Towering over the flooded banks of the River Moskva, the Luzhniki Stadium has played host to plenty of footballing high-drama in recent memory.
It provided the backdrop as France were crowned world champions amidst a midsummer Moscow downpour in 2018. A decade earlier, John Terry’s slip cost Chelsea the Champions League trophy on another sodden night at the Luzhniki.
Thomas Concannon’s experience of the Luzhniki carries no such glamour. Instead, it evokes memories of freezing in the -10-degree chill, having travelled over 2,000 miles to watch his beloved Newcastle United draw 0-0 to Anzhi Makhachkala.
“There were about 6,000 people there, 70 of them Newcastle fans,” he said. “We travelled all the way over and we didn’t even see a goal. It was absolutely brilliant.”
Thomas is a breed of supporter whose devotion goes beyond arriving early at the pub to get the best view of the television or even season ticket holders who flock to every home game.
Thomas, 28, has hardly missed a Newcastle game, home or away, for the best part of 20 years. As a board member of the Newcastle Supporters Trust, a 12-hour round trip to watch a match is part and parcel of fandom. He’s even left jobs because they wouldn’t accommodate his away days.
“It’s been a part of my life since I was a young child and I can’t see it changing,” he said. “My family is the most important thing to me, but Newcastle is right up there.”
While the sporting world may have ground to a halt the Premier League is rumoured to be considering a return behind closed doors, possibly at neutral venues.
But for fans like Thomas who devote incalculable hours to the matchday experience, that would be small comfort.
“At the end of the day, football’s for the fans. Without them there, can you really enjoy it? I’m not convinced,” he said.
The ramifications of the coronavirus may be particularly long-lasting for fans who traipse around Europe to watch their team.
One of those fans is Matthew Wisdom, a Tottenham Hotspur season ticket holder who follows them to each of their continental exploits.
“As far as I can remember, I’ve been obsessed with Tottenham,” he said. “Whenever there’s a European cup draw, it’s not a question of whether I’m going, but how I’m getting there.”
Matthew was in Leipzig when Tottenham were dumped out of the Champions League in March. He had no idea that it would be the last game he’d attend for the foreseeable future.
He does, however, have the memories of last season’s miraculous run to the Champions League final to savour.
He says that Manchester City’s disallowed goal in the dying seconds of the quarter-final was the first time he’s ever cried with joy. When asked about Lucas Moura’s unthinkable winner against Ajax, he describes it as an out-of-body experience.
“Those two moments were probably the highlights of my whole life,” he said. “I’ve supported Spurs for 20 years, it made every single disappointment worth it.”
Thomas hasn’t seen his side play in Europe since 2013, but Sunderland’s demise has left them stranded as the sole North-Eastern side in the Premier League. Consequently, the Toon Army now has further to travel than any other top-flight side.
The half-hour trip to Sunderland is nothing compared to an entire day sacrificed to catch a game on the south coast, however Thomas doesn’t miss the Tyne-Wear derbies.
“I was a bag of nerves during those games, I couldn’t enjoy them,” he said. “On one hand, it’s sad to see where they are now because so many of my friends support them. But as a Newcastle fan, it’s hilarious.”
In fact, both Mathhew and Thomas count their favourite domestic away days as those against lower league opposition in the Carabao and FA Cups.
Matthew says it’s the “shithole” grounds in England that have the most character. Thomas names Rochdale and Oxford City as two of his best trips this season.
Of course, this fanatic fandom isn’t confined to the hallowed halls of the Premier League, but exists on each rung of England’s professional and semi-professional ladder.
Simon Howe, for example, has devoted 30 years to National League South’s Bath City. He founded the club’s unofficial website in the nineties before being asked to design the official one.
He then appointed himself unofficial club photographer, before being asked to do that officially too.
“The Bath City part of my life goes well beyond 90 minutes on a Saturday afternoon,” said Howe. “I am not one for self-reflection but I can see from the outside that I have quite an obsession.”
Rather than visit Chelsea or Tottenham, Simon spends his weekends venturing from the South-West to places like Chippenham and Tonbridge.
His most memorable trip was to Welling in 1994, during which the home supporters vented their anger at a 6-2 thrashing by stealing the supporters’ bus. Their only way home was to travel on the players’ bus, thus getting the chance to enjoy a three-hour road trip with their heroes.
All three fans feel a sense of community within their away support that keeps them coming back. Even if they don’t know everybody’s name, it’s rare to see an entirely new face amongst the travelling faithful.
Aside from that, Matthew says his main motivation to keep going is the travel that comes with it.
“Supporting Tottenham has taken me to places I’d never go otherwise. I never let football ruin a good trip,” he said. “Now, being locked up, I’m more grateful than ever.”
For , it’s the fear of missing out that makes each game non-negotiable.
“There’s the odd game over the years that I couldn’t make and it’s torture,” he said. “I sit at home and all I can think about is how frightened I am that I’ll miss the greatest game ever.
“When you get back from somewhere like Moscow, it’s all you talk about. That’s what it boils down to, being able to say, ‘I was there.’”