I'd managed to talk four other people into joining me, plus one who bolted when he couldn't get a seat on the bus. Ovidiopol (or Oviedo as our other non-Russian speaker insisted on calling it) is a forty-minute ride west of Odessa, on the eastern shore of the Dniester Liman. Its Wikipedia entry runs to four lines. Its most prominent sights are a view of the water, two Soviet-era statues and a pub done out like an Ancient Greek temple where the beer costs 80p and the waitresses dress like belly-dancers.
It was the pub that kept us out of the ground until dead on kick-off. "Gdye stadion?" we asked an old bloke, busy weeding his vegetables. "Eh?" he replied, before eventually pointing us across a disused railway track and the kind of rusting factory you usually find in a Steinbeck novel. We entered the ground through an open metal gate. There was a wall on one side that had been designated as the toilet, fresh wet stains running down the cracks in the concrete. Piped marching band music accompanied the teams as they made their way onto the pitch. "Do you reckon it's free?" someone asked, as we tried to take up as little space on the filthy plastic seats as gravity would allow.
The pattern of the game was obvious from the start. Kharkiv's young team had come for the draw and were defending heroically, while Ovidiopol's captain, a stubby little fat man with a mullet and precisely twenty-eight percent of Gheorghe Hagi's talent, tried to orchestrate a way through to goal. Dniester had the edge in width, pace and ability, but were hamstrung by a number nine who was too young to be allowed into the penalty area without parental supervision, a number seven who thought the goal was twenty metres to the right of where it really was, and a ball-playing centre half who was Rio Ferdinand in his head and Anton Ferdinand in actual talent and performance. The crowd began to get restless as half-time approached without a goal. "Referee, you're a fu.." began one shout, before an overweight man in a suit and "rich person's scarf" strolled along the running track and told the drunks at the back to "Shut up." He didn't look like the kind of bloke you argued with. They didn't.
At half-time we followed a crowd of people back out of the gate to the local corner shop, which had a beer pump on the counter and pints for 33p, getting back just in time to see a Kharkiv defender sent off for a foul on the edge of the area, which meant we could stand right behind the net, plastic glasses in hand, as Hagi bent the resulting free kick straight into the top corner. Kharkiv had their best chance a few minutes' later, their centre-forward almost hitting the corner flag with a free header from the middle of the goal. Their travelling supporter folded his arms across his chest and didn't speak for the rest of the game. A second goal followed while the home crowd were momentarily distracted by an old man handing out free calendars. "Den-is-tra, Den-is-tra," roared a few blokes who'd brought their own vodka along. Everyone else was too busy looking at pictures of a school volleyball team.
DATE: April 3rd 2010
Failing to track down the elusive Kharkiv firm, the Ovidiopol Ultras pose for a group pic instead.
Next up: Bastion Illichivsk in the Druha Liga, about as low as professional club football gets in this part of the world.