-22°C is bloody cold by dfhercbml

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									Hockey in the Freezer
David Ellcock


Preparation

Many of you will recall that I was appointed to the 2004 European Men’s Indoor Club Challenge that
was held in Loughborough. In the article on the tournament that I wrote for the NPUA website
(http://www.npua.co.uk/News/View_From_Loughborough.htm) I said that while I was delighted to have
been appointed I was slightly disappointed that it was on home turf and that “I would have gone
anywhere in Europe” for the appointment. Well, someone in a position of authority must have read my
article, because in the summer of 2004 I received a phone call from Peter Worrall saying that the
NPUA indoor selectors had appointed me to the 2005 European Men’s Indoor Club Trophy, which was
to be held in Ekaterinburg, Russia. What Peter didn’t explain was that Ekaterinburg is as far east in
Russia as it’s possible to go while remaining in Europe: it’s roughly 900 miles east of Moscow and due
north of Afghanistan. It also has an average temperature in February of -13°C. Well, that would
certainly be a little different to Loughborough!

However, I had always wanted to visit Russia, so, although there would clearly be some difficulties
associated with such a distant trip, I was very pleased with the appointment. I was even more pleased
when I found that I was to be accompanied in Ekaterinburg by two NPUA members, as Andy Mair was
to be the Scottish umpire at the tournament and David Collier was to be a judge. Furthermore, the
Umpires’ Manager (UM) was to be Craig Madden from Scotland, whom I had previously met at the
Midland Indoor Tournament in the days when it was still called the DTZ. So I knew there would be
some friendly faces around during the tournament.

My preparation for Ekaterinburg was a little different to what had been required for Loughborough as I
had to ensure that flights were booked, visas obtained and thermal underwear included on the
Christmas list! All of this went pretty smoothly. We were especially pleased to discover that there was
a direct BA flight from Heathrow to Ekaterinburg – it may only operate on three days a week, but it
avoided the need for any flights on Aeroflot’s notorious internal service…


Departure and Arrival

On Wednesday 16 February Andy and I met up with Craig and the teams from Loughborough and
Menzieshill (Dundee) at Heathrow for the start of our long trek eastwards. (David Collier was flying
separately due to his cricket commitments.) After a 5½ hour flight enlivened only by the antics of a
number of Russian alcoholics, we landed at Ekaterinburg at 1.25am local time and ran straight away
into the Russian obsession with paperwork. On arriving at immigration control we were each sent
back into the arrivals “lounge” with a piece of paper identical to the one we had had stapled to our
passports alongside our visas and were asked to fill out by hand exactly the same information which
had been carefully typed onto the original form (in the Cyrillic alphabet) in the Russian Consulate!
Having done that and gone back to passport control, we were then allowed through a gate one-by-one
to be greeted by an Inspector Clouseau look-alike Immigration Official. He conducted an immigration
interview that consisted of his looking at the piece of paper we had completed, looking at our passport
photo and then asking a one word question: “Ekaterinburg?” Assuming he meant did we intend to
stay in Ekaterinburg for the duration of our stay we exhausted 50% of our Russian vocabulary by
replying “Da”. He then scrawled something indecipherable on the form, ripped it in half, kept one half
for himself, put the other half into our passports and nodded us through to baggage reclaim. We’d
made it in!
When both the teams and all the officials had been through the same process, we eventually
clambered onto a bus and were driven into town, via a strangely circuitous route, including one
particularly impressive piece of reversing for about 800 yards down a very narrow street that we had
driven up in the conventional manner barely two minutes previously. Eventually Andy, Craig and I
were kicked out into the cold and the snow and pointed in the direction of the Trans Hotel, our base for
the weekend. We walked nervously into reception not at all sure what to expect, only to find we were
staying in a fabulous four-star hotel with reception staff who spoke exemplary English. We crashed
out at about 3.30am…

…only to be woken at 7.00am by the arrival of our room mates. Andy was sharing with Oleksandr
from Ukraine and I was with Pawel from Poland. After brief and bleary “Hellos”, everyone collapsed
back to sleep exhausted by journeys from all over Europe.


The Day Before the Tournament

Having been advised to try to adapt as quickly as possible to the local time (GMT +5) we got up at
9.30 the following morning, trying to convince our bodies that it wasn’t really 4.30, and headed down
for breakfast. After a much better breakfast than we had expected, we wrapped up against the cold
and headed off to explore Ekaterinburg. Luckily for Andy and me, Oleksandr was keen to explore too,
so we had a Russian speaker with us which made most transactions relatively straight-forward, even
the unnecessarily over-complicated purchasing of Roubles. Ekaterinburg seemed to have quite a lot
to offer: there was certainly a wide range of shops and an incredible number of street-sellers given
that the temperature was -9°C.

After an hour or so in town we returned to the hotel, met up with most of our colleagues and set off
with our Russian hosts for a very good lunch and the pre-tournament press conference. No, that’s not
a misprint: there was a very well-attended press conference, at which Frank van ’t Hek, the
Tournament Director (TD), and various members of the Organising Committee from HC Dinamo
Ekaterinburg said a few well-chosen words while the gathered journalists drank the free beer and
talked loudly into their mobiles. After lunch a few of us decided to walk up to the hall in which the
hockey was to be played to get a feel for the place, to see a little more of the town and to continue our
acclimatisation. On the way we took in the magnificent spectacle of the equally magnificently named
“Cathedral of the Blood in Honour of All the Saints Radiating in the Land of Russia”, built on the site of
the Ipatiev house where Tsar Nikolas II and the rest of the Romanov family were assassinated by
Bolshevik revolutionaries in July 1918. While not as spectacular as the Cathedral, the hall itself was
pretty impressive: a sprung wooden floor, huge run-off areas around the pitch, seating for 5,000
spectators, six score-boards / video-screens and security to shame Belmarsh prison!

Back at the hotel at 6pm we had the pre-tournament briefings by the TD and UM, which were
encouragingly short. We were given our appointments during the second of these. I was on game 3
(the Ukrainians against the Spanish) and was then reserve for games 7 and 8. Then we headed off
for another meal in another excellent restaurant. This one was in the same building as a pool hall and
what I shall refer to euphemistically as a “Gentlemen’s Club”. We sampled only the food and drink,
both of which were very good!
The First Day

The tournament got off to a good start in a relatively quiet atmosphere. Loughborough played the first
game against Valhalla of Sweden and won 8-4. The other two teams in Group B then played, with
Menzieshill beating HC Praga 1946 of the Czech Republic 7-5. Then I umpired the first game in
Group A – Atletic Terrassa of Spain against Kolos Vinnitsa of Ukraine – with Stepan from the Czech
Republic. I’d umpired Kolos in the C Division at Loughborough in 2004 and there were a few nods
and smiles of recognition at the start of the game. Things went well for me and I put in a steady
performance in a game which the Spaniards won comfortably, 8-2. In my de-brief afterwards Craig
said that I’d got off to a reasonable start, but that he expected more from me the following day – at
least I that meant I’d be getting a game!

The next match on was Dinamo Ekaterinburg, the home team, against HC Roma, with Andy umpiring
his first game. If the atmosphere for the first 3 games had been relatively quiet, there was a step
change for this one. The 5,000 seater hall was about 40% full and the noise was deafening. Just to
ensure his whistle was being heard Andy had to blow every decision as if it were a red card! It was a
great game, which, despite the fanatical home support, Roma won 6-5. The tournament had come to
life!

The afternoon session saw Valhalla beat Praga 9-5 and the English and Scots drawing 4-4 in a very
tight game. I was then reserve for the last two games: Terrassa against Roma and Dinamo against
Kolos. With about 8 minutes left in the Terrassa / Roma game one of the umpires had to come off
with severe cramp. Luckily I’d been taking my reserve duties seriously (rather than reading the
paper!) and noticed Stepan was struggling. I walked on to the pitch with Craig saying “Just do the
best you can”! (He did say later that he had every faith in me…) We got through to the end of the
game with no major incidents and Roma won 6-4. Andy then umpired the last game (the Russians
again) which was probably the most exciting game of the day as Dinamo came back from 1-5 down to
draw 5-5. The noise when the fifth goal went in was incredible.

That evening the umpires and officials had been invited to the ballet, but to the disappointment of
some and the relief of others, we were too late back to the hotel to make it to the theatre in time. We
made do with going out for another excellent meal in the same restaurant as the previous evening.


Saturday: Decision Day I

Many of you will be aware that there was an unfortunate misunderstanding of the regulations on day
two of the tournament that had a significant effect on its eventual outcome. It would not be right for
me to make any comment about what happened, other than to say that not one person involved with
the tournament made a single comment about the way things unfolded on the Saturday; everyone
accepted what happened; and most were astonished when they were told of the problem on the
Sunday morning. (If you don’t know what happened, please have a look at this story from the Daily
Telegraph of 21 February that contains most of the details:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/main.jhtml?xml=/sport/2005/02/21/sohoks21.xml)

So, Saturday arrived, the day on which we were all expecting “the decision matches”: the final pool
games, followed by the cross-over games to determine who would be relegated and promoted. We’d
been given the morning’s appointments on the Friday night and I was very pleased to have been
appointed to the Dinamo / Terrassa game with Pawel, the Polish neutral: I’d have a chance to umpire
in front of that fantastic crowd in a game that really mattered. Andy was appointed to the equally
important Roma / Kolos game.
The first two games of the morning saw Menzieshill beat Valhalla 4-3 and Loughborough win 5-3
against Praga to ensure that both British teams went through into the promotion section in the
afternoon.

My game was up next and it went very well. The noise from the crowd was astonishing and the
Russian players seemed to feed off it to play a fantastic game of hockey. Pawel and I “gelled”
immediately and we umpired well together. He supported me during a patch early in the second half
where every incident in my circle seemed to happen behind a crowd of players and I was pleased to
be able to return the compliment later in the game. It was a great experience – and one that I will
never forget. Much to the home crowd’s delight, Dinamo won 7-3 to ensure that they went into the
promotion cross-over. The final game of the morning session ended up with Kolos somewhat
surprisingly beating Roma 7-1, but the result did not affect the group with the Italians joining the
Russians in the afternoon’s promotion games.

We then had a break, so a few of us went for a walk. It was bracing in a way that Skegness can only
ever have dreamed of! The temperature had dropped to around -18°C, which, let me tell you, is
bloody cold. After about 15 minutes of well-wrapped-up fresh air we headed back to the hall in need
of some who-cares-how-fresh-it-is heat.

For the afternoon games I was appointed to one of what we thought were the relegation play-offs,
Valhalla versus Terrassa, while Andy was on the other relegation game between Praga and Kolos.
My game went well for me again and I was pleased with my performance. The Swedes had a few
things to say after the game, but that was hardly surprising seeing as they had lost 10-5 and they
thought they had just been relegated to the C Division for 2006, having been in the A Division in 2004.
Andy’s game was equally one-sided with the Ukrainians beating the Czechs 8-3. The afternoon
games – Roma versus Menzieshill and Loughborough against Dinamo – both went (mistakenly as it
turned out) to penalty strokes and everyone went to the official dinner that night thinking that the Scots
and Russians had won promotion to the A Division following victories in the stroke competitions.

The official dinner was yet another excellent affair. All the officials received a medal hewn from the
local Ural rock and a bottle of vodka. There were many speeches along the lines of “no one thought
teams would travel all the way to Ekaterinburg yet here we all are participating in a fantastic
tournament”. There was perhaps a hint of the confusion that was to follow the next morning, when,
during the speech by the President of EHF, Mickey and Minnie Mouse could be seen cavorting about
on the stage in the other half of the restaurant as a part of another function that was going on
simultaneously with ours…!


Sunday: Decision Day II

We went down to breakfast on Sunday morning to find all sorts of hurried, confused conversations
going on. Craig let us know what had happened with regard to the regulations and asked us to ensure
that we made absolutely no comment whatsoever to any of the teams about the issue. He had, quite
rightly, decided that we had to be seen to remain completely neutral and to be concentrating on
umpiring whatever games we were asked to do. After a meeting between the team managers and the
tournament officials it was decided that we would play to the new regulations, which meant that the
stroke competitions from Saturday were scrubbed with the games being recorded as draws. This
meant Sunday games went from being games to decide placings, with all the major issues decided, to
being effectively “winner takes all”. I was on the second game of the day which had been the
relatively unimportant 5th/6th place play-off, but was now a game between Valhalla and Kolos to decide
who would join Praga in being relegated. I was very pleased that I had resisted the all-too-obvious
charms of the vodka bottle the night before!
The game was extremely difficult. The Ukrainians were now playing a game which they had to win to
stay up, having thought they’d secured their safety the previous day; this meant they weren’t exactly in
the best of moods. The Swedes on the other hand were quite clearly “up for it” as they had an
unexpected second chance to make themselves safe. Kolos won 5-3 in a very tight game, which
needed careful umpiring. There were two nasty injuries during the match that particularly tested our
man management skills: one was the result of an off the ball incident that no-one saw; the second
came from an entirely accidental collision that was interpreted by the Swedes as a Ukrainian player
seeking retribution for the earlier off the ball incident. I was pleased when the game was over. Craig
and Frank said they were pleased with my performance on that game and throughout the tournament,
and that they would be recommending to the FIH that I should be awarded my Indoor International
badge. Mission accomplished! I could sit back and enjoy the final promotion games. In these games
Roma beat Loughborough 4-2 and Menzieshill beat Dinamo by the same score. All of which meant
that the final ranking was as follows:

    1.   HC Roma, Italy (promoted)
    2.   Menzieshill, Scotland (promoted)
    3.   Loughborough Students, England
    4.   Dinamo Ekaterinburg, Russia
    5.   Atletic Terrassa, Spain
    6.   Kolos Vinnitsa, Ukraine
    7.   Valhalla, Sweden (relegated)
    8.   HC Praga 1946, Czech Republic (relegated)

That evening we said goodbye to several colleagues who had flights home and then had a few quiet
beers with our meal. It had been a fantastic tournament and none of our fears about the facilities in
Russia had come to pass: the hotel was excellent; the food had been top rate; and the hall was better
than anything I’ve seen used for indoor hockey in England. The weather was, however, a different
matter: on the way home that evening our driver took great delight in telling us that the thermometer
had dipped to -29°C


The Last Two Days

As our flights home were not until the Tuesday morning, this meant that Andy, Craig, Frank and I had
the whole of Monday to be tourists. In the morning we walked up to see the cathedral again, this time
to have a look around the inside too. That decision became even more pressing on the way through
town, when Craig realised that walking about in a temperature of -22°C while not wearing a hat was
not a sensible option! Having been thawed and awed by the church we braved the cold again walking
very quickly back to the hotel. Our hosts then turned up and took us on a sightseeing tour which
included:

   the very impressive offices of the Dinamo club which are based in the old Red Army building,
    complete with paintings of Lenin addressing the workers and the fall of the Reichstag;
   the border between Europe and Asia out in the taiga, where we drank vodka and froze our bits off;
    and
   the grim but fascinating area around one of the foundries / munitions factories that had been so
    strategically important to the Communist Governments that Ekaterinburg had been a “closed” city
    for many years.

In the afternoon we did a bit of shopping and bought the inevitable petroushkas (“Russian dolls”) and
the rather less inevitable die-cast model Ladas! The evening was spent having a quiet meal in the
Trans Hotel’s excellent restaurant and sampling the curiously sweet red wine from Georgia.
Our journey home was unremarkable once we had passed through the mind-boggling security
measures at Koltsovo Airport (was it really necessary for our baggage to be scanned four times and
for us to take our shoes and belts off when we went through the final check?) and braved the cold for
the last time while queuing on the runway to go up the steps onto the plane.


Final Thoughts

I had a fabulous time in Ekaterinburg thanks in no small part to the club’s phenomenal hospitality.
Special mentions are due to Evgeny, the club manager and tournament organiser, who was just the
most fabulous host, and Leonid, our driver, for whom nothing was too much trouble. (Thanks too to
Giles Cadman of Loughborough for giving me a stick to give to Leonid which he then carried round in
his car like his most treasured possession!) However, despite the hospitality, the excellent
organisation, the great facilities, the fact that I got the marks I needed for my FIH badge and the fact
that I went to a country it had been a childhood ambition to visit, the one thing I will never forget about
my trip to Russia is the cold! I will never, ever complain about being chilly in the UK again. Trust me,
we don’t do cold in this country: -29°C is cold. Seriously cold…


David Ellcock

								
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