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Official Review by Andrew Flint, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Like many Russian football teams, FC Tyumen have undergone many changes in their identity, from Neftyanik - meaning 'Oil worker,' a nod to the region's status as the centre of oil production in Russia - to Stroitel (builder), but the club's first name lends itself to their current stadium; Geolog. The past 30 years have seen plenty of dramatic rises and falls from the depths of amateur ignominy to Russian Premier League status and back somewhere in between, and the club’s ground is no exception. In the 1990s it was little more than a rudimentary embankment with rows of wooden benches along one side, but in 2011 it was completely redeveloped into a state of the art venue conforming to top flight standards.
Proudly proclaimed to be 'The Greatest Stadium in Siberia,' not many people could disagree; the facilities include a full medical rehabilitation centre, an essential all-weather surface with undersoil heating, a hotel, gym, and even heated padded seats in the VIP area. The investment came entirely from the regional government, with Governor Vladimir Yakushev a mad-keen winter sports supporter. He has even brokered the lucrative staging of the Race of Champions, which sees the world's best biathletes compete in front of packed stands, but the regular tenants are strongly expected to live up to their surroundings by earning promotion back to the Russian Premier League before long.
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Most matchdays see only the main stand open for business, but fans are well-served in the sustenance department. In the main concourse there are two outlets that serve tea and coffee - essential for half the season played around or even below zero degrees Celsius - for less than $0.50, while a simple selection of sodas for about $0.80 are available in cans and bottles. Given there are often no more than 700 fans for most home games, many of whom bring their own snacks, there isn't a huge wait to be served.
In terms of hot food, there is a limited selection of pizza slices and simple hot dogs, and usually some open sandwiches for not much more than $1, while chocolate bars and potato chips are also on offer. There is not much in the way of speciality local cuisine or unique food, but it caters for the needs of most fans who are more interested in the sport itself. On the upper tier, the VIP section has its own two concession stands offering the same fare, with more counters often not used due to the low attendances, but which can be used for bigger events.
Unfortunately the atmosphere is fairly soporific thanks to the apathetic following in the city and the relative abyss of the majority of the stands. The capacity is over 13,000, but the average crowd (in a city of at least 700,000 people) is little short of pathetic, especially in light of the country's imminent hosting of the FIFA World Cup in 2018. The manufactured attendance figures are a little embarrassing; numbers of 3,000 are bandied about despite the one stand open being less than half full. Hockey is much more popular in the city, while even the World Winter Swimming Championship attracted a similar crowd. Both sports take place just metres from the Geolog.
One aspect of Russian support that is frustratingly absent is the tradition of chanting and replying to different sectors of one's own support. In 2013, the Gazprom-backed behemoths Zenit St Petersburg rolled into town for a Russian Cup match with Tyumen, then in the third tier, and a raucous capacity crowd bellowed the team to a historic victory, but the echo effect of opposite stands chanting to each other is impossible with three quarters of the stadium closed.
The Geolog lies just outside the centre of the city in an attractive area that includes the founding stone of the city in a plaza with a monument to those who lost their lives in the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945 as well as an 'eternal flame' in their memory. A short walkway leading up to the Geolog itself runs from this square, which sits high above the Tura River opposite one of the city's most iconic landmarks, Lovers' Bridge. The city museum is on the corner of the walkway as you look down to the stadium from the start of Lovers' Bridge - which once held the padlocks of countless married couples before the city government heartlessly removed them for 'safety reasons' - completing a delightful environment.
Aside from a row of cafes and the city's Premier hotel, the Best Western Spasskaya - perfect for celebrity spotting and ideal to stay at for matches, and where Zenit stayed along with numerous other visiting celebrities - there isn't much else around apart from almost entirely residential buildings. Fortunately there are not many high rise blocks to obscure the fine views, but the roads can become a little drab when driving through them on the way to the ground. The aesthetic benefits of the surrounding streets are limited, so sticking to the river is an infinitely preferable option.
Although a pitifully small number of locals actually bother to attend matches, those that do are those that really want to enjoy the sport and support their team. The culture of chanting is based mostly on the interaction with other groups in the stadium, and seeing as there are never more than five or 10 visiting fans there is zero aggression and little banter between fans. There are a number of English-language banners of various fan groups, including for the junior team, and there is enough dedication to make life uncomfortable for any players not pulling their weight.
Singing is virtually nonexistent, with fairly bland and often isolated chants of "We need a goal!" rattling around in between occasional repetitions of "Tyumen." The most dedicated group of fans, Sector 13, have withdrawn their following from their eponymous area of the ground after minor disagreements with the club management, and their impetus in creating noise is greatly missed. A curious development has been the virtual conversation between fans and players, officials and staff, as individual voices can be heard shouting out often quite witty messages. It can create a bond between everyone in the ground, something the players acknowledge after the final whistle as they applaud the fans.
Getting to the ground is a simple enough journey for most fans, as it lies at the beginning of the most important road in the city. Ulitsa Respubliki sees the annual parade on May 9th, with veterans and youngsters alike lining the path through the centre, and it leads all the way from the pedestrian walkway up to the stadium. It can be comfortably walked from the central square in about 20 minutes, but there are also buses running as regularly as every two or three minutes that cost just $0.20 for a single fare. Taxis are easily called and cost about $2 from most parts of the city in daytime, but very few people feel the need to use this form of transport.
Car parking directly outside the ground is more difficult as police vehicles take up most of the small road that takes the team buses to and from the front of the main stand. Some people park in the residential area on the side streets that leaves a five minute walk, but there is a free car park near the river that has been built around the oldest banya building in the city, an attractive abandoned circular red-brick structure. Police patrol the roads around the walkway itself to ensure no illegal parking takes place, with tow trucks in operation to remove transgressing vehicles.
Ticket prices have risen in recent years, but the price of $1.50 is hardly enough to break the bank. Even if the standard on the pitch was poor, you couldn't complain at the outlay to witness live sport in an exceptionally high quality venue. In the last few years a succession of near misses have been topped off with a dramatic promotion to the second tier alongside more than one scalp from the top flight in the cup, with the players on show proving to be at the upper end of the scale in ability at this level.
The 2015-2016 season saw the team fall short of a glorious return to the Premier League of Spartak, CSKA and Zenit, but not by much. After matches, players make their way onto the team bus outside the ground and are often happy to stop and chat briefly with fans, while many are active on social media. Tyumen are known to be one of the most honest clubs in terms of paying salaries fully and on time - not something that can be taken for granted in Russian football - which has in return seen players and fans pulling in the same direction, which makes the entry fee a bargain.
There is no official club shop, although inside the ticket office waiting room there is a table selling a basic selection of scarves and badges for those who arrive early. Full replica jerseys used to be readily available here, but due to low demand there are fewer on sale. For bigger matches there can sometimes be special merchandise produced to commemorate the occasion, such as the visit of Zenit, and then the club puts on a great spread of extras.
In terms of entertainment, the stars of the show at half time are the award-winning dancers, who also perform at Rubin Tyumen hockey at the Sports Palace up the road. Directed by Evgeniya Toporova - voted in the top 100 outstanding young people in Tyumen in 2016 - they engage with the crowd, and are usually well received. The concept of an MC/entertainer is very common in Russia, and occasionally the man on the mic runs some games for children at the break, but they are not always desperately well planned.
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ul. Lenina, 2a
Tyumen, Russia 625003
+7 345 255-00-08