Monday, 24 May 2010

Grounds Without Games: Central City Stadium, Mykolaiv.

Take away the soap opera financing, ex-England coaches and goalkeepers on fifteen grand a week and MFK Mykolaiv would be the Ukrainian Notts County. Founded in 1920 as Sudostroitel Mykolaiv, they're the oldest professional side in the country, beating Dynamo Kyiv by three years - the only part of the two clubs' history that's in any way similar.

After seventy years in the Soviet lower leagues. the break up of the USSR brought a change of name to FC Evis Mykolaiv (there's almost certainly one fewer consonant in that first word than you think) and a promotion of sorts to the new Ukrainian Premier League. The only team to be relegated from the top division on three different occasions, their best ever finish was thirteenth in 1994-95. That same year they changed their name to SC Mykolaiv, in 2000 the S became an F, and in 2006 they finally settled on MFK. In the middle of all this alphabetical hokey-pokery, the team were relegated to Ukaine's third division for the first ever time. Coming straight back up, they managed two years of mediocrity before the local council declared them bankrupt, and they were only able to compete in the third division again after Dynamo Kyiv agreed to withdraw their junior team to free up the required space. This season they briefly flirted with promotion, but with one game of the Druha League still to play they're stuck in third behind Bastion Illichivsk and champions Bukovyna Chernivtsi.

The Central City Stadium is at the bottom end of Lenina Prospekt, the city's main street, half-hidden by an outdoor market. Semi-dilapidated, the stadium is in the shape of an open bowl with a running track circling the pitch. With building work on three sides, only one of the stands is currently open - more than enough for this season's average crowd of just under three thousand. I managed to sneak in through a side gate for a quick look around.

The tunnel. Beware of stray dogs.

The groundstaff prepare for another big game.

The snack stand looks like it could do with a lick of paint too.

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