World Cup Memories and Travel Tips
Washington Post reporter Steven Goff shares a few insights from his many years of attending soccer's premier tournament.
“When you hear the FIFA anthem and the team’s march out, you really begin to appreciate where you are and the opportunity that has been given to you.”
Those are the words of Washington Post reporter Steven Goff who has covered every FIFA World Cup since 1994. He’s traveled to over two dozen countries writing about the beautiful game and over the years, has witnessed some of the most iconic moments in World Cup history. This summer, Goff is once again packing his bags and heading to the quadrennial tournament, which kicks off on June 14 in Russia.
Before boarding a flight to Moscow though, we caught up with Goff to ask him about his packing preparation, privacy concerns in Russia and what souvenirs he hopes to bring back.
Sitting on Borovitsky Hill and overlooking the Moscow River, the Kremlin is a historic complex that features 5 palaces, 4 cathedrals and the enclosing Kremlin Wall and towers. While it’s the official residence of the President of the Russian Federation, visitors can access its museums to see Russia’s historic artifacts on display.
All–Russian Exhibition Center
Travel back to the USSR with a visit to the All-Russian Exhibition center. This massive complex has it all -- parks, amusement rides, cafes, restaurants and plenty of photo ops with its Soviet pavilions, statues and fountains. The “Friendship of the Nations” fountain (pictured) symbolizes the 15 republics of the USSR.
No matter how tired you are after sightseeing, it’s never too late to visit this iconic 5-star restaurant. Open 24 hours a day, Café Pushkin gives its diners a taste of traditional Russian fare, including black caviar, borscht and pelmeni, and best washed down with a few shots of vodka, of course.
St. Basil’s Cathedral
A visit to Moscow won’t be complete without taking in the spectacular multicolor domes of St. Basil's Cathedral. Built between 1555 and 1561 on the orders of Ivan the Terrible, the Orthodox cathedral commemorates the capture of Kazan and Astrakhan.
Mayakovskaya Metro Station
Riding the metro in Moscow is like taking a ride through an art museum. You won’t believe you are in a metro station when you see the lavish chandeliers, gilded halls and ceiling murals of skydivers and airplanes.
Visit the final resting place of Vladimir Lenin, “The Father of the Revolution,” located in the Red Square. See Lenin’s wax-like, embalmed body on permanent display in his mausoleum. Tourists should take note that it’s forbidden to carry a camera inside, and it’s considered disrespectful to put your hands in your pockets (see more Russian etiquette tips).
For a look at what’s cool in Moscow, head to Gorky Park, the city’s hipster hangout. In winter, this neighborhood is full of ice skaters when it transforms into one of Europe’s largest ice-skating rinks, and in there summer, there’s an open-air theater. Any time of year, you can take advantage of the neighborhood’s trendy galleries, bars and restaurants.
Looking for a bucket-list train adventure? Hop aboard the Tran-Siberian Railroad, the world’s longest train journey that spans 6,000 miles across 2 continents. The Classic Line travels from Moscow to Vladivostok on Russia’s far eastern coast.
You’ve been to six World Cups, is there one that stands out as being more memorable than the others?
I always say the best ones were Germany (2006) and France (1998) because of the size of the countries. Logistically it was easiest and the passion for the sport was at its highest, especially in Germany.
The one that was most memorable for me was South Africa (2010). It was in isolation for so long. The world got to see South Africa through the World Cup. The culture, the politics, the racial dynamics, the geography, everything was eye-opening. That one left the most lasting memories.
Soccer fans travel from all around the world to witness the atmosphere inside the Camp Nou when FC Barcelona walk out onto the pitch. The stadium, which opened in 1957, is the largest in all of Europe with a capacity of just over 99,000. Supporters of the Catalan club can tour the stadium on days when there isn't a game and experience multimedia exhibits and see iconic memorabilia.
Signal Iduna Park
Borussia Dortmund may not be the most successful club in Germany (FC Bayern Munich holds that honor), but when it comes to the atmosphere inside the stadium, they might have the best supporters in all of Europe. Inside Signal Iduna Park on the southern terrace, the "Yellow Wall" stands 25,000 strong, and their creative imagery and rowdy support are as intimidating as it gets.
If you're a fan of the other kind of football, you've probably heard of Wembley Stadium. Over the past few seasons, teams from the National Football League have made the journey across the pond to play American football for their fans abroad. Typically though, the largest soccer stadium in the U.K. hosts the England national soccer team and a number of other important matches throughout the tiers of English soccer. Outside the stadium, a statue of Bobby Moore (captain of the England team that won the 1966 World Cup) welcomes visitors to the home of English soccer.
Parc des Princes
Shouts of "Allez Paris" can be heard around the Parc des Princes on game day. Opened in 1972 and home to Paris Saint-Germain of Ligue 1, "Princes' Park" was once the hunting ground for the royal family. Today, the ground is best known for its iconic and unique exterior design and raucous home supporters.
One of the richest and recognizable soccer teams in the world call Old Trafford home. Manchester United is estimated to be worth just over $3 billion, and they have won the English league a record 20 times. Old Trafford, sometimes referred to as "The Theatre of Dreams," is the second largest soccer stadium in the United Kingdom, and fans of the Red Devils can tour the stadium and go behind the scenes.
Estadio Santiago Bernabéu
Located in Madrid, the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu is the home stadium of one of the most iconic teams in the world, Real Madrid. The stadium opened in 1947 and since then, some of the greatest to ever play the game (Cristiano Ronaldo, David Beckham, Zinedine Zidane) have worn the famous white jersey of Real.
"You'll Never Walk Alone" is more than a motto at Anfield; it embodies the past and present of Liverpool FC who play their home matches at the historic stadium. Prior to kickoff, supporters raise their scarves and sing those words made famous by Gerry & The Pacemakers in 1963. It's an experience that will leave you with goosebumps, whether you're a fan of the Reds or not.
With a capacity of 60,411, Celtic Park is the largest soccer stadium in Scotland. "Paradise," as it's referred to by Celtic FC supporters, is in Parkhead, Glasgow, and opened in 1892. To witness a rivalry unlike any other in sports, visit Celtic Park when the Old Firm (Celtic and their bitter rivals Rangers FC) get together for one of their historic clashes.
Situated on the edge of the River Thames, Craven Cottage is the oldest soccer stadium in London and has been the home to Fulham FC since 1896. The old-school ground's most unique feature is its pavilion, which was built to accommodate players since the architect forgot to add locker rooms to his original design.
When it opened in 1937, the Stadio Olimpico was called the Stadio dei Cipressi. It wasn’t until the 1960 Olympics in Rome that it was renamed. The venue hosted the opening and closing ceremonies of the games, and three decades later it hosted the deciding match of the 1990 World Cup. Today, both SS Lazio and AS Roma of the Italian league play their home matches at the Stadio Olimpico.
Describe the atmosphere in and around the stadium on match day. How does a city transform for the match?
Every city is different. The bigger cities have a lot going on, so they’re not as consumed by the tournament or game, but you still feel it.
Every country and venue is a little bit different too. One that stands out to me is Kaiserslautern, Germany. It’s not a big city and the stadium is on a hill so you have people in the city center and as the game approaches, they make their way upward to the stadium.
Durban, South Africa, is on the Indian Ocean and the stadium is a couple hundred yards from the shore, so there’s a lot of activity on the beach and seaside cafes before the game.
Brazil was special in its own way because of the history of the game. I was in the jungle, in Manaus, where it was 90 degrees with 99 percent humidity. That was a unique experience.
Which nation has the most passionate fans?
I love the French national anthem. It gives you goosebumps when you hear that song and people singing along. England certainly get into the game as well. The Dutch are very passionate. It will be exciting to see Iceland for the first time and the incredible passion of their supporters.
How far in advance do you start preparing for the trip to the World Cup?
Things get serious after the draw, so about six months out. That’s when you find out who’s playing in which cities and where you need to be and where you can get to. For this World Cup, the draw took place in early December and within a few days I bought my plane ticket. I’m different though, I know I’m going to be there while fans are still waiting to see if they will receive a ticket so it’s hard to plan too far in advance.
How much research did you do for a trip to Russia?
The Washington Post’s coverage plan dictated that I would be mostly based in Moscow. There are 11 venues overall, Moscow is one, but it’s the only one that uses two different stadiums so the most games are taking place there. Plus, if you need to get a flight or train to another city you have to go through there anyway.
I’ve never been to Moscow, so I didn’t know what to expect. I researched and found out that a few blocks from my apartment is a Shake Shack! It’s a small world.
I’ve registered with the U.S. Department of State and got my visa. For work purposes, our IT department has special instructions with our mobile phones and laptops. You go into it with the assumption that nothing is private.
I always do a little homework to see what’s readily available. Things like batteries, chargers, power adapters. Do your homework in terms of the weather. Moscow is a little north, St. Petersburg is particularly north. Also, research about the culture. Do people wear shorts? Is that common? Certainly, going to Qatar in 2022 for the World Cup there’s much more preparation due to cultural differences. Russia not so much.
What do you usually pack in your bag for a World Cup trip? Any packing hacks you can share?
I try not to bring too much stuff. So much is on your phone now. I’m usually there for a long time and I bounce around cities, so I don’t like to drag around a lot of stuff.
The World Cup is an outdoor event so you’ll end up doing a lot of walking. You’ll end up on a lot of shuttle buses. There are beer gardens, street festivals and fan fests with big televisions. It’s a good time and you don’t need to bring much.
The World Cup in South Africa was during their winter (summer for us), so it was cold and I had a lot of winter material. I used bags that I could suck the air out of to compress everything to create more space in my suitcase. I use a lot of dry cleaner bags to keep shirts from wrinkling. Turning a blazer inside out I find helps limit wrinkles. I also bring medication in the original bottle. I’ve never had an issue but you don’t want to have loose pills on you.
What souvenir do you have your eye on?
I’m a big collector of pins. They’re easy to carry around. You can pick one up early in the tournament and you don’t have to drag it around with you. I also collect all of the tickets from the games. Scarves are big, too. I occasionally pick up some of those. I’ll look for unique things like in South Africa the Vuvuzela. I’ll also get the original World Cup poster and have it framed.
Who is going to win this year?
I’ll go with Germany. France is definitely a contender. Brazil will be very good.