EMMERSON Boyce is preparing to lead Wigan Athletic into Europa League battle tomorrow night, admitting he never thought his career would take him to deepest, darkest Russia.
Latics take on Rubin Kazan on Matchday 4, knowing a positive result would inch them closer to qualifying for the knockout stages.
And Boyce readily acknowledges the 5,000-mile round-trip to the Russian Republic of Tatarstan was not one he ever envisaged making.
“I’ve never been anywhere near Kazan before – not even remotely close,” Boyce said.
“Put it like this – it’s not somewhere that I’ve looked at on the world map and thought ‘I’ll go’.
“It’s going to be a good experience and this is what playing in Europe is all about – visiting new countries and seeing different parts of the world.
“If we could get a result that we need it would make it one of those great nights we look back on in years to come as memorable.”
This season’s Europa League has already created some everlasting memories for everyone connected with Latics.
And Boyce says the Euro adventure means just as much to the players as well as the supporters.
“We’ve all seen the James Bond film ‘From Russia With Love’ – even though it’s not actually set in Russia,” he continued.
“But to go out there and play football, especially for a club like Wigan Athletic, is absolutely amazing.
“I’m sure their fans will be looking at it going: Wigan who? Where’s Wigan?
“We’re there on merit, though, as FA Cup winners and we’re determined to enjoy the trip.”
“Who would have thought Wigan Athletic would ever have qualified for Europe?” he added.
“I certainly never thought I’d get close to playing in the Europe, so it’s just not an option for any of us to not want to be involved. It’s the same for every player in the squad – this might be the only chance we get to play in Europe, and we want to make the most of it.
“People go on about the workload, but if you asked most of the players, they would rather play matches than train, so in that respect it’s not bad.
“The games are coming thick and fast, but you’ll never catch any of the lads complaining about that.
“These games are arguably the biggest in the history of the club, and you want to be involved and making as much history as possible.
“For Wigan to be playing in Europe is incredible, games against Rubin Kazan will be remembered for a long time to come.
“If we can get through this group then who knows what the knockout stages might have in store.”
Last month’s draw between the two sides moved Latics on to five points from their three matches, and only two behind Group D leaders Rubin.
The home side recovered from the disappointment of going a goal down to equalise through Nick Powell, and almost sneaked it at the death when Marc-Antoine Fortune was denied by a fabulous save.
And while Latics will be in for the toughest test yet of their European pedigree, Boyce is quietly confident.
“We obviously knew Rubin were a good team before the came here, but I thought we played very well at the DW,” he recognised.
“A point was a good result, but we felt we should have won the game - especially with the great chance at the end.