To Russia, with two wheels and a FIFA ticket

A mathematics teacher from Kerala has cycled his way through Iran and Azerbaijan for the World Cup

June 17, 2018 09:49 pm | Updated 10:15 pm IST - Alappuzha

 Francis crossed into the Russian territory on June 5 after covering almost 4,000 km through Iran and Azerbaijan.

Francis crossed into the Russian territory on June 5 after covering almost 4,000 km through Iran and Azerbaijan.

No place is too far to catch the excitement of the football World Cup, and one fan in Kerala decided to pedal his way to Russia.

Clifin Francis, 28, a mathematics teacher at a coaching centre in Ernakulam, commenced his cycling voyage from Iran on March 13.

On June 5, he crossed over to Russia and is on his way to Moscow.

“I love cycling and football. I used to pedal to the coaching centre and once cycled from Kochi to Kanyakumari. I decided to cycle to Russia to join the biggest soccer party. So far it has been a great journey, enjoying the places, cuisine, cultures, and making friends with people,” he told The Hindu over phone.

Mr. Francis rolled through nearly 4,000 km passing through several countries before reaching Russia.

He left Kerala on February 23 and his first stop was Dubai, where he bought a bicycle. The next stop was Iran which he reached by ship and launched his cycling expedition from Bandar Abbas the famous port city that overlooks the Strait of Hormuz.

Warm strangers

The resident of Thuravoor, near Cherthala says he did not encounter any difficulties while pedalling through Iran and Azerbaijan. “The local people welcomed me warmly to their houses. Some of the people I met were big fans of Indian cinema, and mentioned Salman Khan and Aishwarya Rai. I spent my 28th birthday eating kebab and drinking ‘istak’ with villagers in Meymeh in Iran.” A quick check showed that there were Keralites in Azerbaijan whom Mr Francis met.

The only serious difficulty he encountered was in Georgia, where he was denied entry. “I had to return to Azerbaijan and take a different route to Russia, where authorities welcomed me when I showed them my FIFA fan identity card. I hope to reach Moscow in six days,” he said. Most nights were spent in tents in the countryside.

The trip was funded out of savings from his teaching job. Yet, at the end of it all, he will witness just one World Cup game, between France and Denmark in Moscow on June 26.

“I have a ticket only for that match. But my dream is to get an autograph from Lionel Messi on my bike,” the avid fan of the Argentina national team said.

Having caught the biking bug, Mr Francis is thinking of a global cycling tour.

“I would like to sell my cycle at the end of the tour in Russia, buy a new one, and ride around the world.”

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