Posted: 5/28/2009


     It was not to be; Manchester United would not become the first club to retain the Champions League Trophy- 'Old Big Ears', and Messi, Xavi, Eto'o, Iniesta and the Catalan fluidity conquered and enthralled in Rome, and around the globe. Manager Pep Guardiola was only 3 years old when Alex Ferguson came south from Aberdeen to Old Trafford.

      I took the 40 minute train ride to Jurmala for a league match early in the evening. Jurmala is a long stretch of beach with white clean sand and pine trees in the sand dunes, and the premier resort of the Baltics. Last November I went to watch FK Jurmala play the last game of the season and met the delightful owner Alexander, who drove me around afterwards in his chauffeur driven limo and wined and dined me(with vodka, tequila and whisky thrown in). Alas, Alexander and his real estate empire when bankrupt soon afterwards, and so it was the new owner Dainus Deglis, a former pro in Latvia and the old Soviet Union who welcomed me this time in Slokas Stadium.

      He had invested in the 'old' club and lost money, but it survived administration on a smaller budget, and was reformed as Jurmala VV. This evening they lost 0-3 to Skonto Riga the full time pros. Jurmala VV, are very part time. Maybe 500 Euros a month if they win matches, plus Dainus employs about 10 of the lads in his own construction business where they earn a similar amount.

      After the match we drive to the bar that he owns on 'The Strip' VIENOS VARTOS' on Lomas iela 61, a delightful place chock full of hundreds of club scarves from every club in Russia, Germany, England, Belarus, Latvia and elsewhere and loads of replica jerseys, photographs, trophys, caps and more. There are also tables inside and out to play chess and dominos.

      Since we are on Moscow time, 2 hours ahead of GMT, The Champions League kick off was after 10.00pm. I enjoyed a meat ball and veggie soup, followed by a stew and washed down with a local beer, before the bar filled up to the half dozen screens. I would say the crowd was 70-30% in favour of Barca. The fearsome Man Utd attack never got going properly and it was a very frustrated Cristiano Ronaldo that started fouling, and when Paul Scholes entered the arena he did his Roy Keane Mr Nasty impersonation. At half time I take a stroll to the beach 200 metres away and photograph many of the wonderful wooden Tsarist like homes. It looks like a scene out of Doctor Zhivago.

      The next morning I take a taxi to the new spotless steel and glass headquarters of the Latvian F.A. in the glorious 'Arena Riga' where George Bush spoke not long ago, and met Janis Mezecknis, the General Secretary and one of the most respected figures in world soccer. I had remarked about Central Market, which I love, and he told me that his father was one of the directors of the market for many years. These are hard times for Latvian football, but nothing compared to the 'occupation' from 1941 by first the Germans and then the Soviet 'invaders'. They slaughtered most of the Jews, and lots more Latvians, and transported thousands to camps in Siberia as slave labourers or worse. He drove me back to the centre of Riga past the old KGB building and its 6 floors of underground terror chambers.

      I guess that compared to Vlad the Impaler, Ghengis Khan and others they were not the worste, and were kind to animals!!