JW Diaries: To Kharkov , Poltava and Beyond!!!

Landing at Kharkov Airport early Tuesday, we already knew our minibus to Poltava, where we planned to stay for 4 nights had been cancelled, therefore 2 taxis were ordered with 7 of us making the 150 mile trip in -10 conditions where the roads weren’t gritted!

On arrival to our hotel, turning the WiFi on and my phone was buzzing, the news that UEFA had changed the venue came through and alternative arrangements had to be made.

Our first plan was to spend 2 nights in Kiev and return home a day early; understandably, all the travelling Gooners had the same idea meaning the cost was getting close to £200 for a single flight!


Three of us decided to get a train to Kiev in the Thursday, stay one night and return to our base in Poltava, hopefully getting our original flight home Saturday.

On Wednesday, we went to the central station, after queuing for nearly an hour, we somehow managed to book first class return tickets which cost about £23!

We then went to look round the stadium but this was shut due to irate fans outside. We managed to speak to the Youth Team Manager who said that his players and all the locals were disappointed that the game had been moved.

After some sightseeing and an afternoon/ evening spent in a central bar, we had an excellent meal before going back to the hotel for an early start to Kiev.

Arsenal were excellent, telephoning every fan where possible as well as sending 4 emails giving updates as it happened.

On matchday at the Station, our expectations for a comfortable 400 mile, 40 hour journey to Kiev was low; how wrong were we, the first-class carriage was 4 seats wide that reclined, footrests, tables, WiFi and a buffet made it a real pleasant journey and more importantly, on time!

We managed to get in a few beers before the match, which was played in -13 conditions which was probably the coldest I’ve ever been at a match! The match ended 3-0 as we coasted to top spot in the group.

The following day, we were once again up early getting the train back to Poltava. Once we returned, due to the increased snow, we decided to get a train ticket back to Kharkov on the Saturday. We went back to the Stadium where this time we were invited in, was given a tour of the ground including both dressing rooms, got given tea and was sold some souvenirs.

On Saturday, we went to a different station expecting nobody there, it was rammed! Our first-class carriage was completely different to the one a couple of days earlier, it was a sleeper with 4 beds for 3 of us and basic.

When we arrived at Kharkov, other than at the match, we saw our first military personnel of the trip, our conclusion was that UEFA overreacted and there was no justification for switching the match.

Most Gooners returned to the UK via Kiev which meant that the plane was less than half full, I managed to get to row to myself. We spent 2.5 hours on the tarmac, nearly spending a 5th night with a possibility of missing the spurs match. Fortunately, the captain announced that in an emergency the front doors would not be in use! Who cares, we were getting home and not missing the North London/Middlesex derby!

After travelling nearly 4,000 miles over 5 days literally on Planes, Trains and Automobiles; this was my 128th European Away match following The Arsenal and ranks in my all time top 5 trips, a fantastic experience that will live with me forever.

JW

 

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