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Ok, so the first time I watched them a professional player air kicked a 5-yard pass, and the most entertaining moment for 85 minutes was the drunk man to my left claiming to have intimate knowledge of the referee’s ‘inclinations’, but there was something that hooked me in. How could a club play in the Russian third tier but have a more luxurious stadium than most English Premier League clubs? Why were there only 2,000 people out of a local population pushing 900,000 attending matches of the only team for 300 km? And what on earth possessed a magical Brazilian to move from a Europa League side to play in the most impenetrable and unstable league in the world? Surely this was worth finding out.
I have been in press boxes of lower league clubs in England, but nowhere has been as welcoming as FC Tyumen. Two years ago, I went to buy my season ticket (which would have cost me the equivalent of £60 at the time, or less than £30 by 2016 exchange rates) but couldn’t quite make myself understood by the ticket office assistant. I was ushered into the marketing manager’s office to sort it out, and Anton, who spoke reasonable English, was fascinated to know more about why a foreigner was the slightest bit interested in his club. Within minutes the press officer had joined us, and as we overlooked the pitch, a glorious thought occurred to me: why not push my luck and say I write about football?
While it is true that I had attended a newspaper journalism course a few years earlier, I hadn’t had anything published in a long, long time, but what did I have to lose? In hindsight it may seem an exaggeration, but at the time it was one of those it’ll-never-happen-again moments. There I was in the inner sanctum of a professional club being treated as a VIP, and all I had to do was ask. “Vladimir Kuleshev is a little out of shape,” I said as the floppy-haired utility defender trotted along outside in the early evening training session. Slip in a bit of proper knowledge, I thought, that should clinch it.
As it turned out, I had a whole lot to gain – at the dizzying pace that I have become accustomed to here, I found myself moments later holding a press pass for the season, and thrust into a world which I am fairly certain very few Englishmen, if any at all, have ever been part of. Sure, Jonathan Wilson and Marc Bennetts had written books about the biggest clubs in the land, but had they ever cadged a fag off a second-tier manager outside the ground (as my colleague Johnny ‘Siberian McGeady’ McKenna later did), or get an exclusive comment from Gerson Acevedo? This path has so far lead me to a season-long press pass at the “local” Premier League side Ural, a Champions League pass for Manchester United v CSKA (van Gaal really is as miserable as he looks) and a whole new career. I have met a host of local journalists and TV presenters who have (almost) to a man been both delightfully open and curious about the interest shown in their club.
As for the team itself, I have watched them develop from third-tier mid-table fodder into potential dark horses on the cusp of promotion to the Premier League, with a glorious 2-0 defeat of the monied megastars of Zenit St Petersburg in the Russian Cup in between. Everything is in place for them to become a top flight outfit: a regional centre of excellence, a reputation for paying wages fairly – a truly unique quality in this country – and a wealthy local government backing them. The city is an unpolished diamond, something I hope to cover in other parts of this site, and hosts one of Europe’s best futsal clubs. Mark my words, this is a club on the move. Here, I will keep you up to date with the latest from your new favourite Russian lower – league club.
Captain, Leader, Legend is every bit as apt for Khasan Mamtov as Chelsea fans claim it is for John Terry. When you picture lower legue Russian football, images of free-flowing ‘sexy football’ probably don’t come to mind, but that doesn’t mean the attractions are not there. Read my take on the 2015/16 FNL top goalscorer.
Originally written for Russian Football News, this was one of the first articles I wrote after taking the act of putting words together more seriously. The claim comes from the club itself, but is actually not far off the truth. Take a look for yourself…
A relatively new addition to the page, here you can find the live reports that I have posted from home matches (when the WiFi allows…). Forgive the rough edges in the first few, this is a work in progress, but keep your eyes peeled on Facebook and Twitter for future editions that will hopefully improve!
Tyumen 1-1 Sokol Saratov (8/10/16)
Tyumen 2-0 Kuban Krasnodar (26/9/16)
FNL: Tyumen v Sokol Saratov (8/10/16)
Preseason friendly v Chelyabinsk (23/6/16)