioning violently with our hands,
literally pleading with them.  After looking us up
from head to toe and determining that we were
definitely out of our element, they let us squeeze
through. 

Gasping for breath and feeling our hearts pounding
hard in our chests, we worked our way out of the
stadium, past a group of Reds, heads covered with
blood, being thrown into the back of a SWAT mobile.
Man, is this nuts!  All this over a football game. 

Well, we made it out without a scratch, thank
goodness.  You know the strange thing?  As we were
walking away from the stadium we heard the crowd roar
(St. Petersburg must have scored) and we both said
that we kind of wished that we were back inside.  (If
we knew were weren't going to get hurt that is.)  The
energy, although misguided and nonproductive, was
incredibly powerful and strangely intoxicating.  So
much pent up passionate aggression just waiting to
explode.  It was definitely intense and it makes a
great story for our journal.

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Attached photo: Inside Petrovskiy Stadium, St.
Petersburg, Russia
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(c) Lisa and Joel's Excellent Adventure 2001. All
rights reserved.
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Lisa Listro and Joel Sward are currently unemployed,
homeless world travelers. 
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