The Sheriff of Tiraspol: Games Without Frontiers?

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March 5th 2016
Published: March 15th 2016
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A group of girls became rather loud. It was Friday night. They had consumed a few drinks. One in particular, had clearly had consumed one too many! The volume rose further. The scene was probably being repeated all over Europe. It wasn't unusual, but in Tiraspol, Transnistria it seemed to be so. We were sitting in 7 Fridays on 25th October Street. There were few people in the restaurant and few passing on the street outside. We are familiar with the term ..... quiet night in ......but perhaps not the quiet night out! In Tiraspol, you would use to the latter term - it seemed dead. We had dined on a very good pizza and were drinking Russian beer (at 15 Transnistrian Roubles a pint), whilst surveying the Tiraspol nightlife. The menu in 7 Fridays had some helpful pictures, which made up for the incomprehensible cyrillic text. We had seen only one Chilean guy all day, so the prospect of bumping into other foreigners was remote. It was like being on a communist version of Lindisfarne - Holy Island - after the day trippers had gone home with the closure of the causeway and the incoming tide .................. except today there hadn't been any day trippers. The short term visa on crossing from Moldova means that most turn straight back to Chisinau after their brief exploration of the "sights", satisfied that they had been into the unknown at least for a few hours. It had been a long day, so we headed off into the "quiet night". The action was to be found back at the hotel. A birthday bash was in full swing. Loud music and Russian dad dancing. The receptionist apologised for the noise in advance, should it disturb our sleep. It didn't and we awoke in our luxury abode. The KGB hadn't knocked on the door, so we were good to go for another day of life in Transnistria.

We had covered most of the things to see the previous afternoon. However, we had seen some photographs of a MIG monument similar to the Russian tank. We sought it's whereabouts via the receptionist, before we ventured out. It wasn't really likely that we would encounter any other English speakers to ask beyond the confines of the hotel. A shared minibus would be required. Bus 2 from 25th October Street, heading east. The other object of the day was the football at Sheriff Tiraspol. An easy question for the receptionist................ you want to go to The Sheriff - also Bus 2 heading in the other direction. I was interested to see it referred to as The Sheriff. The transport sorted, it was time for breakfast. Breakfast was not included in our bargain rate, but we had spied a pastry shop the previous afternoon. The costs in Tiraspol are surprisingly high compared to Moldova - perhaps because a lot is imported. Our breakfast fayre must have been prohibitively expensive for most residents. The contrasts of the haves and the have nots were also evident in some of the properties. A small estate of individual luxury villas nestled under 2 communist tower blocks of flats. Chalk and cheese, but no obvious sign of resentment from the residents of the flats.

A Bus 2 shared minibus arrived fairly promptly and with Ross watching his app, we alighted at the correct place. The MIG looked a bit forlorn, hidden in amongst some trees in a small park in the middle of large traffic island. The blue sky was missing from the photographs we had seen. It was silver against a grey sky. The pigeons appreciated it's high vantage point. We spied a potential coffee place. The lights were on, but only the cleaners were home. It didn't open until 10 am. We meandered through the tower blocks and into an area of shops. A small street market was in operation. A vendor was lifting some huge live fish out of the back of a small tanker, bringing a whole new meaning to the word fresh. The footfall was slow, but the vendors waited patiently for things to improve. The usual copious numbers of hairdressers and chemist shops were the highest concentration. We set off to walk back to the city centre.

A wagon with a cherry picker was spoiling the view at the entrance to Victory Park. Three workman were busy erecting some form of banner. At least they were working. A couple of other employees were being tasked with repairing the concrete on the statue in the centre of the park. They saw our arrival as a good opportunity to lay down the tools for while and amused themselves why we were bothering to photograph the focus of their labours. The park also

Let Them Eat Cake
housed a big wheel and some form of outdoor theatre. A number of woman were busy - well more busy than the statue repair crew - sweeping leaves, vegetation and other debris. It seemed a thankless task. We went to investigate the restaurant at the top of the park. It was closed. A local stared intensely at us, as we peered through the window at the adjacent 10 pin bowling alley. The statue crew were still taking a break, as we passed them on the way back. A small skating rink was worthy of investigation. A lady approached us and seemed disappointed that we weren't looking to be paying skating customers. The old Tiraspol Stadium was just round the corner. We peered inside through a gap in a gate and to our dismay a group of soldiers were being put through their fitness paces. As the military were in residence, it seemed prudent not to walk through the open door of the main entrance in search of a photograph. A young soldier was smoking at the entrance. He ignored us. We moved off past the University of Tiraspol and regained our bearings near the Theatre and our preferred coffee stop, Dolce Vita. Two Americanos were ordered and Football Travels with Ross is never one to miss a cake opportunity. The customer numbers were not high, but the in-house ATM machine attracted a steady flow of customers. Two guys came in - one was clearly being educated in the merits of getting cash out of the hole in the wall. He suffered a disappointment as the computer said no and he left empty handed. In fact, the machine had a very low dispensing ratio - most left without cash. It also appeared to be the slowest ATM machine in the world. We walked back to the House of Soviets and took a bus to the Sheriff complex. Bus 2.

We had earlier discovered a unique piece of currency in Trouble series. A 10 Trouble note on a bus rendered a plastic type token as change. We actively sought another. The minibus driver seemed somewhat surprised when Ross specifically pointed to one as the change item of his preference. The ultimate souvenir in internationally worthless currency. We rode the bus to a terminus near The Sheriff. It was short walk thereafter to the sports complex. Sheriff Tiraspol is the freak in the Soviet time capsule. Across the road from some signs - one of which bears the letters CCCP and others a hammer and sickle - is an ultra modern football complex. The 40 hectare site has 2 stadiums, a large indoor 3,000 capacity training facility, 5 star hotel and a lot of outdoor pitches with various surfaces. The costs in a country unrecognised by the rest of the world - where average income is low - are obscene - apparently US$ 200 Million. Sheriff is clearly not aimed at the locals or indeed, the Moldovan football scene, but is an outward sign to the outside world that Transnistria means business. Sheriff was only formed in 1997 by a corporation that is owned by people with close connections to the former security services. The profits of their other businesses - oil, petrol and retail - are being reinvested in football dominance. After a few external snaps - including the adjacent Sheriff petrol station, we tried to walk into the complex. The security man decided that wasn't possible, but he did confirm the football was on at 1500 hours. If our Russian had been up to scratch, we could have perhaps suggested we looking to buy a car - the Main Stand houses 3 car dealerships. Looking for black Mercedes, mate? We made off towards the Sheriff hypermarket on the road to Bender. We paused for more photographs through the fence, much to the annoyance of another security guy who ventured out of his observation point to snap at us in Russian and highlight that we should stay on the path away from his fence. Point taken, we retreated! It was ironic with the all the hype about Transnistria, that the only cross word in the 2 day stay comes from the football club we had traveled all this way to see! The Sheriff hypermarket was lacking in customers. The staff outnumbered the customers - sitting patiently ready to help in their royal blue uniforms compete with hats not dissimilar to that worn by the Thunderbirds. The produce ranged from caviar to electrical items - everything to make the average Transnisitrian flat a palace. We left with 2 bags of crisps, one of which was the never seen before crab flavour. We have prawn cocktail. Tiraspol has crab! We walked back towards the stadium complex, sticking firmly on the path to avoid a further telling off. The far side of the complex was equally closed, but the security here by way of his mobile phone advised that all would open at 1400 hours in advance of the 1500 hours kick off. We waited patiently. There was little else to do. Bars opposite football grounds are not in vogue in these parts. There weren't even any nut sellers - the main stay of Eastern European football crowds. The empty nut husks obviously don't fit into Mr Sheriff's football world.

1400 hours duly arrived and a slow trickle of fans headed inside. The game had been advertised on the artificial turf of the Malaya Arena, so we would not get inside the larger 14,000 capacity Bolshaya Sportivnaya Arena. We walked into the main reception on the off chance to be met with another man from the security set-up. That will be a "No" then! Security and Sheriff seem to be in hand in glove. I guess old habits die hard! Ross remained philosophical about the game being in the small stadium. "A good excuse to come back", he pointed out. A friendly international between 2 breakaway states flashed into my mind - Scotland away to Transnistria - a difficult fixture to call a result! A complex or club elsewhere in Europe would be full of fans and other youth games on the vast number of pitches behind us. At Sheriff, there was nothing except for a pitifully low number of fans milling around. We spotted the bus of the opposition - Zaria Balti- from the north of Moldova. Sheriff play in the Moldova top flight, although presumably they aspire to be amongst the Russian elite. At least this way, they get to display their pristine stadium across Europe's TV screens in the Champions League or Europa League qualifiers. We decided we had better get a ticket. The computerised ticket office displayed the options on a screen at the ticket window. There were plenty of options. We selected Block 2 in the same stand as the VIP section, so we could avoid looking into the sun. 15 Transnistrian Roubles (equivalent of US$ 1.5) seemed about right. As a man once said to me at Dinamo Bucharest in Romania...... "you don't understand, this is Eastern Europe - pay the low price and walk along the stand" . In view of the obsession with security at Sheriff it wasn't going to be possible to go in 50 Rouble VIP section, but the 20 Rouble Block 1 was no bother. The WAGS tottered up the stairs to our left in their fur coats and black high heeled boots, en route to their expensive seats. It was a difficult enough mission in flat shoes, given that the stairs were uneven heights. Mr Sheriff should have more attention to the building controls! The majority of the crowd opted for the 10 Rouble sun seats, except for the Ultras behind the goal to our right.

The players warmed up. The subs seemed separated from those in the First X1. I noticed with amusement that a couple of the overseas imports from warmer climates on the subs bench seemed pre-occupied with the fact that they needed their gloves to sit on the bench and laid them out on their allotted seats. It was after all a pleasant sunny afternoon and a mere 7-8 degrees. The Zaria fans surfaced - all 16 of them. One banner and a leader sporting a "Big Russian Bear" logo on his black t-shirt. No gloves necessary for this guy. The football was of a fairly low standard. Zaria came for a draw and had no ambition to attack. The onus was on Sheriff and it was all one way traffic. Balti have the highest average home attendance in the Moldovan leagues, but clearly only the "gang of 16" were still enthusiastic for the away trips after seeing one too many park the bus performances. The Sheriff ultras did their best to create an atmosphere, aided by a large group of military who had probably been given free tickets to bolster the numbers. They stood and traded Tiraspol chants with the Ultras. Big Russian Bear did his best with his band of 16, but with little impact. The pace of the game was low key. The only real threat was the Brazilian right winger, but he seemed not to have the ball control to match his pace. It was 0-0 at half time. The game changer was a left winger, Patras. He was all left foot, but operated on the right wing. The other pacey guy swapped wings. The break through came from a Patras free kick - curled over the wall in the near corner. The right winger was booked for another surge into the box, which ended up with him falling over the on rushing keeper and getting a yellow card for diving. The game finished 1-0. It was a long way home for Big Russian bear. We headed outside to look for a Bus 2 at the interchange terminus down the road.

Hunger was taking over. Crab flavour crisps would not sustain us any longer. We alighted by the Tank Monument. The sun was till shining, as we took a few alternative photographs. We headed off to the highest rated restaurant in Tiraspol - a Ukrainian place called Kumanek - situated a block back from 25th October Street. Aside from Andy's Pizza - more to follow in the Chisinau blog - one of the only other worthwhile places we had seen was disturbingly called Mafia. We had checked the menu - it was a bit pricey for our tastes - and was possibly populated by people we did't need to be near. The Ukrainian place sent out their finest English speaker - no need the menu had a partial English translation. The food was quality and undoubtedly it deserved the top reputation. We retreated to 7 Fridays for another beer or two, as it was substantially cheaper. It was once again quiet. Saturday night was once again another quiet night out.

We were up at 0600 hours to get back to Chisinau. There was no Visa deadline thanks to our extension, but we had another football appointment in Orhei in the afternoon. We intercepted a minibus by the Kirov Park. The driver looked less than impressed with our remaining Transnistrian Roubles, but accepted $US2 each for the trip back across the border. The bus was full and uncomfortable. The soldiers were still guarding the bridge at Bender. We approached the border and were about to leave the strange experience that is Transnistria behind. It was time to see if the stamp on the back of the Visa was all present and correct. The border guard boarded the bus, gave the document and passport a cursory glance and we were off into Moldova. We had experienced nothing but exemplary behaviour from all officials in Trananistria. Go now, before it becomes just another country!

Appendix 1

Moldova Divizia Nationala

Saturday 5 March 2016 @ 1500 Hours

Venue: Malaya Sportivnaya Arena, Tiraspol

Sheriff Tiraspol 1 - 0 FC Zaria

Attendance: 1,560

Scorer: A Patras 60 min

Sheriff: A Koselev, M Susuc, V Savic, A Golec, W Balima, R Ginsari, Cadu, S Yahaya, A Razgoniuc, M Iurcu, M Ivancic. Subs: A Patras (51), Joalisson (69), Bruno Pelissari (80), I Urvantev (88)

V Livsit, A Nesterov, A Slinkin, R Rogac, M Kone, Ruben Gomez, A Orica, S Doumbia, G Boghiu, I Tigirlas, O Ermachenko Subs: A Grosu (66), I Lacusta (71), G Ovsianicov (85), A Haceaturov (88)

Additional photos below
Photos: 100, Displayed: 33


15th March 2016
Sheriff v Zaria

Most of the attendees are military people??
15th March 2016
Sheriff WAGS

ooooooo Are those real fur coats??
15th March 2016

Very interesting. I love the way you write!! Thanks for an intro into a soviet community!

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