Posted: 10/19/2009


     There is an area of Europe which not too long ago was off limites and also off the map.

   I visited North-East Estonia last week and after seeing how much progress had been made in Tartu, the 2nd city and big university, 15 years since I first came to visit, with glittering new shopping malls, hotels and McDonalds.  I was off to the port of Sillamae, less than half an hour from the Russian border. In Soviet times not only was it a closed city but also an area many maps did not even mention. Underground there were uranium mines and above ground Soviet nuclear facilties. Most of the population was, and still is, ethnic Russian, over 90%. The very first Soviet nuclear bomb originated here, with facilities for making fuel rods and more.

     It's the most Easterly deep sea and ice -free port in the European Union on the Gulf of Finland, and I met with Vitaly Ivanov , 'The Admiral' , and Chairman of the Board of SILPORT, wearing a splendid blue uniform and wide brimmed naval hat in his spacious office overlooking the port, 25km from the border. It's ideal for Russian automobiles and other produce, and cheaper than shipping via Helsinki for example, with rail tracks leading up to the loading docks.

    Lots of Russian investment and about 500,000 Euros a year has been donated to JK Sillamae Kalev, the Estonian Meistriliiga club in this small town of 18,000. Last year they finished in 5th place and this season they are a respectable 2nd place with a couple of weeks to go.They are 9 points behind champions FC Levadia and 10 points ahead of nearby JK Narva, so should play in the Europa League next year.  Its a great partnership with a good sponsor, a forward looking Club Chairman in Aleksandr Starodubtsev and a great Ukrainian coach.  I visited the small stadium and saw a new all weather pitch being laid.  Their web site is in Estonian, Russian and English.

       Mihhail 'Misha' Starodubtsev the Chairman's son is the goalkeeper and he picked me up early in the morning in Tartu and drove me 2 1/2 hours to his home town and its club. He spoke English and liked the small town way of life and enjoyed hunting ducks and small animals.  There are players from Russia, Lithuania and Ukraine, all accomodated, along with Estonians from out of town, at the Silport headquarters. One of the youth players, 18 year old Ivan Lihatchov helped with translation. He is a promising player according to his coach and chairman, and Ivan thinks Russian girls are the best.

    Sillamae is nearer to St. Petersburg than to Tallinn, and Misha and some of the other players have studied there at the famous sports institute. The sponsors are very enthusiastic about recent progress and value for money that they have poured in to upgrade facilities and the team, so watch out Real Madrid and Manchester United.