Despite the stick they get, sometimes footballers really do earn their dough. This was such a night. A Europa League game not to die for.
Sleet, freezing temperatures and bitter winds in Dnipropetrovsk on a wet Thursday in November.
Well, would you fancy it?
Formed in 1918 as a factory side, Dnipro are the perennial bridesmaids in the Ukrainian League, which was formed in 1992
They’ve never won it, finishing second only once. And they’ve lost three cup finals.
Dynamo Kiev and Shakhtar Donetsk inevitably hog the glory, winning most things, though Dynamo are doing badly this season.
The big two’s dominance usually leaves scraps and city pride to play for.
But FC Dnipro have good players – Ruslan Rotan, Konoplyanka and the under-rated Roman Zozulya, who nearly put France out of next year’s World Cup – are on the books.
Spaniard Juande Ramos is the manager. In the old Soviet days, the glory came with a USSR championships in 1983 and 1988, and a cup win in 1989.
In the Ukrainian Premier League, they’ve finished fourth for the last four seasons. They’ve reached the last 32 of the Europa League twice in the last ten years, losing to Partizan Belgrade and Basel.
But with the quality players at their disposal – especially Konoplyanka, who France feared so much in Paris last month they cynically kicked him (and didn’t get punished for it).
Much more interesting than this match was the fan-originated declarations of love and tributes to players. The cold, uninspiring stadium could do with a couple of these to brighten up the arena experience.
Maybe not this one so much.
Not far away from that, outside a block of flats near the ground is this one.
And this one is on a wall next to the cafe nearest the main entrance.
The match was played late November but Euromaidan got in the way of me finishing the report off!
It started snowing two hours before kick-off and continued until deep into the first half.
The weather was strongly reminiscent of Wales v Scotland in Glasgow earlier this year but that’s as far as the comparison goes.
This game lacked that clash’s history and intense cataclysmic psychological background (all Welsh).
Konoplyanka and Rotan didn’t feature in the starting line-up though the indefatigable Zozulya did.
An early highlight was bumping into the weirdest musical busking duo I’ve ever seen – a trombonist and an euphonium playing cracking oompah tunes.
After 30 minutes of football that was beginning to numb the brain it was time to check the firehose had not developed frostbite.
A marvellously mellow micturation restored my zest for life and an appetite for a taste of ultra life kicked in.
I decided to join the ultras in their block behind the goal. They looked like they might be the only ones having fun.
But I got blocked by reams of riot police who were checking the tickets in a very non-Ukrainian show of efficiency and zeal.
I watched the fans emerge from their section, curious to find out what these dangerous specimens looked like.
As they emerged, it was clear that some were at least eight years old, maybe nine. There were very many ten-year-olds. A fearsome sight, All penned in, checked and herded by a phalanx of fierce fuzz.
So it was back to staring through the fencing at this strange assortment of ‘ultras’ who were almost all under the age of 21.
A net stretched across the width of the pitch also ensured that these demon youngsters, no doubt expert missile throwers at the age of eight, could not terrorise the players.
By this time Kalinic had put Dnipro 1-0 up. Zozulya made it 2-0 after 56 minutes.
The third goal came like this, Zozulya again a key player:
The fourth came from Kravchenko after another Romanian defensive mishap. That was four minutes from time.
Pandurii Targu Jiu whose sole consolation on the night must have been that it’s even bloody harder to say their name than it is ‘Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk’ mustered only a 70th minute penalty from Eric Pereira.
That meant Dnipro, already through, ensured a good workout for the next stage of the Europa League and meet Fiorentina today in Italy to decide who tops the group.
With midnight looming large, the whistle blew. Relief was great and the small crowd of maybe 5,000 swiftly headed into the sleet.