As the Saint-Petersburg Stadium prepares to play host to the semi-final between France and Belgium, our man Craig Williamson gives us his first-hand experience of the arena and what it’s like to work in it.

As the eyes of the world turn to Russia for this summer’s World Cup, I’ve been thinking back to my latest experience in Russia with SNS Group. Celtic were drawn to play Zenit St Petersburg in the last 32 of the Europa League and I was given the nod to go and cover the tie.

The trip was nearly doomed from the start as on arrival I was detained at customs for supposedly not having the correct paperwork to take the photographic equipment I was carrying into the country. This problem was soon sorted though – and I can tell you I wasn’t sweating for long!

As soon as I got outside the airport I was faced with blizzards and temperatures of minus 15 which hit me hard and were a real shock to the system.

One man who never flinched at the cold however, was Celtic captain Scott Brown. On arrival ‘Broony’ became hit in Russia as he went on a stroll short-sleeved in the bitterly-cold, snowy St Petersburg.

Zenit actually Tweeted: “Scott Brown has just become Russia’s favourite Scotsman”. Some of his Celtic team-mates weren’t so brave though!

The match in Russia itself turned out to be a disappointing affair. With Celtic favourites to go through after a 1-0 win in the first leg, I was really looking forward covering their potential progress but they froze on the night and lost 3-0 to exit the competition.

What certainly did not disappoint though, was the city itself and the spectacular Saint-Petersburg Stadium. The £700million jaw-dropping structure with retractable roof and state of the art heating system kept the temperature between 15C and 20C.

This was truly “taps aff” weather considering the bitter cold outside and the contrast between the temperatures was remarkable.

I remember I couldn’t feel my face on the walk to the stadium but when inside its was jackets, hat, scarf and gloves off. It really was a surreal feeling considering that day I had walked across the frozen Neve River.

The match experience for visiting media photographers was second to none. Very well organised working areas and great coms with friendly media officers always available to help.

The stadium was amazing from a media and fan experience and it has been the same during the tournament so far.

And maybe…just maybe…we will get to sample a World Cup for real in the not too distant future. Fingers crossed.

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