SCHEVCHENKO PARK, a couple of short blocks from my hotel and opposite the entrance to the Ukrainian Naval Academy is a tranquil place, except on match days ! An incredible variety of happy birds all singing different songs, mothers with small children, a play park and miniature pedal cars, trucks, fire engines and other vehicles for youngsters to rent, plus bikes for older visitors. Tara Schevchenko 1814-1861 is the most loved of all Ukrainian poets and philosophers and there is a statue of him here at the entrance, as there is elsewhere and even in Washington D.C.
It's a place where fans of FC CHORNOMORETS ODESSA congregate before home matches at their stadium which seats over 34,000 spectators to watch 'THE SAILORS' play in the Ukrainian Premier League, where they are facing relegation. Odessa is 500km away from the troubles in Eastern Ukraine and five clubs have had to leave their cities and stadium because of the troubles, for safer places. Shaktar Donetsk, Metalisk Kharkiv, Olimpia Donetsk, Zorya Luhansk, Illichivets Manupst. In fact Chornomorets had to locate for a while to the Valeriy Lobanovsky Dynamo stadium in Kiev after trouble and riots here 4 years ago.
I found a couple of naval cadets who spoke good English to take me to the correct entrance and a welcome and tour of the club museum, locker rooms, and a photo opp in the stadium itself. They have quite a large shop with all sorts of team uniforms and souvenirs, but it was empty this morning being a school day. The name of the club means BLACK SEA MAN. www.chornomorets.odessa.ua.
In the last season of the USSR League they finished above above Dynamo Kiev, Dnipro, Dnipropetrovik and Shakhtar Donesk. In 1992 the first season of the Ukrainian Super League they won the Ukrainian Cup. Since then they have not done so well. It would have been the perfect location for one of the four host cities for the 2012 Poland/Ukraine European Championships with its tourist sites, restaurants, parks and many hotels, rather than boring Donetsk or Kharkiv, but its airport was deemed too small. I flew north to Riga, Latvia on Air Baltic in the middle of the night from 3.30am to 6.00am and there were only 4 gates, with a larger terminal next door almost finished.
Manchester United, Fenerbace and Feyenoord have played here against Luhansk, whose home was in the war raveged East. Real Madrid, Rosenborg, Monaco, Lazio, Grasshoppers, Lens, Red Star Belgrade, PSV Eindhoven, Lyon, Hadjuk Split and other star names have played here over the years in European competitions. The stadium is about 300 metres from the Black Sea.
I was put in a taxi and taken across town to yet another football museum on Marshal Zhukov street and met by the director Emanuil Georgievich GANEV, called 'Misha' and a Bulgarian. This is THE MUSEUM TO RIVAL ANY FOOTBALL MUSEUM ANYWHERE, with a national and international theme. www.kbf-odessa.org. MARVELOUS ! It has an outdoor section with an ALLEY OF TROPHIES, 14 of them: European Cup, Champions League, USSR CUP, Ukrainian Cup, Africa Cup, Asia Cup, Super Cup and more, all on plinths. The pride is the statue of the three Ukrainian BALLON D'OR winners, OLEG BLOKHIN, IGOR BELANOV and Andriy Shevchenko of AC Milan and Chelsea fame.
My tour guide spoke in Ukrainian but I nodded all the time and got the hang of it.such was the enthusiasm of Misha for The Beautiful Game. Inside was a treasure trove of a number of large rooms filled with 1900 scarves, 800 jerseys, trophies, programmes, newspapers, awards and posters. One of the most interesting was a small statue from the 1936 Berlin Olympics football tournament, and an enamel badge presented to the referees, both with a swastika.
He bought me lunch in the cafe and then offered me a cup of coca-cola, spiked with vodka to my surprise,.as we watched some videos on a large screen. He and his Georgian friend with a tank like limo. took me back to my hotel. WHAT A DAY !!