Northern League ground hopper Andy Potts has penned another (timely) book about football

Heard the one about the former Bishop Auckland player who went on to captain Russia to its first international victory in 1913? As the World Cup gets underway, Billy Charnock, once of Durham University and the Two Blues, is one of many fascinating figures to get a mention in ‘Snow on the Seats’, a new E-book about football in Russia.

Written and self-published by Andy Potts, who was also behind last summer’s ‘Ancients & Mariners’, a snapshot of life in the Northern League as South Shields soared while Norton & Stockton stumbled, it’s available to download from Amazon for just £3.49. Andy, an occasional contributor to the Life of Pie, tells us a bit more.

“Why Russia? Well, after living in Moscow for almost a decade, the start of the World Cup seemed like a timely moment to bring together some of my memories of watching football over there. That spiralled into a bit of a look at how Russian footie got to where it is today, and what impact the tournament has had on the game over there.

“A bit like ‘Ancients & Mariners’, you won’t find all that much actual football in there. Trust me, having watched two goalless draws involving Amkar Perm, you really don’t need to see a match report from either. What fascinated me as I travelled from Sochi to St. Petersburg, Kaliningrad to Kazan, was the way in which the country’s relationship with football is changing so fast.

“It all started for me in 2006, with the first of those 0-0s involving Amkar. That was played at a crumbling, half-empty Dynamo Moscow and had all the charm of watching Mick Buxton-era Sunderland at an equally crumbling and half-empty Roker Park. Back then, most of my friends and colleagues took the view that football was something to watch on TV, that going to the stadium for a  match was something dangerously foolhardy. If it wasn’t rabid fans or a huge police presence, the general feeling of decay and disrepair around most Russian grounds was hardly going to encourage anyone to drop in for the afternoon.

“By 2015, as I was preparing to return to England, my last game in Moscow was played at a gleaming new arena in front of a capacity 45,000 crowd. Football was fashionable again, and now it was presented as a mass event rather than a haunt for a sometimes violent old guard. Slick presentation, fan facilities that didn’t appear to be an afterthought and, inevitably, a sharp hike in ticket prices created an experience closer to a top European league.

“The journey isn’t complete, and the legacy may well not last. Protests like the 2011 walk-out at an international in Petersburg, where fans vacated the sectors behind the goal in opposition to new legislation governing behaviour in stadiums, highlight the sense of disenfranchisement among many old-school supporters. Meanwhile, at the grass roots, teams stumble along in desperate bid for fans and funding at the same time as FIFA’s boys sample the vodka and caviar in the VIP lounges of Luzhniki.

“The World Cup will doubtless go ahead with its usual bombast; ‘Snow on the Seats’ takes a different view of Russian football. And it promises to be more entertaining than a group stage tussle between Russia and Saudi Arabia!”

Snow on the Seats: a fan’s journey through Russian football in the build-up to the 2018 World Cup, is available for download to Kindle devices. Get your copy from Amazon. Back on more familiar soil, Ancients & Mariners is now available at the bargain price of just 99p.