“Отроду не встречал я…ничего роскошнее тифлисских бань.”
There is a Pushkin quote in Russian – just because I can. It translates as broadly as ‘In all my life, I have never encountered anything more luxurious than the baths of Tbilisi.’ Very nice, Pushkin. But what if you had been a football fan instead of a poet. What would you have to say then about Tbilisi?
Only one way to find out. Off to Georgia we go. (Just a quick note that the flight was booked well before I ever posed that question.)
I am going to keep this brief as Tbilisi is not in pre- or post-Trianon* Hungary. Beautiful city with some funky new buildings courtesy of the little Western hussy Sakashvilli and lots of old, old world charm. (Georgia was embracing Christianity and making wine whilst Western Europe was worshipping the sun and trying to invent the wheel).
Lots of Dinamo Tbilisi stickers around town, which would suggest a one team town (supported by Wikipedia). Also the occasional old poster for the Spurs game that took place in last year’s Europa League qualifiers.
Soviet concrete bowl (large). Textbook. Even had the standard issue Soviet concrete bowl (large) renovated look down to a tee with the orange, green and yellow seats, which it must have bulked order together with Luzhniki in Moscow. Capacity of 56,000 seats must make it one of the larger stadiums in Eastern Europe.
Ticket cost 0.4 lari or 20 Euro cents. I always wonder what the point of charging that much is. Why not let everyone in for free and do away with expensive ticket machines etc.? The supporters were broadly split into four sections: main stand melange (couple of thousand), behind the goal Tbilisi hard-core (ten), corner flag Tbilisi hard-core (couple of hundred) and sun seekers who sat in the last part of the stadium bathed in early evening sunlight (some).
We started off in the main stand melange consisting of youth team players, old people and a few people who looked a lot like tramps. Possibly were tramps at the price of ticket entry. Turned out after a few minutes though that they were supporting the away team. So we were enticed by the corner flag hard-core and their Ukrainian flags (Слава Украины!) and headed over there to join in the fun.
Unfortunately, no one in Georgia seems to want refreshments so there was nowhere for eating and drinking in the stadium.
Not knowing much about the Umaglesi Liga, I assumed that Dinamo would win at a canter. The opponents, FC Merani Martvili, were an unknown name and quantity to me. Although they had a seemingly impressive following for a team from a village from the other side of the country. (I assume primarily economic migrants living in the capital).
The game was an interesting nil-nil including a couple of woodworks, a missed penalty, a disallowed goal and an old school goal mouth scramble. The provincial underdogs gave as good as they got and with some slightly more composed finishing they probably could and should have come away with all three points. Judging by the reaction of the bench to the disallowed goal and missed chances, they would have had a hell of a party if they had.
The level of football was definitely below that in Hungary (although Umaglesi Liga only ranks three places behind the Nemzeti Bajnoksag in UEFA Coefficients). No pressing, lots of time on the ball but still plenty of misplaced passes. The only player who could do a job at a higher lever for me was Martvili right wingback, Tornike Kakushadze (assuming that he was actually the man in the number two shirt). Lots of pace, direct running and a constant threat. Sorry Tornike, but I have probably ruined your career now.
FYI after eight games, Dinamo top the league and Martvili are 13th in 16 team league.
These Georgians are a pretty passionate lot and the couple of hundred in the corner section gave a pretty good account of themselves. Seems to be plenty of internal factions though with a little scuffle breaking out in the corner section and a clear split between the corner hard-core and behind the goal hard-core. Never really understand why this happens. Surely everyone is there to support Dinamo (or whatever team). Also the child with the flare was a bit inappropriate.
What would Pushkin say?
In Pushkin’s poem – The Tale of the Fisherman and the Fish, an old man and woman have been living poorly for many years. They have a small hut, and every day the man goes out to fish. One day, he throws in his net and pulls out seaweed twice in succession, but on the third time he pulls out a golden fish. The fish pleads for its life, promising any wish in return. The old man is scared by the fact that a fish can speak (who wouldn’t be); he says he does not want anything, and releases the fish. When he returns and tells his wife about the golden fish, she gets angry and tells her husband to go ask the fish for a new trough, as theirs is broken, and the fish grants the request. The next day, the wife asks for a new house, and the fish grants this request as well. Then, in succession, the wife asks for a palace, to become a noble lady, to become the ruler of her province, to become the tsarina, and finally to become the Ruler of the Sea and to subjugate the golden fish completely to her boundless will. As the man goes to ask for each item, the sea becomes more and more stormy, until at the last request, where the man can hardly hear himself think. When he asks that his wife be made the Ruler of the Sea, the fish cures her greed by putting her back in the old hut and giving back the broken trough.
Pushkin, me and every other honest football fan can be the Golden Fish. AMF! Or we can just go and sit in the baths.
NOTE TO SELF: Must try harder with/avoid altogether attempts to pretend Pushkin (or any other literary great) was a football fan.
*Treaty of Trianon was the treaty signed by the victors of World War I that took much of Hungary’s land away and gave it to neighbouring Romania, Austria, Croatia and Serbia. It also created Slovakia (so cannot have been a good thing). Much of Hungarian politics still has a revisionist theme running through it and it is not uncommon to see maps of ‘Old Hungary’ here and there. Some people even go to the Trianon Palace in France where the treaty was signed and spit on it. I think they are probably Ferencvaros fans (or just French people).