Places of Tyumen: Alexandersky Park

One of the first differences between English towns and Tyumen that I noticed was the sheer number of green spaces all over the city, but Alexadersky Park is possibly the most beautiful. There is a law in Russia that states every residential block must have an adjacent childern’s play area, and these are more often than not combined with at least some greenery, which makes for a very pleasant pocket of calm amid the hustle and bustle of urban life. In this sense, there’s no desperate need to stray much further than a few metres from my front door to find an attractive space, but there’s something special about this particular corner that draws you in.

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Just to the left is one of the quickest, widest and busiest roads in Tyumen, but you can almost not notice

Before I begin gushing, let’s start with the downsides. One of the busiest and widest roads roars past one side of the park, while behind one end there is a crowded petrol station and a brand new hypermarket that is one of the biggest in Tyumen. Other than the limited offerings in the petrol station, there aren’t many convenient options to pick up refreshments nearby, and if you are not an animal lover, the dog-specific section may put you off the grass areas. So how can this all add up to a genuine hidden jewel?

For me, it is the memories I have there. When my elder daughter Sophia was a toddler, she took some of her first steps in Alexandersky Park, and I’ve lost count of the number of times she shrieked with delight as she threw psheno to the swarming birds. As a foreigner whose command of the Russian language is still wobbly at best, it was amazing how open and welcoming the informal community of mothers were back then, and the comfort helped Sophia form her very first friendships in the sandpit.

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I’m far from the only person who has emotional links to the place. It is one of the most popular places for newly-weds to have a photo session, as the trees provide a wonderful blanket against the mechanical backdrop, and beside the weaving paths there are a few romantic gems. The small gazebo in the far corner is a traditional spot for couples to dance and be snapped in their bliss – with a little ingenuinty, photographers can use convenient angles to capture the jaw-dropping sunset views without the shot being spoiled by traffic.

Although it is sadly no longer there, my personal favourite was a heart-warming titlted bench that angled downwards towards the centre from both sides so that couples would slide closer together. A metal flower has padlocks attached to it by lovers who then throw away the key as a symbol of their eternal love – the fact that some of them end up scrambling around trying to find the ket months later is irrelevant in the initial moment…

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Hazy summer days like this are just wonderful lying on the grass

Then there are the shaded slithers of grass which are heavenly on summer afternoons; partners lie next to each other while families share rare peaceful moments. Low hedgerows delicately separate the ‘orchard’ of miniature apples from quiet paths as grandparents watch the world float on by.

It’s genuinely hard not to slip into a poetic frame of mind when thinking of Alexandersky Park; at least for me it is. Never mind the fact that in the height of summer wedding parties literally queue up to have their special moments captured, or that yes there is a three-lane highway metres away – somehow the noise disipates into nothing, and the compact area becomes more spacious and private than you’d think.

Tyumen does parks very well. From simple playgrounds to vast forrests, there are endless places to suit every mood and activity, and I highly doubt I will encounter half of them in my entire lifetime. As a new arrival in the city I wanted to scour every essential destination so I could showcase my new home to anyone who was interested, and initially I struggled; the sort of attractions you find in tourist guides are not as plentiful as other places. I now realise that the best selling points are spaces like this – and my favourite of all is here.

A Brief Story of Tyumen Darts featuring Russian TV Interview

For the last six months, a small storm has been brewing in Western Siberia. The tight circle of expats that I know, along with some equally dedicated/sad locals, have gathered to play a sport that has a long way to go to reach the popularity it has in Britain, and it is slowly gaining momentum. I say sport; I have wavered on the line between whether I consider it more of a game in the past, but now I am convinced. Whatever the categorisation of darts, mark my words – it is going to keep growing in Russia.

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Anastacia Dobromyslova, three-time world champion

Anastacia Dobromyslova has been tearing through the women’s professional game for the best part of a decade, having won the BDO World Championship three time in her last six entries and is the undoubted poster-girl for Russian darts.OK, the best a Russian man has managed at the PDC World Championship so far has been to squeeze into the First Round proper, but it won’t be long before a male player will begin to make greater strides.

On a more local level, the first shoots of organised darts in Tyumen began sprouting about six months ago in a Lord of the Rings-themed bar on the far side of town on a Sunday night.  Hobbit Hole is a charmingly-decorated bar piping out endless Irish woodwing music that serves meat, meat, and meat, and on a Saturday is packed to the rafters. It is part of a hotel and restaurant complex, and is actually below ground level so has no natural lighting, but that enhances the earthy atmosphere – no problems so far.

An Inauspicious Start

On Sundays there is absolutely nobody there, at least not until the handful of tungsten aficionados traipse in towards the end of the day. Once a month the regular darts competition (Grand prize: 1,000 roubles behind the bar) used to attract about 10-12 players, and the organiser, bless him, had no clue of the rules of darts, or even of arithmatic, but thankfully we filled in the gaps and organised darts was off on its fragile way.

After a few rounds, a cruious old man appeared. Before, other than a few friends of mine, the entrants had been made up mostly of curious 20-somethings up for a bit of a drunken laugh, but Igor was different. He actually cared, for starters. It turned out he was motivated to take matters up a notch, and was thrilled to see some ‘native’ darts players.

Igor told us he oversaw training at one of the city’s universities, and had ambitions to set upthe first official Tyumen Darts Federation with proper affiliation to the Russian Darts Federation. Chuckle if you wish, but the winner of the RDF’s Open Championships earns a place in the qualifying round of the PDC World Championships, so effectively being one step below would in theory be no mean status. We did chuckle a bit though, as we just couldn’t see how Igor in all his excitement could find his way through the red tape to achieve his goal, even if he was being serious.

The Tyumen Darts Federation

As it turned out, he was very serious. The Hobbit Hall monthly competition was already petering out to the extent where the organiser himself forgot to turn up, and we decided enough was enough. Igor’s determination had secured the necessary paperwork, and the first official Tyumen Darts League was born. Feeling quite far from the PDC split from the BDO in the 1990s but equally buoyant, we realised that before long we, at best a bunch of pub enthusiasts with one or two exceptions, would have official Russian Darts Federation ranking points within a few months.

If you drive along the River Tura towards the end of Respubliki, you arrive at Lovers’ Bridge high above the water, and adjacent to the walkway leading to FC Tyumen’s Geolog Stadium. The Race of Champions biathlon meeting takes place through the stadium, and a few hundred metres past it lies the Sports Palace, home of the city’s ice hockey team Rubin Tyumen. Venture a little further, however, and you will wind your way past the stunning Architecture University and Svyato-Troitskiy Monastery until you reach Tyumen’s greatest sporting arena; the West Siberian State College.

In the college gym, there are eight Harrow’s boards that are hung for each league meeting (sensisbly, it must be added, with protective wood behind and under for errant darts), and mercifully proper lighting. Igor brings decent quality equipment for those who need it, as well as a whole range of utterly bonkers charts and tables detailing strange points totals to qualify at different levels of darts. It is strangely alluring about his conviction of the use of all these techincal measures; one thing that can’t be levelled against him, however, is being undemocratic.

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That’s more like it – proper boards, proper lighting, now all we need are more proper players…

Girls are given a headstart of 151 points when playing men, for example. “It’s to keep them interested, otherwise they wouldn’t play,” he says with what I honestly believe is unintentional mild sexism. Quite why a pursuit that doesn’t rely on physical strength or size at all needs to offer female players any help is beyond me – a headstart helps bad players, but has nothing to do with being a man or a woman, surely? – but at least it was intended to encourage participation.

For the record, the format of the Tyumen Darts League functions is as follows: there are five scheduled league meetings taking place three weeks apart, with the top 12 finishers each meeting receiving league points. Each player’s best three scores would be added up, and the top eight points totals will qualify those players for the Grand Final in August. Each meeting divides players into four groups, with the top two from each going through to a knockout stage to help determine a placing for that meeting.

Media Coverage

After four meetings, there have now been about 30 different players, which has seen the standings become very close indeed coming into the final round. The sign of the progress of the TDF was marked last weekend when none other than Vladimir Gut, vice-president of the Russian Darts federation, and Master of Sport and Junior World Championships player Diana Vechelkovskaya arrived from Ekaterinburg for the fourth meeting, as well as a team from Zavodoukovsk.

Best of all however was the presence of a TV crew from local news agency ASNTA, whose presenter Sergey Schneider – two-time Tyumen State University Oympiad Darts Champion – currently sits in the qualifying places for the Grand Final. Sergey is a good friend of mine and a first-rate broadcast journalist, so when he asked if he could grab a few words with me I didn’t take much persuasion. What I didn’t realise was that the report would be broadcast on TNT at prime time on Monday evening – this channel shows one of the country’s most popular comedy shows “Interni” (Russia’s answer to ‘Scrubs’), and there, wedged between shows, was my segment.

I have memories of spending Millenium Eve trying desperately to complete ‘Around the World’ (hit 1 – 20 in order, then ’25’ and bull) and failing miserably, but now the game has taken on a whole new meaning. My fellow competitors practice, and have set the bar high; I am just trying to keep up. With the focus of genuine competition in the shape of the Tyumen Darts League, and the progress of my fellow expats, the sportsman inside won’t let me settle for ‘OK’.

 

 

Tyumen Musings Part Fifteen: Hipsters & Hair

My mother will probably kill me for this, but here goes… I have decided to grow a beard.

Beards

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Sorry Mum…

In the past I have dabbled in facial hair, but mostly because I was simply too lazy to bother shaving for a while, and I did once grow a quite brilliant (even if I say so myself…) handlebar moustache for Movember. That experiment ended swiftly, as in two years I managed to raise the grand sum of 10 pounds, but this time is different. As I leaned against the parapet of the promenade by the River Tura in my home town of Tyumen last week on a quite sublime summer evening, with the breeze gliding past my cheeks, I realised the time was right.

It’s not just that it keeps the face a little bit warmer, but in my humble opinion the beard has grown a new life in modern Russia. Let’s be honest for a moment – 20 years ago, the thought formula probably went something like this: Russian man + beard = tough, grizzled & unsophisticated. Nowadays there are so many variations on beards that they can represent anything from historical grandeur to sharp fashion, but take my word for it, there is no deep-lying reason behind mine, and certainly not fashion. If you don’t believe me, have a look at my track record of hairstyles.

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Looking so Italian in Venice 10 years ago

No, this beard is being grown for one simple reason: I like it. I’ve fallen into the trap of trying to follow a trend with disastrous consequences before; as someone once said, to be old and wise, you must first be young and foolish. I’m not quite sure at what stage of that scale I lie right now, but I am at least aware enough to know my limitations. While living in Italy as a 21-year-old student, I thought it would be a great idea to grow my hair as long as possible, ostensibly because I thought “that’s what Italians do”. I apologise to everyone who had to suffer the monstrosity of my flowing locks for most of that year; it must have been truly terrifying.

Male Grooming

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Trendy London

The attitude towards male grooming in this country has altered dramatically to the extent where there are now more male-only hair salons than female or unisex ones. Vaguely presentable is not enough any more. Opposite my old workplace there is a faux-red brick building that holds one such establishment, “Trendy London”, which to be fair does a booming trade from the name alone. Wedding parties have even decamped outside the doors to take pictures such is the originality and cool surrounding it. I resisted the pressure to attend these types of places on a number of grounds, chief of which was that it pains me to pay 1,000 roubles for something I could do myself at home, but after a cunning move by my wife I had no choice but to cave in.

My New Year present, you see, was a certificate to “Like Bros” (like Trendy London, the sign is written in English as is the fashion). In fairness, it wasn’t as pretentious as I had dreaded, and my stylist – I still cringe using that word – even spoke excellent English. OK, I admit it; it was very reasonable value. Given that I take my daughters to a daily fashion parade, I mean take them to kindergarten every morning, I realise I have to keep up standards. You would not believe the height of the heels or skirt hems that the tottering mothers wear to drop their kids off; I’m not talking work suits, but full on nightclub-worthy attire. It’s mental, but in fact is just an extension of the obsession with appearance in Russia today.

In fact I am in a distinct minority as a husband who appears at Kindergarten. The ones who do turn up are either in very odd-fitting jeans and those ghastly dated bluetooth earpieces for their phone that were about as popular as MiniDisc players (remember those??), or in their work suits with about as much time for being there as Nigel Farage has for foreigners. A gruff, short “Stras-jay” is grunted, no more, between the male species of parents, as most aim to get out of there at the first opportunity. Male fashion? No time for that nonsense here.

Hipster Life

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Milya & Johnny; so effortlessly cool…

Outside the kindergarten gates, however, it’s a totally different story. When my good friend Johnny revealed he even has his beard trimmed professionally every so often at Trendy London, my initial reaction was to groan, but then after a while I thought: why not? His wardrobe used to be filled with tracksuits and simple t shirts, but now his skinny jeans and hipster sunglasses would not look out of place on the boulevards of Paris or Milan. Or Moscow.

The young professionals of Modern Russia aspire to more than life in their own town, or even country, but aim for loftier ambitions. 15 years ago, there were a very small handful of Italian restaurants in Tyumen; now you can take courses in Indian Kathak dancing, enjoy Thai massages or listen to authentic live samba music. If you had to pinpoint what exactly the Modern Russian character is, it would be something vastly removed from the stereotypes that still bandy themselves around casual conversation in the West. One thing is certain; the younger generation is deeply in touch with global trends, or at least wants to be seen to be so.

Anti-Cafes and Warehouse Cinemas

From ‘anti-cafes’ to warehouse cinemas, there is a whole range of hipster locations for hipsters to admire each other’s hipster style springing up at a dizzying rate. One cafe charges you by the hour, not by what you eat or drink, and in principle you can consume as much as you like as you play boardgames or just chat. Instagram has spawned a whole army of accounts that will be represented at any evening at such places, which everyone knows. This has the odd effect off people desperately trying to enjoy a ‘deconstructed’ atmosphere while simultaneously trying to preen themselves to the nth degree.

Another place, Fabric Loft, for me sums up the best and worst of this whole hipster craze. It is a three-storey warehouse with all manner of paint-splattered woodwork tools and half-mended doors hanging loose as you clamber between them to make your way upstairs. You pay what you like to watch as eclectic a mix of films, all in original language, and sit on a random but comfortable assortment of stools, benches and futons, but then are more often than subjected to a snooty talk about the deep meaning of the Korean art-house monstrosity about to come on.

Perhaps I am being a little bit harsh; if people enjoy the discussion about films with others of a similar persuasion, who am I to judge them for doing so? The same people might mock me for watching four back-to-back football matches on TV, even if I can’t imagine why they would. What I object to is the swelling number of those who flock to these places because they want to be seen to be doing so, not because they genuinely have a passion for art house culture.

If you do come to Russia any time soon, don’t expect to see bears walking down the High Street and men weilding Kalashnikov rifles and swigging vodka – they’re more likely to be rocking Ray Bans and Cuban heels.

 

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.

Adrenalin Tyumen v Moscow Dragons: Amateur Rugby in Siberia

There are few better ways to spend a summer afternoon than watching live sport outdoors, especially when for half the year the ground has been frozen in sub zero temperatures. Such was the snowfall this winter in Tyumen that the Tura river – which once formed part of the ancient Silk Road from Mongolia to Eastern Europe – has now flooded to almost twice its width, but on Sunday there was an occasion far removed from the ice and snow. On the other side of town Adrenalin Tyumen took on the Moscow Dragons in the first round of the Russian Cup in front of 400 eager spectators, many of whom had never seen a rugby ball in their life.

Way back in October 2014, Russia faced Uruguay in the repechage playoff for the final place at the 2015 Rugby World Cup and despite Yuriy Kushnarev’s fine kicking, they lost out to the South Americans by eight points over the two legs in Krasnoyarsk and Montevideo. Had they won, they’d have faced the hosts England in Manchester, just a few miles from where Andrei Ostrikov plies his trade for Sale Sharks, and interest in the game could have spiked sharply.

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Stadion Lokomotiv in Tyumen – abandoned for decades, it is the only full size grass pitch in the city

At the very highest level Russian rugby is thriving. The men’s sevens side having earned a regular place on the World Series circuit while the women came runners up in Dubai last year, and the narrow miss against Uruguay preceded by a debut appearance in the previous World Cup in New Zealand. This season Enisey-STM made history as the first Russian club to enter European competition, beating Brive and Newcastle Falcons before falling one victory short of the knockout stages.

At the lower levels though, there are still plenty of obstacles faced by teams at Adrenalin’s level. The top tier is made up of 15 teams split into two divisions, below which there are a number of federal leagues which are regionalised. All clubs at this level are very much amateur, often made up of students and full time professionals who can only afford, in every sense, to train twice a week. Fixtures take place either side of the summer, as it is nigh on impossible for teams to keep their players together over July and August as they either go on holiday or return to their home towns.

At this stage of the year the focus is on the national cup competition. To mark the importance of the event, the Moscow Dragons were hosted at an incredible crumbling relic of a ground, Stadion Lokomotiv. As its name suggests, it is owned by the railway station, but it has been left to rot since the Soviet Union by its owners who are reluctant to sell such valuable property that lies a few hundred metres from the central square. It is the only venue in the city that boasts a full grass pitch though, so was called into service for the occasion.

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Anton Kuklin – manager, match announcer, and a very good man

To raise interest, members of the club put a huge amount of effort into promoting the match. Irina Kuklina, wife of manager Anton, engages on social media site VKontakte, while sponsorship for the game itself was found with six different companies, one of whom provided the beer and the half time entertainment. Tickets were available on the gate for 50 roubles, and the only stand was almost full of locals ready to cheer on their side. The overwhelming majority were unaware of the rules, but Anton Kuklin doubled up his role as manager with announcement duties, explaining the basics to the crowd as the game progressed.

The city’s football team FC Tyumen have a spectacular stadium with as capacity of 13,057 but often struggle to fill 5% of their ground, leaving an cavernous silence for long stretches of games. Stadion Lokomotiv, however, created a focused atmosphere with groups of all ages eager to discover more. Moscow Dragons began the match firmly on the front foot, spending almost the entire opening 15 minutes in Adrenalin’s half, but only came away with a penalty in front of the posts to show for their domination. Their backs spread possession wide at almost every opportunity with well-drilled routines keeping the hosts on the back foot.

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The crowd were eager to learn about this strange sport and created a noisy atmopshere, helped by the excellent efforts to promote and run the event

After weathering the storm, Adrenalin club president Nikita Sedikh bulldozed into Moscow’s defensive line from a tap-and-go penalty to rapturous applause – no explanation was needed for the fans to appreciate his physicality. A darting run forward from scrum half Anatoliy Evdokimenko took Tyumen to the 22 where they were awarded a penalty, but fly half Rustam Ashirbekov – who had only recovered from a virus the day before – slightly underhit his attempt to keep the advantage with the visitors.

The intent was clear from Tyumen; twice they opted to tap and go instead of kicking for goal – possibly affected by the extremely uneven surface – using their superior strength and rucking ability to good effect. Moscow’s organisation with the ball in hand was telling though, as they created an overlap to touch down in the corner just before the half hour work to take an eight-point lead.

Big hits were popular with the crowd, and shortly before the break they were nearly rewarded by a combination of brute strength and powerful running from former rugby league player Sedikh. Breaking three tackles, he arrowed towards the far corner but was tackled meres short of the line. His teammates were in support and combined to cross the whitewash to claw back to within a point after a success conversion.

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You’ve probably never seen a medieval bagpipe quartet at half time of an amateur Siberian rugby match…

There was still time for a wonderful opportunity to take the lead into half time as winger Alexander Matveev sidestepped his marker and was brought down 5 metres short, and in the next phase a four on one overlap emerged. Poor decision making allowed Moscow’s defence to scramble into place and save their narrow lead.

At the break, a medieval bagpipe quartet played on the pitch with cheerleaders performing a routine to keep the crowd entertained, with both teams gathering on the field to take on fluids and receive instructions. Kuklin has been with the side since its inception a few years ago, and his understanding of the game is matched by the commitment of the club to develop; key to the sustainability of the sport will be the continued education of neutrals and promotion of the sport itself. Fliers were passed out advertising tryouts for the senior men’s side, as well as youth teams for both sides; some local women’s sevens players were even in attendance too.

When play resumed, Moscow adopted a clear strategy to use mauls to great effect, but the hosts continued to capitalise on their physicality by winning turnovers at the breakdown. Ten minutes into the second half, Moscow missed another penalty, perhaps slightly cheekily distracted by the crowd, and their profligacy was punished when Evdokimenko burst through the line with centre Kirill Kislyak on his shoulder. Instead of drawing the defender and offloading to his teammate, he decided to hack forward – fortunately the bounce allowed the grateful Kislyak to touch down in the corner.

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Not the most glamorous press box ever, but the media presence was encouraging

The delight at having taken the lead was capped by the successful conversion by Ashirbekov, which was kicked from hand in the absence of a readily available tee. A few moments later and an identical two on one arose from a line break from full back Evgeniy Gryaznov, but a similar decision to kick forward when the simpler option saw the golden opportunity lost. The ball went out of bounds, but the consolation was a penalty awarded for an earlier transgression from the visitors, which was slotted to push the advantage to more than advantage score at 17-8.

As the match entered the final quarter of advantage hour, the greater experience of Moscow’s backs told as they pressured a fumble from a high kick and engineered an overlap to touch down twice and edge in front, despite missing both conversions. The result was sealed three minutes from time with advantage well-judged drop goal that left the score at 17-22.

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The traditional mixed post-match group photo. One of rugby’s greatest traits is the natural bonhomie it inspires between opposing players and fans – in Russia this spirit is very much alive

Once the traditional post-match players’ tunnel had been done, the players joined each other to take group photos and mingle with the fans, with Kuklin sanguine about the result. “I’ve been here since the club began, and we have trouble keeping the team together through summer, but it was  good performance. Moscow are a very experienced side.” Local media had broadcast the match and interviewed members of both clubs while fans stayed behind to congratulate their team for their efforts.

The mood was not one of deflation, but there is a clear a distance to go to develop the game in a meaningful fashion below the highest level of Yenisey-STM and company. Egor Ilyuchik, an injured player, explained that the club were constantly on the look out for new players, but that there wasn’t the financial support to build on the game at this level. “Olympic disciplines are backed much more, so Sevens in particular will continue to grow, but techincally we’re not far off the Russian Championship level. Last year we finished fifth out of the Federal league teams.”

It was impossible to leave the crumbling old ground with shoddy turf and not feel the warm glow of potential from the game. Technical issues which could come with more professional training aside, the ability and hunger is clearly there, and on the back of an actively growing group surrounding the club with nearly 1,000 followers on social media, it would be a brave man to bet against Adrenalin Tyumen reaching greater heights in the future.

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Khasan Mamtov Player Watch

The world of Russian lower league football can be an unglamorous and unforgiving environment, but if you dig a bit deeper you can find some absolute gems who will for the large part go unnoticed. I have followed FC Tyumen since I moved out to Siberia over six years ago, and the relationship between the club and the city has been intriguing as freezing temperatures, competition from other sports and financial problems have threatened to drive a sizeable wedge between the two. Mainstays have been few and far between, but one of them is having the the most Indian of Summers: meet Khasan Mamtov.

Voted the 93rd most outstanding young person in Tyumen two years ago after captaining Tyumen to promotion out of the third tier, the 32-year-old forward has remained the focal point for the attack since his arrival in 2013. He soon won the captaincy from Mikhail Pimenyov after winning over Konstantin Galkin, and has held his position under Alexander Ivchenko to produce some of his finest form as well as shooting to second place in the goalscoring charts in the FNL. “He has passion and fire,” Galkin told me two years ago. “He isn’t the quickest, but he has he respect of his teammates.” The note about his lack of pace is telling, given that Galkin had stripped Pimenyov of the captaincy and told him to find a new club based on his speed.

I took a closer look at his impact on the pitch as Shinnik Yaroslavl visited the Geolog Stadium a fortnight ago to find out more about why he not only deserves respect for his character, but also as a member of the starting XI. For the majority of his career in Tyumen he has been played as the main striker in front of an attacking three in a 4-2-3-1 formation, and it was in this role he lined up on Sunday.

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Khasan Mamtov turns inside two defenders against Shinnik Yaroslavl (photo: Anton Sakerin via fc-tyumen.ru)

There are many ways to measure the confidence of a player on the pitch, but the simplest is in his intent to score. Mamtov has been on an incredible run of scoring form since the beginning of November, scoring 11 in 14 matches, and it showed inside the first ten minutes. Back to goal, he received the ball in the penalty area near the byline with nothing on; far from sensibly laying it off to a midfielder, he turned instantly inside, still apparently heading away from goal, before continuing his tight arc towards his target with the inside of his right boot. The two marking defenders hadn’t expected such sharp movement as Mamtov ghosted between them before smashing the most emphatic of finishes into the roof of the net.

Ten minutes gone, and the senior statesman of Tyumen had already outwitted his opponents. His speed is all in in his mind, not over metres on the pitch – he will never be caught outpacing his marker in a straight sprint, but he rarely needs to. In his career before arriving in Tyumen, he had never scored in double figures in a league season, but now has 25 in the last two campaigns as he advances into his fourth decade. Strike partners have come and gone at the Geolog – Sergey Serdukov, Artem Delkin (who currently leads the goalscoring standings from Mamtov by one) and Evgeniy Savin to name but three – but it has become apparent that far from supporting Mamtov, he simply needed to be given the freedom to use his intelligence and movement.

Not that he is a selfish player. For large periods of his first season he was employed out on the wing by previous manager Konstantin Galkin had tried to integrate him alongside the majestic talents of Cleyton, Savin, Vladimir Gogberashvili and Andrey Pavlenko, and at times he was even denied a place in the starting XI. His work rate and attitude was clearly exemplary as he earned the captaincy without grumbling.

Two more snap shots blazed just over from the edge of the box, and the opening quarter of an hour were all about the captain. The early stages in the game are where he is at his most dangerous, when opposing teams often prefer to trade harmless jabs to assess the match before settling into proceedings. As the game develops, he could easily fade as his fitness begins to tell, but instead he adapts his role to continue being useful to his side, and it proved to be the same again against Shinnik.

After half an hour, Roman Loktionov hacked away a desperate ball between two lunging attackers in the six yard box. Most strikers not blessed with pace would stay further up the field, but Mamtov drifted back, aware that the ball was unlikely to reach halfway. Sure enough, the hurried clearance reached him awkwardly bouncing, but his instinct with his first headed touch to take it away from the centre back, and the second to shield it and win an inevitable free kick, were simple but symptomatic of a great footballing brain.

As the first half petered out with the visitors barely having a sniff, Denis Chudin won a header aimed towards the left. Mamtov was goalside of his marker, but knowing the bounce would mean he had enough time, he waited before rushing directly to the bounce and timed his challenge perfectly, again winning possession and alleviating pressure on his midfield. It is his sort of awareness and judgement that makes his all round contribution so valuable. On the ball, his direct effect had waned since the early burst of energy as it often does, but his efficiency in his work off the ball becomes so important in keeping the momentum in his team’s favour.

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Who needs pace when you have speed of thought? The Dennis Bergkamp of the Russian lower leagues (photo: Anton Sakerin via fc-tyumen.ru)

Either side of him were two very contrasting players. On the left, the right footed speedster Andrey Pavlenko, and on the right the more technical Nikita Telenkov. Pavelnko’s threat is obvious, and provides the width for Mamtov to compliment his movement, but is not used as a direct supply line; very few crosses are directed into the box from Pavlenko, as Mamtov doesn’t have the pace or outstanding leap to cause a major aerial threat. It is not an entirely symmetrical set up as Telenkov often drops back into his more natural conventional midfield position and doesn’t have the electric pace of his fellow winger, but is able to thread passes through to his captain’s feet.

It is a system that makes marking Mamtov very difficult, especially as his positioning becomes more flexible as the game wears on. Quick thinking from Danil Klenkin to take a free kick deep in Tyumen’s half set Mamtov racing forwards to challenge the cenre half, whose header looped back towards Alexey Pustozerov. The number 10, who had barely had an effect on the game and was substituted a few minutes later, did well to control a bouncing ball under pressure and release Mamtov out wide. Nothing seemed to be on, until the skipper instantly turned inside and fed a return ball into space for Pustozerov. The importance of momentum in Mamtov game cannot be understated.

Late in the game and legs were beginning to tire, but Mamtov remained alert. Spotting Klenkin winning possession, he began drifting between the centre back and full back. Without breaking his stride, he knew Klenkin would be looking and received the slide rule pass just wide of the six yard box moving away from danger. Instead of turning back to retain the ball and waiting for a more mobile teammate to arrive, he shaped his body to turn inside around the backpedalling defender and hits a vicious snap shot towards the near post. While his effort was tipped round the post, his sharp mind kept Shinnik working instead of allowing them to relax.

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Nikita Telenkov celebrates his incredible winner as Mamtov watches on (photo: Anton Sakerin,  via fc-tyumen.ru)

A sloppy lack of marking then allowed Nikita Malyarov a free header from a corner to level the scored with ten minutes remaining, but moments later a horrendously late challenge on Tyumen keeper saw the Shinnik goalscorer sent off. This time, it was left to the younger head of Telenkov to weave a spellbinding path through the Shinnik defence and finish calmly inside th near post in added time to dramatically claim the three points, but Mamtov could rest easy knowing his work had been done. Without question the match winner has the ability and deserves the credit for a stupendous moment of magic, but his confidence to even consider it undoubtedly came from the guiding nous of his leader.

Khasan Mamtov has now turned 32 and is almost certainly going to end his career at the Geolog, so his only chance of a much-deserved shot at the Russian top flight is likely to come in 18 months’ time, assuming Tyumen can mount a sustained push towards the playoffs next season. Whether or not he is granted the opportunity, he can rest safe in the knowledge that his talents are appreciated in Western Siberia.

 

Tyumen Musings Part 13: (Late) Christmas Special

I have redefined cool.

We’ve all grimaced at those low-riding custom job cars with the windows down blaring out some god-awful abomination claiming to be music. It’s odd why some people think anyone else gives a **** about whatever form of mind-numbingly inane hip hop beat they find defining, and I swore I would never sink to anything like that low. Well have you never broken a promise?

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Tyumen has an odd range of cars on its roads, from Toyota Landcruisers and Porsche Cayenne 4x4s to these gaudy monstrosities – all blaring out horrendous music

As I sped down the central artery of the glorious Siberian city of Tyumen at 11pm, I succumbed to this vice. The thumping tunes blared out at full volume (and I mean FULL volume), attracting glances ranging somewhere between disgust and utter bemusement as my companions wound down the window. For the short ride home we were transported to another realm, far removed from our surroundings. If we had closed our eyes, we could almost have been huddled around a log fire with a glass of wine and a contented belly full of turkey and trimings, not rushing home over the dirty ice-ridden streets after a long day’s work surrounded by people who didn’t care much for us at all.

 

The difference is that whereas suburban white gopniks – chavs to English readers – pathetically attempt to connect to their ‘brothers’ from the East or West coast of a country they generally look upon with contempt, my choons were the distinctly un-rock’n’roll strains of Nat King Cole. Oh yes. Welcome to life on Christmas Day as an expat in a country where December 25 is a just another date…

The last time I wrote a blog post, the sun was beating down as I panted out of breath having run a sprightly kilometre in a ‘snug’ grey suit. Two stylish chaps strolled down the path in front of me, so effortlessly smooth and emanating the sort of cool we all wish we had a bit more of. Thankfully they took pity on the hapless foreigner and were charming in their openness as they took photos with me and chatted for a while.

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A style icon – and Evgeniy Savin

One of them is about the most fashionable men to ever step foot in Tyumen. Ha ha, big deal I hear you say; well he is also now a presenter on Mr Putin’s grand new TV sports channel, Match TV, having also been called up to one of Guus Hiddink’s Russia squads a few years back. Evgeniy Savin is the sort of man who could look cool in a bin bag and a bowler hat, but he doesn’t conform to the largely true stereotype of the disconnected, arrogant and self-obsessed Russian football superstar. He runs a youth tournament every year wherever his career takes him, and last summer he spent a lot of time with the hundreds of kids who came to Tyumen as they played for the Kubok Savina (won by “Tyumen-2003” = under 12s, since you ask). He even found time to speak to the grey-suited foreigner again.

The other, meanwhile, is entertaining thousands in Brazil on a weekly basis. His arrival was a real culture shock; a Brazilian with actual talent and reasonable pedigree playing in Tyumen was not something we have been used to. Every time he touched the ball, something unique happened which either created an opening or at least put us on the edge of our seats. Cleyton by name, genius by nature. Will we see his like again? Well possibly, yes; only four places off the playoff places with a game in hand and with Spartak reserves – currently just above FC Tyumen in the table – unable to be promoted, the omens are promising for a dramatic end to the season. The mouth-watering prospect of top flight football down the road awaits.

Why am I mentioning these two players again? They have both moved on from our humble town to pursue what they wanted to do; Cleyton is now back in his homeland, Savin is in front of the national TV cameras, and neither are stuck in limbo. Little did they know it at the time, but when they stopped and were so open to me, they lodged a mental note in my head to follow their paths. Much as I admired them on the pitch, they were both clearly not made for the environment Tyumen offered for different reasons, so the fact that they got off their ‘zhopas’ and did something about it is inspiring. To me at least.

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“Soon it will be Monday, and back to work!” – This poster may have Soviet propaganda written all over it, but it hints at the hours many Russians work

My brother-in-law is an example of this ruthless pursuit of self-improvement that I find common in many Russians. Like 90% of the population in my adopted home town, he qualified as an engineer, but not satisfied with an office job and little prospect of career progression, he took the bold move at a time when the rouble was beginning to fall faster and faster to find a new job that involved moving hundreds of kilometres away from his family, and worked so hard he was awarded a prize in recognition of his progress.

The number of hours worked by the average Russian is, to me, astonishing. University students often work full time jobs in conjunction with studying with 30 contact hours a week. I had 11 weekly hours on my schedule at University, and I struggled to make half of those sometimes, yet alone hold down a 9 to 5 at the same time. What is curious is the surprise local people show me when I say how hard I think Russians work; my students and friends tell me that while many of their compatriots work long hours, they don’t always use them efficiently. The thing is, I used to do neither – unless fine-tuning my team on Football Manager counts as productive. No? Oh well. I might just fit in here after all…

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*After an enforced hiatus from Andrewmijflint.com due to technical reasons – I forgot my password – Tyumen Musings and all my other personal views will be posted here. The name ‘An Englishman in Siberia’ has been permitted by the very kind James Brooks, who has written a brilliant account of life as (you guessed it) a fellow countryman in this vast region which can be found at http://www.siberia.eclipse.co.uk. My personal favourite story is of how he met his future wife via a tramp and a bus stop, but please do discover his adventures in Chita and beyond for yourself.