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Official Review by Andrew Flint, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
While the name 'Дворце спорта' - which translates as 'Sports Palace' - may be rather grand for the simple Soviet-era structure that houses Tyumen's professional hockey team Rubin, it has hosted an array of glittering stars from a variety of areas. Global figure skating megastar and multiple Olympic gold medalist Evgeniy Plushenko has performed here, while the legendary rock group Scorpions chose the unorthodox arena to house their sell-out performance in the summer of 2015.
In a country where many sport events are left woefully under-attended, it is refreshing to find a gem of a venue that has remained relatively undisturbed that is packed out most match days. Rubin compete at the business end of the 28-strong VHL (Higher Hockey League), having been crowned champions in 2011, and have attracted foreign former NHL stars such as Darcy Verot in the last few years, so often fill out the 3,500 capacity stadium. A women's team and the popular juniors, Legion Tyumen, also use the Sport Palace for their games.
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Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
There are around a dozen small in-house outlets around the concourse selling simple snacks like open cheese and ham sandwiches, huge tea and coffee cups and juice boxes for around $0.50 each, while most non-alcoholic drinks are covered for less than $1 for half a liter. Seeing as most fans enter the stadium next to the ticket office, the nearest stand is packed before matches, but if you can be bothered to venture round to the far side of the stadium underneath the players' bench, then you can get your refreshments without much hassle.
There are chocolate bars such as KitKat Crunchy for about $0.80, but if you are after more warming sustenance there are individual microwaved pizza segments for the same price, as well as mini closed hot dogs, although they are closed and there isn't a range of sauces or onions to go with them. The star of the show in this department is the fresh popcorn. Containers range in sizes comparable to cinemas, with the largest bag costing around $4, and the sizzling caramel coating melts deliciously as you take your first few bites.
If you're after more traditionally Russian fare, there is also 'Kvass' available on tap. This is a fermented drink made from bread, herbs, and sometimes fruit, and although it contains around 1% alcohol, it is permitted to be sold inside a sporting arena as it falls below the permitted alcohol content level. On a summer's day it is incredibly refreshing ice cold, and the casks usually provide it this way inside the stadium, but given the obvious nature of the temperature inside, it isn't always necessary to refresh the palate.
Sometimes you can wonder whether the roof is safe given the cacophonous crescendo that rises during matches. The single tier stands mean fans are packed in closely together, with the Ultras banging relentlessly on their drum in one corner, and almost forcefully encouraging participation from other fans around them. There are not usually many visiting fans, given that some teams come from thousands of kilometers away, but they sit next to the main thoroughfare of spectators, and a good natured but vocal sparring makes for extra tension.
Rubin's success means they attract a capacity crowd to most matches. In the last two seasons funding from the local government has dropped dramatically, despite the governor being a major winter sports fan - he brokered the deal to bring the Biathlon Race of Champions to the city - which has seen the youth setup forced to provide some inexperienced players to the squad.
The Sports Palace is located near one end of Respubliki Street, the main artery of the Tyumen city centre, in a completely residential area. Some of the city's most beautiful landmarks are nearby, such as the memorial obelisk commemorating those who lost their lives in the Great Patriotic War and Lovers' Bridge, but the adjacent streets are lined with the old wooden single-story homes with attractive painted gabled windows. Glass fronted designer shops and Starbucks are a mile away in every sense.
There is a healthy respect between the players and the fans, with most fans staying behind to applaud their team after, even after a heavy defeat. Many of those supporters walk to the stadium from their homes nearby, and because the different neighborhoods of the city don't have a great antipathy towards each other there is a convivial feel to the pregame mingle outside the arena.
The ultras are literally the heartbeat of the fans, never stopping with their raucous chanting and singing. They wear replica jerseys, scarves, and even their own branded ultras group clothing, while the bulk of the supporters will have some of the official merchandise. The official club dance team perform non-stop below the huge scoreboard. with a change of outfit after each period. And there are a few group chants that the whole crowd participates in.
There are plenty of families who attend the match, especially those with very young children, and as long as they choose the appropriate sector, they are free to enjoy the match without feeling intimidated. There are around thirty policemen stationed inside the ground, although in four years there hasn't been a single case of violence or aggression in the stands, due in large part to the absence of any regular sizable away support.
The nature of the nearby streets mean it is quite hard to find a parking space within five minutes' walk of the stadium, with the parking lots directly outside the entrance only holding around 70-80 cars, and most of them are reserved for players, officials or police. The best option when driving is to use the free car park near Lovers' Bridge which is always less than full and is less than ten minutes away from the stadium.
Buses run extremely regularly from the city centre to the car park, with tickets all set at a standard rate of $0.25, running at least one every two minutes. There is no tram system in Tyumen despite being a city of 800,000 people, but given the price and regularity of public transport this doesn't provide a major problem. Even taxis are very cheap, with a single journey from the central square costing less than $2.
The entry price is an absolute bargain considering the league is one level below Europe's premier hockey league, the KHL (Kontinental Hockey League). Prices start at $3.50 for a seat in the corners where the ultras sit or behind each end, with the next sector costing $4.50 before rising to $6 for the best seats in the house on the halfway line. Even people on the minimum local wage can easily afford to attend games without breaking the bank.
The charm of the stadium lies not in state-of-the-art facilities, but in its simplicity. The floors and steps are an old white-grey marble, with crafted iron railings surrounding the seating area, while the corridors are adorned with photos of past players and famous victories, as well as portraits of every player in all the teams that represent the city. If it is gleaming glamour you want, look elsewhere, but if you appreciate a real experience which covers all bases comfortably in a seasoned venue, this is for you.
Children are well catered for, with the mascot who bounces around cheerfully during the games to the balloon expert and facepainter who are on duty throughout the intervals. There is a well-stocked official merchandise store where you can buy replica shirts with names pre-printed, flags, mugs, key rings, posters, even license plate holders for your car, as well as professional hockey equipment for the more serious supporters.
As with most Russian sporting events, there is an MC who tries to whip up the crowd, and who entertains a few brave children on the podium where the dancers perform between periods. There is a culture of supporting the youngsters who take part in whatever game is being played, so they leave feeling a buzz over the attention given.
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