The Ukranian Classico!

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Yes, sadly, that is the rather awful name the locals have given the biggest match on the Ukranian sporting calendar. Well, here’s what happened to guest writer Iain Pearce on what turned out to be a mightily unusual night of trying to watch football….

Shakhtar Donetsk 3 v 1 Dynamo Kyiv (12.09.2012)

One of the reasons I think football is by far the greatest of games is that unlike other sports which I like but don’t love, football never ceases from bringing up new and inventive scenarios and forcing personal thought alterations. Going along as a supporter often feels pretty similar. But we’ll get to that…

The match weekend started at 6 o’ clock on Saturday morning as another all night train pulled in to Donetsk in the south-east of the Ukraine with me on it. The walk from the station exit revealed taxi drivers in Shakhtar shell suits, a sure sign that this weekend this city was the place to be.

I plonked down my bulging backpack and half an hour before the morning opening time I was outside the ticket office at the stadium where two of England’s Euro 2012 group matches were hosted this summer. The Donbass Arena is a magnificent bowl that rises like a metallic mushroom from the greenest of parks a short walk from the centre, a very western monument in a westernizing city.

SHA7The problem with going to the big games is that everyone else wants to go too, and Shakhtar-Dynamo Kyiv is as big as it gets in the Ukraine. Shakhtar are renowned as the country’s most passionate supporters and I was not alone in my early morning eagerness, a hundred or so others were in line hoping to get tickets for Sunday night’s match as well as the upcoming Champions League encounters with Chelsea and Juventus.

Luckily, my elementary Cyrillic deciphering of a cashier’s booth sign assured me that there were still tickets available to buy for the Dynamo game, but only the really cheap ones, costing less than two pounds each. Perfect, after some waiting and despite the fan behind me telling me my ticket was ‘not good’ and shaking her head, I had my golden ticket in hand.

Shakhtar’s orange and black colours are everywhere in the city, even influencing many of the street signs, and on Sunday evening I made my way back to the Donbass along with thousands of others. The buzzing nature of the approach was soon swept over by a corporate whitewash as we moved into planet Shakhtar around the stadium. Everything was Pepsi, Nike or a major bank and the babushkas selling their wares were clearly outlawed. The only sunflower seeds available here were the overpriced and undersized official Shakhtar ones at the official fan shops.

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Also managing to resist the orange plastic helmets (Shakhtar meaning the miners, the traditional local profession) and club chocolate I queued my way through the turnstiles, security and climbed all the way up to the third tier.

So far so good, but then I reached the steward, asked her to point me to my seat but instead received a forceful reprisal and a curt speech that was all Russian to me. I protested my Englishness and was taken on a wander to find the third tier’s representative English speaker.

Once found, the youthful steward smiled and politely explained that my ticket entitled me to watch the game only on the television monitors in the concourses, and after the game started I would be able to ask the stewards if there were free seats. If there were I could use them and if there weren’t it was back to the orange and black hot dogs stands with me.

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My ‘concourse’ only ticket…have you ever heard of the like?!…

It turned out that there were 599 others in the same position as I was and we slumped around the kiosks as the game started on the TV sets five metres away and inside the stadium five metres behind them. Repeated trips to the stewards came back fruitless as there was not a seat in the house, at least not a free one for any of us to sit on.

It did at least enable me to befriend a local law student who gave me the Shakhtar rundown and also translated when the stadium announcer revealed the evening’s attendance to have broken the Donbass record, this had also explained the groans and tuts from the others in our seatless boat following the announcement in the local language.

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Like taking candy from a baby!...

Half time came with the scores level at one a piece. We had at least seen replays of the goals from our vantage point but, as the TV relay was a couple of seconds behind the cheers and moans above and around us, we had the surreal sensation of knowing what would happen on-screen before our eyes were able to confirm it.

As if fate felt some pity towards us one of our regular trips to plead with the stewards coincided with Olexandr Kucher heading home Shakhtar’s second from a corner and by the time people started to beat the traffic and we were finally given permission to properly join the party Luiz Adriano had completed the scoring with the host’s third. There were only ten minutes left but nevertheless we lapped up the dying embers and ensured our eventual money’s worth by staying long after the players and until our stewarding nemeses ordered us back out of the stadium.

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Getting Tickets:

Getting tickets is pretty seamless, even if they do turn out to be hardly perfect like my ones. Being a new build, the Donbass is much like a western European mega-stadium. At the entrance to the stadium is a glitzy box of a ticket office and with a phrase book, some help and some patience you’ll be able to get what you want from there. The Donbass is always busy for matches, but I’m told it rarely sells out for more normal league games.

The stadium is surprisingly close to the middle of Donetsk, a ten minute walk from the main Lenin Square or close still if you take the tram that runs creakily past the ground. That said, there’s nothing around the Donbass at all, so you’re almost certainly better off having a meal or drink in the middle of town before making your trip over for the game.

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The Donbass at night

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