It's day 5 of my 3rd World Cup trip abroad for talkSPORT and as I type I'm sat in my hotel room in Sochi from which I can see the Fisht Stadium complex about a mile away - and that's where my tournament as commentator properly starts in earnest later on.
I actually arrived in Russia on Monday - in Moscow specifically - to meet up with the rest of the talkSPORT crew out here and get acclimatised to being out here whilst contributing to shows on air back at home. Having spent 2 and a half days in the capital city, I have to say how much I enjoyed its whole vibe and charm. Moscow is a very European, cosmopolitan city, and I'm sure we'll see examples of the more traditional, Mother Russia as we travel around, but there was a lovely relaxed welcoming feel to Moscow that was obvious from moment one.
The Metro underground system there is a stunning piece of architecture and construction alone. Decked out everywhere you look in marble, mosaics, statues and artwork, it's a far cry from any other underground network I've used. Even the escalators have the most ornate light fittings to marvel at as you travel from platform to street - and the trains run on time. They need to as well, as getting around Moscow in a car looks nightmarish judging by the traffic chaos we've seen.
Stuart Pearce, a former England captain, is out here as part of talkSPORT's commentary teams, and he was on my flight out from Heathrow along with Matt Holland, Jim Proudfoot, my young producer Declan and our 'fixer' i.e. the one who speaks Russian and can get us where we need to go in Will 'Son of Iain' Dowie. Our other fixer, Artur, was waiting for Stuart and I at our Moscow hotel on our arrival to invite us out to see a gig he was going to on our 2nd night. Artur, a Moscow resident himself and a lover of post-punk bands, had tickets for us to go with him to see Rise Against, an American band whose work I am aware of but hadn't delved too deeply into. Stuart was well up for it as a punk devotee himself and so we decamped on Tuesday night to the Cav Club in downtown Moscow to see what was what.
The 2000-strong audience were extraordinary. I've seen rabid audience reaction to live bands in my time (not necessarily any of MY bands, I hasten to add!) but the sheer outpouring of love, appreciation and excitement that the locals gave Rise Against right the way through their 90-minute set was incredible to witness. Stuart and I watched from behind the mixing desk as fans around us cried tears of joy singing along to every word, whilst Artur and his friend Alex made a beeline for the moshpit, asking us whether we'd like to join them. Stuart and I politely declined - moshpits?? Not for me, Beeky. Anyway, they enjoyed themselves as much as everyone around them. Stuart and I loved it too - brilliant night and a really different taste of local culture that I hadn't bargained for on landing. Just goes to show how much young Russians are free to experience and cherish in terms of Western culture. You could tell that Rise Against themselves were taken aback by the sheer commitment from their Moscow audience - it was only their 3rd visit here in 18 years,
As I mentioned it's my 3rd World Cup in 8 years for talkSPORT and I have one of the main commentary roles this time around with Matt Holland as my regular summariser. He's also my 'gym bully' over the course of the month we'll spend out here in each others' company. He looks every bit as though he could still do a job in the Ipswich midfield, whilst I look...somewhat less toned and agile. So he's on my case already about stretching, using the bikes and treadmills properly to work out at a pace that suits me. Doesn't feel like it's made a scrap of difference so far - in fact I think I look worse than when I arrived! - but I shall plough on. The sight of me nearly stacking it and falling off the treadmill at our hotel gym in Moscow had Matt and Stuart in fits of laughter. Well, I do like to keep spirits up in the camp...
Later on today, Portugal and Spain lock horns here in Sochi, and the whole issue of the Spanish FA sacking their manager Lopetegui (essentially for taking the Real Madrid job and not consulting them over his decision) and replacing him with former International centre half Fernando Hierro has raised questions about whether Spain are going to implode or be totally disfunctional in a way that so many Spanish squads were down the years prior to Xavi and co finally getting it right a decade ago at the Euros. It doesn't sound good in terms of the dynamic between the Real and Barca players in the current squad, but I guess we'll know within 10 minutes of kick-off tonight whether such division will show itself out on the pitch. The Portuguese should be rubbing their hands at this situation, but their natural conservatism may prevent them from trying to take advantage of any perceived weakness too much. We'll have to see.
My first 90 minutes of commentary on the way, then, and I'm as nervous and excited as I am before every game I cover. To paraphrase Gene Simmons, It's a jacksy job, but somebody's gotta do it.