"Excuse me, where's Obolon Stadium?" I asked, using at least 25% of my entire Russian vocabulary in one badly-pronounced sentence. "Obolon Stadium?" he repeated, raising his eyebrows so far they almost collided with his hairline. "Yes, the football stadium." He turned to the woman sitting behind him. "Where's the stadium?" "Up there and right," she said. "Two minutes."
One of Kiev's other clubs, Obolon were only founded in 1992 and have since gone through four changes of name, from the original Zmina (Next Generation)to the brewery inspired FC Obolon Kyiv. Success on the pitch has been just as inconstant: promoted through the divisions, they were relegated after just three seasons in the Premier League and spent another three on the fringes of promotion before finally making it back last year. Before tonight's game they were tenth of sixteen teams, with thirty points from twenty-eight games and a goal difference of minus nineteen. More importantly, they were eleven points off the relegation places with only two games left to play. The visitors, Vorskla Poltava, were a single point behind.
Obolon Stadium was opened in 2002 in the northern suburbs of the city, a few minutes' walk from Heroiv Dnipra Metro Station. The ground takes some finding: past a row of bus stops, a right turn at a church and it's slap bang in the middle of a housing estate, floodlight pylons by blocks of flats, a decent-sized main stand facing six rows of uncovered bucket seats on the other side of the pitch. A scoreboard and Obolon Brewery hoardings take up the empty room behind both goals.
Along with over half of the crowd, I saved myself just under a quid by going in the cheap seats - 80p for a clear view straight along the halfway line, only slightly obstructed by a couple of stewards who snogged, held hands, smoked cigarettes and scoffed ice cream through the vast majority of the game. It was 25 degrees at kick off and the crowd looked to be around a thousand, swelled by a few late arrivals coming straight from work and the Obolon Ultras, who had a surprisingly noisy two-chant repertoire. The Poltava fans turned up ten minutes late, spent another five tying their flags to the railings, then whipped their tops off and watched the rest of the first half in scarves, jeans and trainers. Their team played the prettier football but had no cutting edge up front. Neither, unfortunately, did Obolon, who missed an early one-on-one that was the only real chance of the first half. The two home wingers soon perfected the knack of straying needlessly offside and ninety percent of the game was played directly in front of my seat.
Poltava scored from a mishit cross on the hour, by which time the sun was dipping below the apartment blocks. The stewards shared another kiss, a police Alsatian started barking at the pitch, and the woman next to me spat out her sunflower seeds in disgust. "What's the Shakhtar - Dynamo score?" asked a voice on my left.
You sensed for Obolon that was that.*
DATE: May 5th 2010 7pm
ADMISSION: 10 Hryvnia.
*I was wrong. They equalised from a penalty in the 85th minute. I was five hundred metres towards the metro station, hurrying to catch the night train to Odessa.