ATTENDING just a single FIFA World Cup match would be considered, for many people, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Bathurst’s Tony Thorpe, however, has spent the past month attending all three of Australia’s World Cup games in Russia: the 2-1 loss to France in Kazan, the 1-all draw with Denmark in Samara and the 2-nil loss to Peru in Sochi.
And his verdict on the country that receives so much global bad press?
“If you ever get the opportunity, don’t be afraid of going to Russia,” he said.
“There’s so much to gain from a visit.
“Russia is a place of enormous history, with the Tsars, and the religious opportunities, like in Kazan. It’s a city that has basically brought the Muslim faith together with the Russian Orthodox religion. It’s two communities that have two opposing faiths that live together in harmony.”
At the first game in Kazan, Mr Thorpe bumped into someone he had worked with in the past: Greg O’Rourke, the head of the A-League.
“Just while we were in line to go into the game, we were talking in length about the sort of things we can be doing in Australia,” he said.
From Kazan, Mr Thorpe and his son travelled to Ulyanovsk, a non-World Cup city, before going on to Samara for the Australia versus Denmark match.
“When we were going out of the game from the Samara match, I ran into Karen Gregor, who’s the CEO of the Sydney to Hobart yacht race,” he said.
“She was also Craig Johnston’s personal assistant at the time when I organised to get an autographed football that is now out at Proctor Park.”
From Samara, he travelled to Sochi, a city on the edge of the Black Sea that is famous for hosting the 2014 Winter Olympics.
“At the final match at Sochi, sitting about half a dozen rows behind us was former 60 Minutes reporter George Negus. I spoke to him during the half-time break,” Mr Thorpe said.
While in Sochi, they spent time in the water of the Black Sea, cooling off from the humid 30 degree weather, before travelling by train up into the mountains near the city where the Olympics were held.
The conditions at the Olympic site, almost 2600 metres above sea level, couldn’t be any different from the conditions at ground level, with the mercury hitting only about 10 degrees and settled snow on the peaks of the mountains, he said.
After their time in Russia, Mr Thorpe and his son travelled to Finland, Estonia and then Sweden before returning home to Australia.
“There were about 40,000 supporters there [at the World Cup] for the Australian cause, with three organised groups and then the independent travellers,” he said.
“What I’ve heard from many of the people in Russia was that we were great ambassadors for our country and the Russian people are fascinated by us.
“They are especially intrigued by our animals, like kangaroos and koalas.
“Google Translate is how we basically communicated with people who didn’t speak English.”
One of the most interesting and bizarre experiences for Mr Thorpe was the lack of night-time.
He said he only experienced about an hour-and-a-half of actual night during his time in the country.
He also said in places like Kazan, Moscow and Saint Petersburg, it feels like dusk is happening for four hours, with the sun looking as if it is sitting still and not setting.
“Getting used to all that was a bit strange,” he said.
This year’s FIFA World Cup in Russia is the 21st edition since it began in 1930.
The final will be played between France and Croatia at the enormous Luzhniki Stadium in the capital Moscow at 1am on Monday.