Some of the best things in life are free and this was no exception.
No turnstile, no demand for cash and no pat-down frisk by terminally bored stewards. All you had to do was stroll in. Like you owned the place.
This was a dump three years ago. Someone’s got a few pots of paint out, installed new green and white seats and stuck a roof over some of them that at least guarantees a chance of escaping the snow and rain if you’re in the back three rows of the stands.
The result is an impressive transformation and the ground has plenty of charm despite several tower blocks overshadowing it.
In one corner there’s a flourishing willow tree, another has a small power station, its chimney emitting fumes as it generates steam for heating, a third hosted a mound of sand and in the fourth, Karpaty parked their impressive green-eyed monster of a bus.
Nothing in Ukraine is straightforward and Lokomotiv is located in Proleterskaya street as was, but since decommunisation has kicked in, the road is also known as Anatolya Kykovy street – you might need to mention both to any taxi driver who drives you there.
And ignore his what-do-you-want-to-watch-them-for stare.
Pronounced ‘Koo-bok’ this is the local equivalent of FA Cup but without the hoo-hah and hullabaloo of its English equivalent.
This was the last 16 and FC Poltava, who are one step below the Ukraine Premier League and fourth going into this game,were looking to reach the quarter-finals for the first time in their short history since their formation in 2007.
Karpaty, bottom of the premier because of a six-point deduction for not complying with contractual arrangements, are in crisis and were ripe for an upset.
At a ground with no floodlights the only option was to hold the match on a Wednesday at 2pm. During the school holidays, which meant the crowd received a considerable boost with a host of about 30 wannabe teenage ultras, glad not to be doing double geography.
With people getting in for free, there was no official way to count the attendance which was given as 1500, when it wasn’t even half that. Seven hundred tops. No wonder Ukraine needed an IMF loan last year.
Magic of the Kybok
It couldn’t have started better for a neutral as the home team, in black and white shirts, got off to a scorching start.
After only four minutes, a goal from a corner that wasn’t cleared popped up. Centre-half Alexei Kovtun netted from close range.
Home right back Bohdan Kushnirenko looked useful and Karpaty looked groggy from their 890-kilometre road journey from way out west.
It got even worse for them after 43 minutes when Poltava took a leaf out of the Wales tactical book and tried a Gareth Bale-esque throw in.
The resulting mayhem left Yevhen Troianovskyi with another tap-in for two-nil. It’s good to see Welsh influence infiltrating eastern Europe.
Half-time – if you want the loo you might need to nip behind the willow tree or pop out . Difficult, of course, if you’re lady, so you might need to plan ahead carefully.
Coffee and biscuits were nowhere to be seen so it was back out to Proleterskaya to a kiosk across the road next to the supermarket.
On the pitch and the writing was on the wall for Karpaty. Nigerian striker Gabriel Okechukwu, booed last year by a section of his own fans because he is black, was on for Mirosnichenko for the start of the second period.
And there were no boos for him today as he clawed his team back into the game after 54 minutes. A corner was half-cleared to the edge of the box, a shot flew into the area, was blocked and Okechukwu netted.
Game back on. Flares from the fifty or so away fans. Plus two huge explosions, like the Russians were advancing from Lugansk. Premium bangers were let off to celebrate.
The rest of the match was just what you want from a cup tie. The football flowed for 30 minutes and then so did the flares.
After 80 minutes, some of the half-stripped Poltava teenagers had popped home or to the nearest firecracker shop and the resulting explosions and smokescreen forced the ref to take the players off the pitch for two minutes.
That cranked up the nerves and allowed Karpaty to regroup for a final onslaught in a bid to salvage something from a crisis-hit season.
The delay didn’t do the home side many favours either as the ref added seven minutes to the game.
Karpaty kept banging away. The crossing was poor but the commitment couldn’t be faulted.
Okechukwu had a fabulous chance from the final ball in. He did everthing right, headed it downwards but home keeper and man of the match Volodymyr Krynskyi leapt to his right to snaffle it.
It was all over. Poltava exulted. Karpaty, en masse, walked over to the away section and coach Oleg Dulub, only in the job for three weeks, chatted to fans as players, heads bowed, soaked up the comments.
It didn’t seem heated but Ukrainians – unlike their Parliamentarians – manage to put their points across bluntly without raising their voices, so it probably was a polite exchange of extremely frank views. I look forward to witnessing such scenes one day in a British match.
Karpaty couldn’t get out of town quick enough. Five minutes after chatting to supporters they were out of the dressing room in their kit, no shower, and heading for home.
You had to feel for them. A great history and tradition but heading for the drop and now humiliated by a side who don’t even charge 2p for admission.
But a smashing game for a neutral – three goals, five semi-c0ntrolled explosions, most of them,worryingly carried out by half-naked schoolboys, a team appearing to earnestly and genuinely apologise to their fans afterwards – that must be a world first surely – and a famous cup upset.
All for free. Blimey! FC Poltava now host European giants Shakhtar Donetsk in the last eight and they might want to make a few quid out of that by charging fans this time. In theory, it’s the club’s biggest game ever.
Expect a lot more spectators on top of the tower block.