Places of Tyumen: Geolog Stadium

“The Best Stadium in Siberia.”

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“The Best Stadium in Siberia” – Not a spurious claim

Some claim when you consider the scale of the vast abyss that dwarfs all other continents on earth, but aside from the obvious impossibility of objectively analysing and ranking all Russian stadia east of the Ural Mountains, I bet it’s not far off. One day I hope to take in as many of the competitors as possible – completing all of them would surely be a first – but for now I’m happy to make do with the magnificent Geolog Stadium.

15206_10101776817118029_6627663595509165702_nThat claim, by the way, was not made by me. Five years ago on a blazing summer’s day, 2,500 others joined me at the grand re-opening of the city’s premier football venue and read the words in the club’s own program. The design for one is revolutionary compared to the standard Soviet-era concrete bowls that merge into one another; the orange lattice outer layer on the main stands for starters is a striking mirror image of the Bird’s Nest in Beijing.

The facilities are almost certainly unmatched at clubs below the top flight in Russia. There is a huge on site fitness centre with a modern rehabilitation centre, a hotel, plush VIP seating area (those padded, heated seats are more of a necessity than a luxury in winter, trust me…), a full size all-weather training pitch with its own facilities that doubles up as the Regional Centre of Excellence. The capacity is over 13,000, which together with media facilites and the all-weather pitch make the ground conform to Premier League standards, which is more than can be said for newly-promoted Gazovik Orenburg (whose stadium only holds 4,500).

 

But the real reason why this is one of my favourite places in Tyumen is the experience on matchday. I don’t go in for winter biathlon (cross-country skiing and target shooting, for those who don’t know) so the Race of Champions, which draws crowds of 10,000 to the Geolog to see the world’s finest biathletes each year, doesn’t do anything for me. Watching the local side FC Tyumen play however introduces you to a whole new type of fan.

My wife Ekaterina joined me a few years ago for her first ever live football match, and we met one of the regular ‘characters’. I say met; the entire crowd experienced his drunken ramblings, although not much of what he said was intelligible. The quality on display that day was dubious at best – Sergey Volosyan, the rather limited winger, managed a complete airkick from a pass that travelled no  more than five yards – so the toothless octogenarian provided just as much entertainment.

10403655_10101539338901279_5027124652602690887_nLiterally everything he uttered was amplified by the relative silence of the rest of the spectators, and by the intensity of his apparent ire. It didn’t seem to matter which team had done something, good or bad, out bellowed some garbled growling garbage from his mouth. That it mattered so much to someone was a source of laughter for most, but I found myself drawn to his energy. OK, alcohol was probably speaking a little, but at least he was getting behind his local side, not passed out completely on the pavement.

Enough of drunken amusements, though. I have been lucky enough to get to know the press officer and marketting department, and have spent a few afternoons by the side of the pitch watching the first team train. Often the athletics track is dotted with members of the public jogging around, and there are regular youth tournaments in the summer. It is more than just a football stadium – public money funded it, and the public get to use it; just how it should be.

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What a night. Conveniently glossing over the extremely dubious goalkeeping from Zenit…

To have such a top-draw facility in my city makes me proud, as it is clear that the city government – who funded the renovation from a rickety wodden-benched bowl – are not content to make do with second best football. I will never forget the night when Zenit St Petersburg came to town in the Russian Cup, and the only full capacity crowd to date saw Tyumen, who were then in the third tier, win 2-0. Hopefully, it won’t be long before nights like those become more frequent.

Places of Tyumen: Lovers’ Bridge and the River Tura Promenade

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Performances can draw crowds of up to 2,000 to the river. Here, ninety teenage couples danced a waltz to commemorate the first schoolchildren to be sent to war 75 years ago

Without question this is the city’s most spectacular spot. No matter whether it is the middle of winter with river frozen over or a lazy summer evening, it is guaranteed to offer breathtaking views, and this is mostly thanks to the substantial investment the city government has made in the riverside promenade.

When I arrived in Tyumen six and a half years ago, there was virtually nowhere comfortable or convenient on the banks of the river for people to walk freely, but slowly the steep inclines were dug up, relaid with grass, bushes and trees, and the immaculate walkways that now traverse the slope began to take shape. The work is still not completely finished, but it is already a stunning spot that has developed a character of its own.

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There’s even Tyumen’s very own ‘Hollywood’ sign – half way up the slope in blue

Not content with simply installing a straight path following the course of the River Tura, the designs included multiple levels that each offer a different pace of their own. Right by the water’s edge, the wide ledge by the water’s edge is often occupied by couples taking pictures or dangling their legs, while the main pathway behind them is popular with skaters, skateboarders and cyclists. There is a wall running along the back of the first level that is decorated with freizes and statues of historic moments and people that have shaped the city.

Halfway up the bank mothers push buggies slightly away from the busier lower level as occassional joggers pace their way past, while the highest level is reserved for those who prefer a more leisurely pace, and is often much quieter. There is also a pavement at the very top of the slope which is set back from the street for those who don’t have the time or inclination to make their way down the steps.

 

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Stroll down the promenade at night,  and you are treated to sights like this

At night time in summer, the whole area is abuzz with popup coffee stalls while younger generations play music and an almost bohemian atmosphere takes over. I ventured down at about 10pm with my wife and two daughters aged four and two, and although there were some groups smoking shisha pipes who we avoided, it was a spectacular treat for Sophia and Dasha, especially when we passed an ice cream stall.

Perhaps the most iconic part of the area is Lovers’ Bridge itself. It is a simple pedestrian suspension bridge that is covered in graffiti of declarations of eternal love between partners, and is one of the traditional places for newlyweds to take photographs after their ceremony. It used to have thousands of padlocks attached to the railings with names of lovers inscribed – the tradition was for the man to throw the key in the river after attaching the lock as a sign he was never going to need to remove it, and therefore remain ever faithful.

Unfortunately, the local government decided to remove the padlocks a few years ago. Nevertheless no visit to Tyumen is complete without a casual stroll along the river from Lovers’ Bridge.

BBC News Live TV Interview: Russian Hooligans

After all the worldwide media coverage of the violence surrounding the England v Russia match in Marseille last week, suddenly being An Englishman In Siberia was worth a whole lot more. Thanks to the wonders of modern online technology, within the space of a few hours I had been invited on to BBC Radio 5 Live and BBC News channel to discuss the Russian hooligans.

I might offer my two kopeeks on the events in a later post, but for now, here is my second ever live TV interview; this time though, I wasn’t asked about my underwear