Two-match European game fan ban for racism at the match against Chelsea and to cap that the national side was banned last Friday for nefarious activities – including racism – from having supporters at a World Cup home qualifier
Ukraine, never one step away from a basket-case, head-slapping dose of supreme idiocy. Sometimes refreshing, this time, well, it’s been coming a while. Eight years ago, occasional English students would tell me the problem with Dynamo was that there were too many Africans in the team.
Rightly convicted, of course, but I have to say of the 15-20 matches I’ve seen in Ukraine, none have featured racist chants – and, as everywhere, ‘No to racism’ messages flashed up on the pitchside advertising screens.
Dynamo never sell out the Olimpiski. Turn up on the day or go to the ticket booth beforehand and tout Eugene – first non-Cockney tout I’ve ever met – can sell you a seat cheaper than the club. I can provide a number if required, he gets tickets for all shows too, though frankly if you fancy Scorpions here on December 19 you don’t need a ticket, you need therapy.
Only in Ukraine can you buy a ticket from a tout that is cheaper than the official price.
So a ticket for 50 Ukrainian sovs. I make that about £1.30 and that gives you the run of the entire stadium except the away end and the presidential suite where you get screened by a metal detector for guns. Luckily I left mine at the hotel.
Dynamo’s shame and the fact that the club thinks it has been hard done by come at a time when the Ukrainian Premier League needs all the friends it can get.
Because it hasn’t got many fans. This game attracted 7,000 and it looked a lot fewer. Shakhtar, stadium bombed to bits back in Donetsk, resemble a wandering minstrel show. One week in Lviv in front of 3,000, one week in Zaporizhzhya, this Thursday they ‘host’ Karpaty in Odesa, 300 miles from their former base.
Zaporizhzhya are so cash-strapped they host Dynamo next Friday not at home – too expensive – but in Kyiv. Not here at the Olimpiski but at the much cosier, rhapsodically beautiful in fact, Lobanovski stadium – Dynamo’s former ground, where their soul is. And perhaps even where the nation’s soul is – it was in front of the imposing stadium arches where key battles in last year’s revolution were played out.
What’s more, Zaporizhzhya lost 9-1 to Volyn on Sunday and Dynamo could well fancy themselves to rack up a cricket score. Which would make the league, now shorn to just 26 matches this season, even less competitive.
Elsewhere Metalist, in Kharkiv, and the most raucously supported side are in the bottom two and clearly in the doldrums.
For the moment, the UPL is all about survival. Gate receipts from this match may have raised £10,000 perhaps – enough to keep Yarmolenko in socks for the season.
Plenty of gloom everywhere you look. But one thing Ukrainians excel at is head-down, get-on-with-it, plodding along. And never complaining.
For a neutral, especially now, it’s tough to warm to Dynamo. Must have seen about a dozen games and always ended up rooting for the opposition except, of course, back in 2007, when the visitors were Manchester United.
And even then many locals were rooting for Man U, which tells you all you need to know about the Kyivian attitude to their city’s most famous footballing name. Still shiny, still a symbol of what Ukraine could have been had it not been sucked into a war with eastern rebels/Russia, the new dawn promised by the Olimpiski, built only just in time for Eur0 2012, has yet to arrive.
Eight lanes of an athletic track breeds remoteness but it can be a good arena for a game. The Swedes nearly blew the roof off at Euro 2012, creating an incredible atmosphere. The UPL though is a harder sell.
Falling snow, the wet type that doesn’t settle readily, carpeted the stadium exterior and ground staff marked out the ground in scarlet to contrast with it.
Chernomorets started spunkily enough. Could have taken the led but a shot was hit straight at national keeper Pyatov.
Dynamo, for their part, are at their best for a few years. Football on the floor. Neat passing, unexpected angles, skill levels high.
You don’t win in Porto, as they just have, without quality. Yarmolenko, now 26, has evolved into a calm spirit.
Now he’s got a Schweinsteiger schwagger, a looming presence and the foresight and wit to pick his passes and make them stick.
He and Sevilla’s Konoplyanka – an even better player – should make Ukraine a side well worth watching next summer at Euro 2016.
Chief Chorno threat was number seven Dmitro Korkishko – cleverly clobbered early on by Austrian centre-half Alexandar Dragovic and for the most part neutered.
First half was sedate – Dynamo pass the ball relentlessly at pace in the hope of it ending up on a flank allowing a clear shot at goal. Yarmolenko’s best chance was foiled as he blasted it at Serhii Petko’s bum for a corner. This was the most exciting moment of the first 40 minutes. I considered texting Eugene to ask if he did refunds.
In the 47th minute it was effectively all over as Petko’s aerial challenge on Gonzalez conceded a penalty. Looked harsh. Yarmo scored.
After that, little to get excited about, though Odesa pulled a goal back in the 86th minute – Kyrylo Kovalets pouncing on a rebound.
Georgian defender Gadrani then suffered double bubble yellow trouble and was sent off with seconds to go.
With little to hold your attention on field, it was time to wander. You can roam the stadium at will, even pretend you have an entire block to yourself, the stewards won’t hassle you.
Even join the ultras, nasty ones and all. The only noise came from their block, number 37.
Groups of fans congregate here to form what looks in the distance lie one big black blob of humanity.
One red and black Pravy Sektor flag was waved – unashamed fascists who garnered less than 1% of the vote in last year’s election. Absolute headbangers. In the early days of protests two years ago, one drove a tractor at police and another posed for TV with a chain and whipped lines of riot police, who stood there and took it.
The Azov militia – linked to the far-right – also appeared to have support, or a gang, at the game. More than anyone at the match in the 1,000-strong ultras end, they looked the part of gopnik (redneck) hooligans. Over here, they can occasionally be seen marching to matches.
They lit flares and unveiled a banner professing kinship: ‘Kharkiv: we are with you.’
Another gang flipped out their blipping, flashing beacons for the last ten minutes.
Magic mojo time
Game over, thank God. Then Ukraine unveiled that wonderful capacity it has for producing gems out of even the most mundane moments – a cameo from another world. As if it has access that no one else has to a parallel universe.
The whistle blew, we turned to leave. The path was blocked. Two guys holding up red flares descended from the back of block 37, heading for the front.
Or maybe an entirely dull ‘point’ or complaint was about to be stagily made by supporters. A two’s up to UEFA, the Champions League.
It was easy to miss that a third man, holding a huge bunch of flowers, was marching behind them.
They reached the first two rows when the fan with flowers – probably called Andrei or Sasha – knelt before a woman – probably called Natalya or Olga – and pulled out a ring. Amid the thick red cloud, he proposed, she accepted.
So one day Andrei-Sasha and Natalya-Olga will tell their kids the story: the question was popped amid red smoke, billowing sleet, minus 2 degrees, Ukrainian flag flying overhead, hundreds watching, Yarmolenko scored from the spot – we were on the ultras terrace in the snow at Dynamo.
I just hope they don’t get married there.