Chornomorets Odessa should be one of the giants of Ukrainian football. A one club city, Odessa was the place where Ukrainians first saw the game being played. In 1878, the Odessa British Athletic Club was the first football club anywhere in the Russian Empire. The first international game to feature a Ukrainian team took place here in 1914 and Dynamo Odessa were founded a quarter of a century later. Renamed Chornomorets (Black Seamen), they qualified for the UEFA Cup in 1975, finishing third (thereby ending my run of firsts) in the USSR Top League behind only Dinamo Kiev and Spartak Moscow. Independence brought two Ukrainian Cups and a pair of runner-up finishes (again behind Kiev) to Odessa, but also relegation. In the past three seasons they've finished sixth, seventh and tenth.
This year they're even worse. Fourth from bottom of a sixteen-team league, before kick-off they'd scored just eighteen goals in twenty-three games and were only three points off relegation. Their opponents, Vorskla Poltava, were occupying the Blackburn Rovers position: played twenty three, points twenty four, goal difference zero.
Outside the ground the newspaper vendors were doing a roaring trade thanks to the new law requiring drinkers to wrap their bottles of beer in paper. What was left came in handy as a cover for the seats. Chornomorets came out in Inter Milan stripes but any similarities ended in the warm-up. I spent the first twenty minutes trying to get through a handful of sunflower seeds I'd mistakenly accepted from my neighbour - then wished I'd asked for more. The game had goalless written all over it: Poltava were so happy with a point they rarely bothered to cross halfway and Odessa so toothless up front they couldn't even muster a shot on target after half-time. Their best player was the right back, a former Brazilian Under-17 international who'd failed to make the grade with Marseille, but that wasn't saying very much. By the end of the game the centre-forward had dropped so deep he was playing in defence, hitting a simple square ball straight out for a throw. The crowd thinned immediately from four thousand down to two. "This is the worst game I've seen," said the bloke sitting next to me. And he supports Hartlepool United.
DATE: April 10th
ADMISSION: Free with a mate's season ticket.