World Cup Diaries: Behind the scenes at a World Cup base

Inspirational posters adorned the walls of the Japan base. Photo:RFN

During my stay in Kazan, I was treated to a number of things by kind locals. Help buying a sim-card, being invited into peoples homes to have dinner, guided tours of the city and being picked up from the airport at 5am – the people of Kazan are amazing. However, one thing I wasn’t anticipating was being given a guided tour of the Rubin Kazan training ground – home to Japan during the World Cup.

The man to thank on this occasion goes by the name of Artur. As I finally got through customs at Kazan airport, Artur was there at 5am, chatting to some local cabbies about a man who had just overcharged his last fare and then done a runner. 

Out of the kindness of his heart, he drove me to the city and let me crash in his apartment while he went to stay with his mother for the night. The next morning, Artur had to work – his job during the World Cup was to assist the Japanese set up at the Rubin training ground. As a man who speaks three languages, he was kept very busy during the whole tournament.

With me in desperate need of a sim-card and having to get to the Kazan Arena by 13:00, Artur instructed his mother to come round, and to help me with my two main tasks. Sania, who didn’t speak a word of English, lead me to the nearest shopping mall, and helped me get a sim card. She told me to wait while she nipped into a supermarket, and returned with two local pastries – food to get me through the day.

After being lead to the nearest tram stop, I was put on board and finally on my own in Russia. I received a message later from Artur that he had dropped all my luggage at my hotel, and that we should catch up later in the week when he was less busy.

The entrance to the Rubin base was still heavily guarded even without Japan present.

Our next meeting came 8 days later on June 24th. Japan were in Yekaterinburg for their match against Senegal, and so the chance came about for me to get a tour of the base without anyone really wondering why I was there.

I was picked up bright and early from my hotel and told we had to make a quick stop at the post office – supplies were being shipped in to feed the Japanese media who were staying at the base. After we grabbed the four huge bags of mostly noodles, we headed north towards the club base. After some thorough checks and hardy handshakes from the security, we were let in.

Rubin’s facilities are good, there is no question about that. There are four full size pitches with a mixture of artificial and grass surfaces, and two smaller pitches. There is a small stadium on site where Rubin’s youth team play all their matches. The HQ building is large, contains offices and accommodation, and on the lower floors, two state of the art gym rooms.

The main training pitch for the Japan squad during the World Cup. Photo: RFN

In the sweltering 35 degree heat, the empty base did make a good impression. All the pitches were surrounded by the World Cup 2018 branded awnings and hoardings. There were even some left over from the 2017 Confederations Cup knocking about. The main pitch had seating along the main touchline, and barriers around the edge to host open training.

Other pitches in the base were similarly decorated, with them being used by Rubin’s youth team, as well as Japan’s U19 team, who had travelled out to Russia with the main team. In fact, Rubin’s youth team played a friendly match against the young Japanese side. After three periods of 30 minutes, due to high temperatures, Japan ran out 1-0 winners. Anyway, I digress.

We walked over to the stadium on sight and walked through the large stand, which had the press room all geared up with Japan logo’s and branding. In there, we bumped into two of the Japanese media, stragglers who had not made the trip to Yekaterinburg – yet at least. They were tucking into the food we had brought over in the morning and offered for us to join them, which time did not allow us to do.

We ended our tour with a walk around the official HQ building, where Rubin is based and which contained all the accommodating for the Japan squad. Despite the fact they had gone, it was strange to see evidence of their activity. Boardrooms lined with tactical layouts, and signs dictating the teams schedule were easy to pick out.

“Municipal Institution: Football Club Rubin”. Photo: RFN

The communal area contained two ping pong tables, and all over the building were posters containing inspirational messages, some designed in an anime style. A flag covered with inspirational messages from home adorned the front desk, and their plan for the day remained scrawled on a stand near by.

It was an eerie feeling, knowing that the day before it would have been all stations go, with the whole contingent preparing to fly east. As we all now know, Japan’s story was dramatically cut short against Belgium. This was much to the dismay of Rubin, who were hoping Japan would remain in the competition for as long as possible so as to make more money from the rent of the facilities, though if rumours are to be believed, Japan ended up paying the club over €500k for the privilege.

But that was that. We stopped in the shade of the car park while Artur had a cigarette and chatted with one of the security guards. Later that night, Colombia were taking on Poland in Kazan. Artur was excited, as it was his first chance to go to a World Cup match due to work.

We headed back to the city and parted ways. Sadly, we didn’t get the chance to meet up again, but I’ll be forever grateful for his hopsitality. Even now, it seems unfathomable that I was a) at a World Cup b) in Russia and c) at a World Cup base. As a normal, unaccredited fan, it’s perhaps a once in a lifetime experience which I will never forget.


Author: David Sansun

Arsenal and Rubin Kazan fan. Possibly too optimistic for Russian football which means I’m left disappointed a lot.


  1. […] an ein paar überaus nette, gastfreundliche Einheimische geraten ist. Meine haben mich zwar nicht aufs Trainingsgel?nde von Rubin Kasan mitgenommen, aber gut, ein bisschen Luft nach oben muss ja noch sein für den n?chsten […]

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