As the dust begins to settle on what has been an incredible World Cup, life will return to the madness that we now consider normal.
And with so much talk before the tournament in Russia being dominated by geo-political issues and threats of hooliganism, we thought we would stretch out our olive branch in the only way we know how – having a good old kickabout in a local Moscow park.
The task? Organise a game with some locals, see what they were like at football… and sort out Anglo-Russian tensions for good.
The method? Instagram, mainly. A few messages fired from the Dream Team Instagram account here, a couple from personal accounts there, and boom! A reply from our newest friend Pavel, promising us a group of lads willing to be ambassadors for their country.
We were to meet at a neutral venue – a spongy, rubbery, uneven five-a-side pitch near Novokuznetskaya in the centre of Moscow was perfect.
A kick-off time was arranged, and because it’s still the World Cup, 4pm on a Tuesday afternoon just seems normal now, doesn’t it?
Oh, and Sky News came down, probably because the state the world is currently in, we’d do probably as useful a job as a representative of the UK than our current government, whatever’s left of it.
In a first step of diplomacy, the Russian lads decided we could both be captains, which was very in keeping with the old school vibe of it all.
I took it one step further by picking players based entirely on their shorts – I’ll pick you, with the England shorts, then you, with the United shorts.
We kick off, and the tempo was mercifully slower than I’d anticipated – after four weeks of beer and burgers, we’d have lasted five minutes ordinarily, but we steadily worked ourselves into the game and before long a couple of goals had gone in each end.
Our first discovery in this match was that it’s not just football that is a universal language, it’s the little parts of the game that really unite us all.
Someone gets hit in the nuts by a shot? Everyone laughs. The ball goes over the fence? Yep, that’ll be five minutes before it comes back, following a debate about who should go round and get it.
This game did have a unique moment of someone digging out a ladder to try and scale the wall to save time – alas, the ladder was about five feet too short.
The second discovery is that even to young Russia lads, a nutmeg will be met with whoops and cheers as much as a goal. The victim of this savagery? Yours truly, thank you.
Half an hour in and the legs are starting to flag, but the game maintains a decent standard and competitiveness.
Migrant workers, apparently from Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, sit on the sidelines watching alongside a couple of skaters draining a tinny.
The game wears on, and with my team trailing 7-5, a score of ‘first to 10’ is loosely agreed – this is a kickaround in the park after all, so it must finish at that number.
A brief show of resistance occurs, but eventually the game ends 10-8, two hours after kick-off. Forgetting to bring a bottle of water before the game was a grave error, but a post-match game of crossbar challenge is soon underway and it’d be rude not to chip a couple onto the woodwork.
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AND that’s why they call it the beautiful game! What an experience. Just played 5-a-side with @pbrysh17 and his mates. These boys can play! Doesn’t matter what’s happening in politics, football brings everyone together. A meg is cheered, an ugly shot is jeered and a ginger lad is always picked last (shout out to Ginger Pele who’s not in the pic). Thanks again boys! Keep your eyes peeled on the vlog to see who won! #TeamHarper or #TeamButler #footballfamily #tekkers #Moscow
Then comes the true diplomacy.
“I didn’t take anything in the media before the World Cup seriously – it’s all politics,” Pavel tells me.
He continues: “I think that normal people don’t care about these stereotypes and understand that we are all the same people and all countries have their own problems – nobody’s perfect.
“Everyone who came to this World Cup has been great because they came here to enjoy the celebration and I just think, why can’t we just party, have a nice time with each other and forget about all this stuff?”
I steer conversation onto the tensions Russia has had between Britain in the build up to the tournament.
“The problems between the two countries are not huge,” says Alexei.
“It’s true, I’ve seen both sides as well,” agrees Maksim, a Moscovite currently studying in London.
“I enjoy listening to the news and it’s good to compare it – from the British side, there is big propaganda about Putin and saying he’s a dictator or something.
“Then you come here to Moscow and you can ask anybody in the streets, they are going to say that Putin is not a dictator, and he’s not saying that you have to do anything.”
You don’t hear this sort of thing down at your local Powerleague in England, that’s for sure.
As for the World Cup as a whole? It may be a bit biased to ask a group of young football fans, but the verdict is unanimous.
“I think our country has changed dramatically during the World Cup,” says Alexei.
“Everyone was out on the streets, partying with the other countries and it’s been good for bringing all the nations together, so we can make new friends. It’s been a great experience.”
It does come with a word of warning about what comes next in the country, however.
“After the World Cup every football fan is praying for clubs to lower the ticket prices for fans who really want to support the team can attend the football games and fill the stadiums, as they have been during the past month,” says Maksim.
The past month has reminded us all that football truly is mankind’s greatest invention.
And on a small, spongy five-a-side pitch in central Moscow, we’re reminded of this very fact. Ten lads, connected through social media, having a kickabout and realising that while politics is politics, there’s nothing else on Earth that will bring people together quite like the beautiful game.