Saturday morning two friedns and I hopped on amarshutka and headed to Tbilisi. Due to a ridiculously long winter, it was not only snowing in the mountains, but it was snowing in Kutaisi and all the way to the mountains. Once off the harrowing mountain roads, the weather improved and the journey picked up speed. (It usually takes three hours to get from Kutaisi to Tbilisi, it took over four this time. Yay for unseasonal snow!)
Our purpose for this trip was to see the Georgia vs Russia rugby game. One friend and I in particular have been wanting to see this game since last semester. ( we somehow heard about it and had it in out phone calendars since October). Needless to say, we had to get to Tbilisi for this game and we were all excited. Seeing Georgia play Russia in a rugby match is for most of us a once in a lifetime opportunity, that even those who know nothing about rugby wanted to be a part of.
We arrived in Tbilisi to a shinning sun and cloudless sky- it was still chill and the wind did cut deep, so despite wanting to flaunt my Georgia National Rugby jersey, I did not immediately do so.
We met up with another friend from Kutaisi who had taken the six hour long night train. He had spent his morning wandering the streets of Tbilisi taking photos and going from fruit market to fruit market searching for nearly out of season mandarins. (He ended up with a kilo that we all munched on. Yum!)
At the beginning of the week I had thought it would be no problem to just get to Tbilisi and get tickets there, then I kept hearing about more and more volunteers that were going and how the match was going to be at a smaller stadium than usual and that it would be sold out. So I texted a random Georgian guy that I kind of knew, but I knew that he liked rugby and asked if he could get four tickets. So we met this guy before the match and got our four tickets. Unfortunately for us, we had run into a few other volunteer friends who had extra free ticket…Oh well. How were we supposed to know, and the tickets were not expensive anyway.
The throngs of people outside the stadium were singing, banging drums, blowing whistles and being hooligans (not in the British football hooligan type of way). There were people selling mini flags, nuts, khachapuri, lobiani, snickers, popcorn and painting faces. There were quite a few people wearing large flags as capes, at least one group of shirtless men with painted bellies, and a number of people with their faces painted. There were not very many people with actually rugby jerseys. We had decided that there were a lot of foreigners at the game and there were a lot of Georgians who just wanted to see a contest against Russia and not that many actually followers of the national team. Whatever, it was still a great environment. It is very difficult to describe the vibe that comes off of a throng of excited people.
Half hour before the game started we made our way into the stadium and found four seats together in the top row. At the beginning of the game the stadium was fairly full, but there was one section empty and another partially empty. By the end, the stadium was packed and there were people standing all along the back top isle watching. Sold out stadium! It was amazing.
As the Georgian team came onto the field the crowd went wild. Shouting sakartvelo (Georgia in Georgian) in one voice. When the Russian team entered the stadium, all of those voices raised in cheers turned to boos and taunts and other nasty things. My friends and I were discussing if the Russian team was terrified of playing in Georgia. Oh yeah, there were riot police in full gear (helmet, shield, baton) encircling the pitch. They were ready for anything. Luckily, nothing happened except for shouting and screaming.
At the beginning of the game, each person in four sections had a piece of red or white paper that they held up to form alternating blocks of color. Then streamers (aka toilet paper) were thrown onto the field and blown across the field.
I am not a sports announcer or writer, so I am not going to attempt to describe the game in any detail. What is important to know is that the crowd was ecstatic the entire time, the Georgian team DESTROYED the Russian team (46:0) and it was a lot of fun. Two of our group knew rugby and two had never seen rugby before I had shown them part of a game earlier in the week. They enjoyed themselves just as much and seemed to understand what was going on.
A few times throughout the match, the wave swept through the stadium in a rather impressive manner. I have never seen a sold out stadium do the wave before, so that was neat. Also near the end when it was ridiculously clear that Georgia was going to win, everyone started to call and response “Garmar” “jos” (together these words mean victory). Of course we joined in as well!
Afterwards, we parted, two were staying the night to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day and me and the Irishman, were heading back to Kutaisi. I really wanted to play a game of rugby after that!