Dynamo Kyiv 1 Shakhtar Donetsk 2

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No dancing snowflakes this time. Although it did hit -2C. It was time to make footballing history – the first sighting of Partick Thistle headgear at the Olimpiskyii.

The stakes

The класико- ‘clasico’ of Eastern Europe, as they now try to bill this battle of Eastern Europe’s biggest clubs. Of the former Soviet Union clubs, maybe only Zenit St Petersburg enjoy similar standing on the continent.

As a Taffy, should probably have been supporting Shakhtar (Russian for ‘miners’). From the city of Donetsk which was once named ‘Hughesovka’ after a mining maestro from South Wales who ventured over to help the locals. Even now, mines are a huge employer and a couple of hundred people a year still die in the industry in Ukraine.

Shakhtar, then, top by a mile. Dynamo, second by a whisker, ahead of Metalist Kharkiv and Dnipropetrovsk. Second means Champions League entry and Dynamo, arguably the biggest name in Ukrainian football, would regard failure to qualify as a catastrophe.

My previous clasico

In December 2007 across town at the picturesque Lobanovski Stadium, the two sides met in a blizzard. Not just a bit of snow. A LOT of snow. Gallons of it. Three inches were cleared off the pitch at half time by the ground staff and it came up close to our knees on the terrace.

In the UK it would have been called off for health and safety etc etc but Ukrainians, being distinctly of the we’re-not-pussies mentality, went ahead with what seemed like a very bad idea.

Sergei, strike a light, I dropped 50 kopeks'
Sergei, strike a light, I dropped 50 kopeks’

Teeny Dynamo fans started to pepper the police alsatians behind the goals with an avalanche of hundreds of snowballs, forcing the coppers to withdraw.

Cunningly the boys in blue then waited until the start of the match before skirting round to the back of the terrace and standing guard over the teenagers for the rest of the match, daring them to chuck a single missile. Dynamo, with Rebrov playing I think, won 2-1. It was like watching ballet dancers chasing an orange, the colour of the ball. Everyone tippy-toed round the field struggling to keep their balance and the football was almost an afterthought. Memorably good day out but not because of the football by any stretch of the imagination.

The tickets

Typical bloody Ukraine. Through gestures, tickets were obtained. A spoken word version of it would have been like this.

‘Two for Sunday, please.’

‘200 hryvna each. 400 in total’

‘Anything cheaper?’

‘We only have quarter-season tickets at 160 each – you get four games for that’

‘OK. I’ll have them instead.’

So instead of two tickets for one match at 400 hryvna (32 quid), I got sold eight tickets for four matches for about 25 quid. Ukraine: the capital of kook. Where the sky is pink, with green spots and that thing that circles the earth is Mars.

The game

66,800 packed in. Dynamo Ultras unfurled a huge banner (see slideshow) which I am told by my very clever butty Yana, did not read ‘Keep Cardiff Blue’ but said ‘The fire of victory will not stop burning’. It stayed up for a long time before being furled and the fireworks started.

The real fireworks. Thousands of them. Red flares by the hundred and fantastic hand-held flashing creations – I want at least 100 – which sparkle brightly on and off like a lighthouse beacon before burning out. Lots of bangs, lots of group jumping up and down as is common at Italian league games.

Not the fun card
The fun card guarantees Dynamo delight

(The fireworks start about 2mins 30 into the top video)

OK, all safety hazard I know – and the outbreaks triggered repeated announcements in Ukrainian to stop. But in an era when stadium behaviour has become sterile and standing is frowned upon, it was a great spectacle and heartening to see all polite requests being completely ignored.

Eleven minutes in Yarmolenko pounced for the Dynamo opener which stoked the fiery furnaces further. Throughout the match he was like a coiled cobra which has somehow sprouted two legs, spitting venom at his opponents, writhing pathetically on the floor every time he got fouled. A 21st century David Speedie, a one-man spectacle to rival the ultras’ fireworks.

After 20 minutes the ballboy got in on the act. Not in a my-dad-owns-Swansea-so-I’ll-just-bellyflop-on-the-ball way. Oh no.photo (1)

Yarmolenko played a ball back to a colleague but it strayed out of play. The ballboy, five yards away, controlled it immediately stretching wide to his left – like he was expecting his mate Yarmo to play it to him – killing it with his left instep. It fell neatly for Donetsk to pick the ball up, one bounce, and throw it into play. Astounding.

Maybe he somehow unnerved Dynamo’s defence as it started to crumble with Shakhtar pouring forward. It was embarrassing for left back Taibo who got murdered every time Shakhtar broke on the right. The crosses poured in from the left and every time no one was on the end of inviting tee-ups.

At 40 minutes you were wondering whether Dynamo would take off Taibo at half-time – rarely has a player been so embarrassingly exposed since the last time I played for Amex in the Brighton League – and it seemed like Dynamo coach Blokhin might have to try to sneak on two left-backs to replace because they were needed.

Donetsk equalised after another cross was not cleared, Danilo Silva netting helped by a minor deflection. Half-time and Taibo disappeared. Poor sod.

After the break, Shakhtar’s right back and keeper lost possession by their corner flag. With the keeper out of position a simple cross across goal would surely bring a Kyiv goal. The cross came and Dynamo midfielder made a right borsh of it, blasting it onto the bar. A terrible miss and Dynamo never really played with composure after that.

Yarmolenko betrayed how wound up they were. They couldn’t relax enough and

How Shakhtar managed to wait until the 75th minute before getting the winner through the Armenian sensation Mikhtaryan is a mystery. This time a ball in from the right, so Taibo wasn’t the only player to wish the earth would swallow him up, wasn’t cleared first time and he stabbed it home.

Shakhtar were far superior. The strut became a swagger, the swagger almost a gloating, showboating demonstration of mastery with the hint that this would be the way of Ukrainian Premier League clasicos for many years to come.

So, 2-1 to the boys from Wales!

The rozzers

I fancy there were more militia/police – I can’t tell the difference any more – present than at the battle of Poltava (1709).

Scores of them everywhere you looked with their melancholy cow faces just standing still and staring at people, like they’re in a field waiting for the kale delivery. I reckon there was probably a nuclear sub parked up under the Dnipro ice as well, just in case reinforcements were needed.

In Ukraine I’ve only ever seen policemen to do three things. 1) stand around (aka bollock-scratching) 2) try to extort money from people 3) Run around, probably because they’ve tried to spotted someone to try out a ruse on.

What use were this bunch – the biggest battalion of bollock-scratchers ever assembled in the history of bollock-scratching? Well they’re not proactive. They just stood and scratched as the best firework display I’ve ever seen at football poured smoke and light into the Olimpiskii. Not complaining, just observing.

Some people scratching
Some people scratching

This would appear to be the pre-match instructions to all scenarios:

Hundreds of fireworks and bangers let off before kick off – do nothing, scratch those spuds.

No response by fans to stadium announcement asking for infernos to be put out – keep tickling those taters

Fiery, smoky outbreak as Donetsk hit winner – all over in a few minutes, lads, count ’em and hang on in there now and we can head to the vodka bar. After all, it’s been a hard day.

The fun card
Marketing has hit Ukraine and instead of shelling out zonks at the till for your hot dog, you have to buy a card, put some money on it and then head to the caffy/bar to spend it. You get your own credit card to buy stuff at the game with. My butty was well impressed.

Euro 2012 legacy

Just as England’s middle classes discovered football in 1990 after Gascoigne’s tears and set up the fan base which now fuels the English Premier League, Ukraine’s capital seems to have discovered football. It’s no longer the territory of ‘gopnik’ skinheads who march to matches. Aspirational types now enjoy it too.

Kyiv now has a stadium to be proud of rather than the tubercular old national stadium with its peeling and scarred plastic seating. It’s possibly the most modern creation in the history of the country. And still not as lovely as Dynamo’s former home – the beautiful tree-lined Lobanovski.

It’s hard to tell, but there are signs that last year’s tournament has opened up the country to more Western European traits. Young men in particular, dress better than five/six years ago. The ubiquitous mullet haircut seems to be extinct.

And, while racism is certainly rife over here – despite denials – there was hearteningly nothing heard or on view at this match, which featured a handful of black players.

And it was by far the best Ukrainian Premier League game I’ve been to. So far.

Up the Jags!

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