Monthly Archives: February 2015

Ukraine, Chernobyl and some football

Ukraine, Chernobyl and some football

When I said I was going to Ukraine, most people questioned my sanity. When I then said I was going to visit Chernobyl too, some were contemplating calling the men/women in white coats to lock me up (Some would want this to happen anyway!). As I’ve said in previous blogs, a lot of people have preconceived ideas about certain places, mostly due to the media and more often than not, it is not the case.

People were put off going to Naples for the Napoli away game, people said I’d be stabbed. They couldn’t have been more wrong, people were put off going to Brazil because of more scaremongering. No doubt the same people will tell me the same things when I visit Israel next month and North Korea in July.

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View over Kiev

Kiev was like any other major city, there was a high police presence, but that’s only expected with all the trouble that is going on on the Eastern side of Ukraine. This time last year there were violent riots in Kiev, so obviously the authorities do not want a repeat of this.

I arrived around 7pm on the Monday into Kiev after being slightly delayed, so there wasn’t much time to do anything, by the time I checked into my hotel. At least I remembered to get money out of the bank machine, as it is impossible to get Ukrainian currency (The Hryvnia) in the U.K. I just had a wander into the main square and had a McDonald’s that cost about 75p.

As I arrived late at night, Tuesday was my first chance to see what Kiev had to offer. First of all though I went to Dynamo Kiev’s stadium to buy a ticket for their Europa League match against Guingamp from France. The walk was about 40 minutes from my hotel and more or less in a straight line. As it is a little difficult to cross the road, there are a lot of underground walkways to get to the other/opposite side and in fact there are better food places under there than on the main streets.

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Me on Independence Square

I managed to find the ticket booth and chose the price range I wanted, maths has never been my strong point and I can never work out how much things cost in pounds. I paid 200 Hryvnia (Which I checked afterwards, worked out to just under £5). I was discover that things being cheap was going to become a common theme here.

I saw on the Internet that there was a free walking tour of the city, I have been on a few of these in the various cities I have visited in the past and find them a good way of getting your bearings. My guides name was Konstantin, who spoke very good English, only one other person joined us on the tour. Tourism has definitely taken a hit since the fighting started I’m guessing, probably why my hotel was so cheap.

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One of the many churches in Kiev

The tour took about 3 hours and we went to the old part of town, where all the very neatly designed churches and cathedrals are. It was interesting to see all the old style buildings (though some parts were renovated more recently). I’d love to give you a history lesson, but I do have a short attention span in most things in life (unless a football or useless fact is inovled), so I tend to forget what is being said (sorry!).

I was going to find somewhere to watch Man City play Barcelona and see Wilfried Bony make his Champions League debut, but as I had to be up quite early the following day and the fact Ukraine is 2 hours ahead of the U.K. I didn’t! But I was looking forward, in a strange sort of way, to visiting Chernobyl the following day.

Chernobyl

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Don’t ask me why, but I have wanted to visit Chernobyl for a while. I do like to go off the beaten track and if you have any other ideas of obscure trips, let me know (Not Syria). For those of you who don’t know about Chernobyl, on 26th April 1986 there was a nuclear disaster, in the then Soviet Union, many radioactive particles spread over Europe.

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No-one really knows how many people died due to the Chernobyl disaster, a Google search suggests that it is around 4000 – including people who have died from cancer in later years.

As I was born in August 1986, I obviously have no memory of this tragedy happening, so it was interesting to watch a video on the bus to Chernobyl of news reports from the time. For the Soviet Union to admit they were at fault, at the time, never happened. So it must have been a bit of a shock to all concerned. What I didn’t realise was that there was almost a second explosion, which would’ve been more devastating than the first.

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The dormitory in one of the nurseries in Chernobyl

The journey took around a hour and a half from Kiev to the main town on Chernobyl and the roads leading there were just long roads with lots and lots of trees, I was expecting Zombies to appear at any time as it reminded me of the locations used in ‘The Walking Dead.’ Looked literally in the middle of nowhere, getting the Ukrainian equivalent of the AA to come and rescue you must be very difficult.

We were met by the exclusion zone to Chernboyl, by our guide for the day, Misha, who works in Chernobyl all year round. When I told people I was visiting Chernobyl, I would get told that I’m going to grow extra features (could be an improvement I agree) or be killed by radiation, I know most were just joking but it’s another misconception thought by people. You receive more radiation on a Transatlantic flight to New York than you do visiting Chernobyl.

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A view of Pripyat from the top of another derelict building

There were people on our tour with Geiger counters and the readings were similar to what they were in Kiev. Even our guide Misha said his Ukrainian friends think the same, the only way you would get a harmful dose of radiation is if you were to jump into the reactor that still has Uranium in it. People live in Chernobyl currently and there were people working on the reactor, by most of it is a ghost town.

Anyway, we went through two checkpoints and having a Russian stamp in my passport didn’t hamper things and I arrived in the main town of Chernobyl. There wasn’t much there in all honesty, but I thought the Russians were coming when this Air Raid style siren started wailing, no-one knew what it meant, which amused me, but not to worry, we just got back on the bus.

You may have seen images of a Ferris Wheel and Dodgems when Chernobyl is mentioned and that was one of our first stops. The fairground in Pripyat was never officially opened, when the disaster struck, but the rides had been used. It was all quite eerie really to see it just left there.

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We went to visit an old school in the town on Pripyat, which obviously hadn’t been maintained for the whole of my lifetime. Misha joked that it hasn’t fallen down in 28 years, so it must be safe….. Reassuring! Again it was quite sad just to see this derelict building and a lot of the gasmasks you see on the floor were put there on purpose years ago, to try and cause dramatic effect. So a lot of the things inside buildings are staged.

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The abandoned roads that just seemed to go on and on

The last place we went was called ‘The Woodpecker’ it was a mass of antennae on a big metal structure used by the Soviet Union to detect attacks from the outside. It was kept a secret until the fall of the Soviet Union, but this couldn’t be destroyed as it is so close to the 10KM exclusion zone.

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The Woodpecker

I have recently become quite interested in the Soviet Union years and all the propaganda used, so it gave me a little insight into what things would have been like back in that era. I noticed a few typical Soviet Union/Communist posters on show in the school too. After a late lunch and a long day, it was back to Kiev. I’d recommend visiting Chernobyl to anyone, as I said earlier it is perfectly safe and is definitely something different. Definitely very eerie and cannot see anyone ever living there again, sadly.

More sightseeing

I had been recommended visiting Lavra, so I organised a trip there with my Walking Tour guide Konstantin, from Tuesday. Lavra is full of Orthodox Churches and lots of caves with corpses of hermits (yes really). With it possible to get good views of the city too.

To get there we went by the Metro and it must be one of the deepest subways in the World – though apparently the one in Pyongyang is deeper. So if another nuclear attack does occur, this must be one of the safest places to go.

I did laugh when Konstantin told me there are Ukrainians moaning at the cost of public transport in Kiev, when my ticket cost about 8p! I shouldn’t laugh, I guess it shows how little they get paid there.

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The NSC Olimpiyskiy – the venue for the Euro 2012 Final

As I said earlier I have a short attention span and don’t have much time for religion but there was a very fascinating museum I saw, called ‘Nikolai Syadristy’s Museum of Microminiature. It really is worth a look, it has the World’s smallest book in there, it measures 0.6mm and there are things engraved on a single human hair.  It is very unqiue and I was impressed. My question would be why would you want to make things so small in the first place? But I do think of things too logically sometimes.

The football

When I booked my trip I purposely planned to go to a football game as well, I saw that Dynamo Kiev would be playing in a Europa League game 2nd Leg. Dynamo Kiev have two football stadia, one called ‘Valeriy Lobanovskyi Dynamo Stadium’ with a capacity of 16,000 And the other NSC Olimpiyskiy, with a capacity of 70,000.

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It was a wet and snowy night

The venue for their game against Guingamp would be NSC Olimpiyskiy Which hosted 5 Games at the Euro 2012 Championships, including the final.  It is not the official home of Dynamo Kiev, but depending on the type of game they use this stadium. It is quite an impressive ground and very colourful with the mis-match of blue and yellow seats.

I was on the dugout side close to the corner flag, but this was the place where all the business people tended to be as through the glass, I saw a lot of people eating meals (no prawn sandwiches though). What was annoying in the first half was having streams of people getting to their seats, blocking other’s view and being a distraction right up until the 35th minute.

Aside from that though, the atmosphere was good inside the ground, mainly due to the Dynamo Kiev Ultras. I do like a good European atmosphere – it would take a lot to beat Petrolul Ploiesti fans in the build up to our (Swansea) Europa League game last season, best I’ve ever heard.

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The Dynamo Kiev Ultras

Dynamo Kiev, managed by former Tottenham striker Sergei Rebrov, were 2-1 down from the first half, but had the all important away goal (they had 9 men for a lot of that game too). They did go in front through a header from a corner from Teodorczyk (yes I Googled), but the first half was a quiet affair with a lot of stray passing from both games and neither really got going. Thankfully the swirling snow and rain had now stopped, so I think the temperature went up! (Was now 2 degrees).

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The 2nd half came to life and a very good volleyed goal from Buyalsky just after half time put the tie well in Kiev’s favour. Guingamp’s 20+ fans had something to cheer when Mandanne cored on 66 Minutes (though he looked offside to me) meaning the game would be heading to Extra Time. Ten minutes later and Kiev won a penalty and it was duly despatched by Gusev. Kiev were going through unless Guingamp could muster something they never really deserved.

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On 82 minutes Dynamo Kiev won a goal kick and for some reason it all started kicking off behind the goal (opposite to where the Ultras were), seemingly among Dynamo Kiev fans themselves. Chairs were being thrown, people were being kicked and chased. The referee halted the game while the Dynamo players claimed for calm. My Ukrainian isn’t the best so I do not know what the announcements were saying, someone told me afterwards that someone had unfurled an anti-Ukraine flag. Not sure if this is true or not, seems feasible as Dynamo Kiev were 3-1 up and going though to the next round.

(*UEFA are now investigating this incident and may be forced to play their home game with Everton at a different venue, or behind closed doors).

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When it all ‘kicked off’

In truth there was only about a 7 minute stoppage, so probably mild in comparison to other similar disturbances. Dynamo Kiev hung on in the end but went through as deserved winners.

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The crucial penalty

This concludes my blog to Kiev and Chernobyl and another country and ground to tick off my list. I always get a sense of accomplishment when I travel anywhere, especially on my own. It’s one of the only things I have am quite confident of doing in life. Anyway, too deep, moving on!

I wrote this on the plane back to Gatwick so my question for you to ponder is why does it take so long for people to get on a plane and sit down? No wonder they are always delayed! Everyone should be given a maximum of 15 seconds to take their coat off and put their bag in the overhead compartments, if not they should pay a fine or get chucked off. Anyway, rant over. But it’s one of my biggest bug bears, I’ll leave this for another day.

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A trip to Guernsey

Most people spend their Valentine’s weekend in fancy restaurants, I am not most people so as the Swans were out of the FA Cup I went to Guernsey in the Channel Islands for a very random trip – with football included of course. There is a back story to why I chose Guernsey, during my trip to the World Cup in Brazil last year (Have I not mentioned it before?) I met a guy called Phill in the hostel in Brasilia. He is a Southampton fan who lives in Guernsey and it was a perfect opportunity to meet up, as I said I would visit one day – and I am a Man of my word.

These days I like to combine my travelling with a football game if I can. Guernsey FC have a team who play in the Ryman South, despite not actually being located in England. I’m sure you can think of a few other teams who are similar……

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St Peter Port, Guernsey

I caught a flight from Birmingham Airport on the Thursday after being in the city for the West Brom away game the day previous (I have told you before that my middle name is ‘organised’). After a short delay and a very bumpy landing on one of those propeller planes I had arrived. Phill was there to pick me up and I stayed with him and his parents in their lovely house right on the coast.

Exploring Guernsey

Friday was my day to explore the wonders of Guernsey, Guernsey is located inbetween France and the U.K. along with some other Islands in the Channel – Jersey, Alderney and Sark to name a few. They are a British Crown Dependency with their own Government, currency etc. A long history and wars with France and Spain in the past and they are the only British Territory to be occupied by Germany during the War. Many people think Guernsey part of Britian, but it isn’t. They are their own seperate Nation with a population of around 65,000 but part of the British Commonwealth.

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Castle Cornet

I caught a bus into the town centre, the journey only cost £1 – take note First Cymru! After the rain had subsided slightly I just went for a wander around the marina, took some photos and just went for a long walk for some more photos of breathtaking views as well as almost being blown over several times.

Guernsey on the whole I thought was an interesting place, I did notice some subtle differences to back home though. Most of the street signs are in French, but everyone speaks English. The pavements are almost non-existent and the roads are narrow, the Post Office boxes are blue and they have £1 notes instead of £1 coins. Which you are unable to spend over in the U.K. but it is possible to spend our money over in Guernsey.

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A blue Post Office Box

So Saturday approached and I thankfully noticed that the kick off time for the Guernsey game was 1pm (I’m sure I checked this before I left). Before the game Phill drove me to this very nice and Chapel, which is said to be the smallest functioning chapel in the World (according to Wikipedia) and is called ‘The Little Chapel’.  Just 16 foot by 9 foot (but has two floors). It is decorated by seashells, pebbles and broken China.

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The Little Chapel

Guernsey FC and football in the Channel Islands

Guernsey FC were only formed back in 2011 and became the first team from the Channel Islands to play Mainland Britain. (Jersey and Guernsey Rugby teams play in Britain too). They have won 2 promotions since starting out in the Combined Counties League Division One. They currently play in the Isthmian League Division One and to get there they had to play 16 games in 30 days (someone tell Sam Allardyce!). Last season they reached the Play Offs but lost to Leatherhead.

The Guernsey FA was established way back in 1893 and a few players from Guernsey have played in the top flight in England. Obviously Matt Le Tissier being the most famous (who is Guernsey’s club President). Guernsey do play football at the Island games every other year and have won it twice – beating Isle of Man and Ynys Môn (also known as Anglesey).

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More Guernsey coastline

Regarding Channel Island footballers, my favourite and maybe unknown fact is that any person born in the Channel Islands is eligible to play for any of the Home Nations that they choose (this is true, unlike when people say Januzaj could play for England when he couldn’t). The only two that have played Internationally are Graeme le Saux (from Jersey) and Matt Le Tissier.  There are three footballers born in the Channel Islands who play in the Football League at present (that I know of). Brett Pitman (AFC Bournemouth), Peter Vincenti (Rochdale) and James Hamon (Exeter). Whether they want to play for Wales is another matter though!

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Footes Lane

Guernsey play at Footes Lane, capacity of 5000, which they rent off the local Government. (The Guernsey Rugby team also play here) It has an Athletics track around the pitch and the ground has just one stand, they average crowds of around 800. Another reason why I wanted to watch Guernsey FC play, apart from trying to get up the ‘Football Hipster’ ladder is that Guernsey FC pay for all the opposition players and directors to travel over, as well as putting them up in a hotel. I am not sure how long they will be able to sustain that for. Not forgetting that they have to pay for their own players to go to the away games in England.

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Another ground to tick off (my 160th)

Guernsey don’t pay their players and are one of only two amateur teams in the Ryman South. Burgess Hill Town are currently top of the league, also in the league are South Park, Corinthian Casuals and my favourite named team – Three Bridges. Before the game I met up with Nick Legg,  Guernsey FC’s Communication Manager, who wanted to take Phill and I’s photo. Apparently it will be in the next programme (fame at last!).

Guernsey’s opponents were Horsham FC, which ironically I had seen play twice before. In the 2007/08 season Swansea were drawn away to them in the FA Cup 2nd round. We drew 1-1 away on a wet and muddy Friday night and then beat them 6-2 in the replay. (Horsham have the accolade of being our first ever FA Cup opponents at the Liberty Stadium). I spoke to one Horsham fan in the club house before the game who had been to both of those games, he only had nice things to say about the Liberty. I ‘Havant’ got a clue who knocked us out of the next round that season though (sorry!).

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Phill (@Phill_Loveridge) and I

Horsham brought around 50 away fans to Guernsey, including one from Malaga. (I was disappointed I hadn’t travelled the furthest). Personally if Guernsey were in our league, I would think it would be the most appealing to travelling fans. And from what I was told, Horsham brought the biggest following of away fans to Footes Lane so far this season.

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The matchday programme

Horsham were bottom of the league, but after appointing two people to become a joint management team (yes that’s right TWO people!). They have been on a recent resurgence.

The Game

I’m not very good at writing match reports and I find it even more difficult when I don’t really know who is who. Guernsey did score through Mark McGrath- after just 15 seconds – his 20th goal of the season with a shot from outside the area. Roary the Lion was entertaining the crowd and did accidentally slipped whilst jumping the hoardings – much to the amusement of the Green Lions faithful. There weren’t that many chances in the first half and Guernsey were 1-0 up at half time and looked comfortable.

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McGrath scores for Guernsey

The 2nd half started in almost the same fashion as the first, with Guernsey going 2-0 up through Dave Rihoy on the 50 minute mark. I was getting more amused with the home fans getting annoyed with the officials. No matter what level you are at, it’s always the same. Though ‘You must’ve come on the same plane’ rarely gets said at Non League matches I would guess.

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Horsham’s away following

Personally I didn’t think the officials did much wrong, sad as I am in this regard I did notice that the assistants switched sides in the 2nd half. But I don’t think any others noticed as the 2nd half assistant on the stand side was getting grief for things his colleague had done in the 1st!

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Roary the Lion

A few half chances for both teams before Horsham had a glimmer of hope when they were awarded a penalty a few minutes from the end. A silly challenge from the keeper (Chris Tardif, ex Portsmouth) as the player was going away from goal, they duly scored. About 2 minutes after this though, Horsham were denied what looked like a clear penalty. Everyone around me were saying they were lucky to get away with that one.

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Tony Nwachukwu scores for Horsham from the penalty spot

The final score was 2-1 to Guernsey and that win moved them up to 10th in the table,  10 points off the Play Offs positions with 11 games to go, so a tough ask but I hope they can do it. Guernsey FC are now my adopted non league club and I do like the colour green!

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Channeling my thoughts

I’d like to thank Phill and his parents for putting me up, I do really appreciate the hospitality. I would urge any groundhoppers to go and watch Guernsey if they can, the boat takes 7 hours from Portsmouth if that’s your kind of thing! Everyone was really friendly and it’s a little bit different in the sense that it is not in the U.K. I’d love to see them get as high as they can, but it will be very difficult. Seeing them in the Conference one day would be a great achievement.

Visting Guernsey has made me want to visit the other islands in the Channel, so hopefully one day I will be able to go back. Now anyone want some £1 notes……?