AN ESTIMATED 200 Liverpool fans travelled to Russia for the Reds’ Europa League match with Rubin Kazan on Thursday. With no official travel packages or direct flights on offer, supporters — who also had to give officials their fingerprints and pay up to £150 for a visa — were  left to navigate the 2,500 miles from Merseyside via Brussels, Moscow, Istanbul, and even Helsinki. Among those who made the trip was AFQ regular JOE CONNOLLY.

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joecrussiamainpicI WENT to Exeter away on a Monday night once. Too far to go on a Monday night in my opinion. The highlight of that trip was a quite nice Burger King on the way home. I distinctly remember sitting in there thinking: “Joe, mate, this is too far to go on a week night. You’re 23. You need to grow out of this.” But here I am, four years later, going to Kazan on a Thursday night.

My mate Phil picked me up at 19:30 on Monday night and we drove down to Heathrow. It was comically foggy. So foggy in fact that I found myself commenting on the fog. Something I *very* rarely do. Anyway, we got to a depressing airport hotel, met my friend Ian and we all talked about how far away Kazan is (2,524.2 miles from Liverpool, apparently) then went to sleep. Ian had inexplicably brought some home brew that we all had some of. Still no real explanation as to why he brought that.

In the morning we got in something from the future. It was a four-seater pod that took us from our car park to the airport. Like a shit roller coaster from the future. A truly wondrous thing. I’m still not 100 per cent sure if I’ve imagined it or not.

We flew from Heathrow to Moscow and then Moscow to Kazan, with the only thing of note on the flights a chicken wrap on Siberian airlines that must have had heroin in it. I can’t stop thinking about it.

As soon as we walked out of the airport we got in a taxi. One of those ones that isn’t a taxi but it’s too complicated to get a proper taxi so you’ve just got to hope he isn’t a lunatic. Conversations in broken English with foreign taxi drivers are *always* fun and this was no exception, although his repeated double thumbs up were terrifying. He insisted on taking our number so he could pick us up and take us to the airport on Friday.

russiamaddollsandthatWe spent Wednesday having a look around Kazan’s museums, two of which appeared to be just full of terrifying toys. The Museum of Soviet Life and The Museum of Happy Childhood (yep) were filled pretty much exclusively with terrifying toys.

Pictures of said terrifying toys are above for your enjoyment and also because every time I close my eyes that’s all I see and I want the same for you. I’m a socialist.

The best museum by a country mile was the Museum of Soviet Arcade Machines. You paid £3 and got lots of Soviet coins to use on these old games. One particular game, a basketball-type game, is *comfortably* better than any video game I’ve ever played.

On the Wednesday night I had to meet people, because I’m important. I won’t bore you with the details but I’m important. It’s imperative you remember that I’m important.

We met these people in Twin Peaks (Google it) and Ian Ayre was in there. Our hosts were fantastic, I honestly can’t speak highly enough of the Russian people. They get a bad press over here and are misunderstood. Certain aspects of Russian politics — and even their way of life — is inexcusable from a western point of view but once you speak to them on an individual level it’s as if you break down a barrier and they’ll do anything for you.

We went for a Tartisan meal that was actually quite nice. The first course was mash potato wrapped in tracing paper though. And the last course was a cottage cheese pie disguised as a cherry pie. Animals.

Thursday. Matchday. Grotesquely hungover and in quite a lot of trouble with my long-suffering girlfriend for going to Twin Peaks (Google it), we limped to McDonald’s like the walking wounded — a truly miserable sight to behold, I imagine.

The ordering process nearly reduced me to tears. Lots of pointing, pleading, begging. I got Sprite instead of Coke. Just awful.

Later on we met with some more Russian friends who advised us if we didn’t get a taxi to the ground we’d get attacked. Lovely.

Fast forward a few hours later and we’re on a bus to the ground…

There was only one very brief moment of terror that was quickly over and we were in along with a few hundred other Liverpool-supporting Russians and Belarusians, who are almost all eager to get a picture taken with us.

I missed Jordon Ibe’s goal because I was watching somebody ask to take a picture of my friend Ian.

Yep, 2,500 miles and I missed the goal. But the Reds won for the first time away in Europe since Udinese in 2012 and it felt good.

Friday morning and our taxi driver from the first day was waiting for us in reception to take us to the airport. He drove through the woods for a bit while playing hardcore Russian trance and we all thought we were dead.

To be honest, I was ready for the sweet embrace of death due to it seeming better than the 25-hour journey we had ahead of us. He followed us into the airport and bought us all a fridge magnet that cost at least half of his fare.

Russians are great, the Reds are boss.

Up The Reds.

@JoeMConnolly

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