So a day in Tallinn to watch their Premier League football was long overdue. Tallinn is one of those cities where a number of clubs ground share and so it is always possible to see at least a couple of matches in a weekend. Now, being a resourceful chap I thought I would do a bit of background reading on Estonian Football. Now I’ve seen some low attendances before – such as 180 for a Coppa Italia at the Stadio delle Alpi for a game between the mighty Juventus and Bologna, and 300 for a Simod cup game between Brighton and Lincoln, but Estonian football is really in need of a boost from somewhere. In 2003 brewers Le Coq allocated £10m to built a brand spanking new National Stadium in the south of town. Estonia’s biggest club Flora Tallinn were asked to move in and have since called the stadium home. That’s the positive part. The negative part is that the team regularly play in front of crowds less than 3 figures – i.e crowds that you could do a roll call for whilst the team do their meet and greet!
Anyway, I digress. Tallinn is one of the newer cities on the Budget airline circuit and so the route is always packed. It is also a favourite for the British Stag and Hen do’s as the flights are cheap, hotels are cheap, beer is cheap and the women are – well I’ll let you find out for yourself. One other interesting aspect is that Estonians don’t seem to get out much as Easyjet have more issues with drunkeness on these flights than any other route – and get this – the worst offenders are the Estonians on the outbound flight from Stansted at 6.50am! So armed with my small guide book, a handful of phrases and some stout walking shoes I headed off to Tallinn on a windy September Sunday. The first thing that strikes you when you land in Tallinn is that everything looks green – the scenery, the buildings and the people…A short bus ride into town dropped me outside one of the dozens of casino/bars that are dotted around the city. The short walk into the old town was a pleasant amble – and none of the British pissed parties in sight, although the bars and cafes were in full flow with locals putting back a few Le Coq’s at such as early hour.
The Old town is very picturesque but very small – a ten minute walk is all that is required to transverse the town, and so after checking into the immaculate Dominicq Marine Hotel I was back in the old town square within half an hour. Now if anywhere in the world is made for England Fans it is the old town main square in Tallinn. Four terrace bars, with outside seating on the square, a massive curry house, a stage area and of course a lap dancing bar. When England come here in June 2007 I doubt if 90% will venture further than this spot….In the glorious September sunshine it was too tempting just say “sod it” to the sightseeing, and “hello” to a couple of cold beers. In fact two turned into four and I was on the verge of breaking a tradition of boycotting the plan to see three games that afternoon and instead watching the delights of Bolton v Everton/Wigan/Middlesbrough (Delete as applicable from this list of dire games)….However, a concidence call came in the form of the current Mrs Fuller who asked me what the football ground was like – Football ground – Doh! there was a reason why I was here!
So I set out on foot down the Parnumnt, the main road out of Town to the south for about 15 minutes before heading across – following the railway line and what looked like an underpass on my map. Now Estonians must be more responsible than us Brits as they decided that the railway lines don’t need any fences or barriers – who would obviously be tempted to walk across the tracks when there is a bridge or underpass 1/2 mile away? Anyway, I decided not to be a “fool” and went and found the underpass….It was in fact a tunnel for dwarves. Less than 5 foot high, and 2 foot wide I would love to see what chaos reigns when England Fans try and sneak through in the summer. The path brought me out right in front of the maginificent Le Coq Arena (named after the Estonian beer and not the crap UK sportswear company that is only sold in JJB Sports). And, lo and behold the car park was packed…..with learner drivers on lessons! 5 minutes to kick off and there was not a soul in sight….I must have somehow got it wrong and put my watch back too far? But then I spotted the ticket office – or actually a ticket table. For the princely sum of £3 I got a ticket for anywhere in the group and a full colour programme. My ticket number was 29 – surely not the 29th person to buy a ticket ??? The ground was impressive – new, shiny green seats everywhere – and how could I tell – because there was only 28 others watching!!!!
So Flora v Ajax isn’t a big enough pull in Estonian football teams – but hey ho I could drink beer (more expensive than admission by the way!) and it was sunny enough. 10 minutes into the game and Flora were 3-0 up – all the goals coming from corners. The hardcore Flora fans (1 drummer, 1 Trumpeter and a dog) sat on their own in the stand behind the goal and cheered as if they had won the cup final. Apart from the occasional good looking young lady wandering past – and that would be quite off putting for the players as well – the game passed in a blur (OK – I went to sleep!). I woke with a start as the ball hit a seat the row in front and all 50-odd (obviously people had taken advantage of the cheap 2nd half admission turnstile) laughed at my misfortune of yelping in surprise. Apparently it was 5-0 at this stage and a chant went up of “we want 6” from the hardcore fans who were obviously getting lonely and wanted some company. I decided against my normal tactic abroad of heading off a minute or so before the end to avoid the congestion and when the final whistle blew, both teams came over to shake us all by the hand. So one game down, one to go.
The second stadium, the Kalevi Keskstaadion is home to Estonia’s number one team at the moment TVMK Tallinn as well as new arrivals on the scene Tallinna Kalev. It is also the biggest stadium in Estonia at 12,000. I had found out that Tallinna averaged a mighty 24 for their past few games and so I didn’t worry about not trying to buy my ticket online before hand. The 20 minute walk eastwards through the suburbs was made all the more pleasant by passing (four or five times based on my newly designed route) a brothel where the girls sat outside enjoying the sun, and awaiting their next customer. What a choice – the company of 5 of Estonia’s best looking girls or a football match with 20 odd other fans. With the current Mrs Fuller’s warning ringing in my ears that I had to get some pictures of the stadiums for my book I trudged on at found the stadium (turn right at the Renault showroom, then left past the Megane’s) into the stadium. It was a huge bowl of an Atheltics track, with the two banks lined with wooden bench seats. As some pre-match entertainment, some people were throwing javelins on the pitch. At 3.55pm, the crowd had reached at least 40 when the clapping started as the teams emerged. They looked a bit short of numbers as there was only 8, and they were mixed gender…..Off came the tracksuits and down they squatted on their athletics blocks……My so-thought Football match was in fact an Athletics meeting. The Tallinna Kalev game had in fact been moved to the Kardrioru Stadium about a mile away due to the expected crowd of over 50 for this meeting. So I could have given up and just found a bar (or even gone back to see if the ladies were still outside feeling lonely – they said it not me!) but I was on a mission.
Off I marched, across main roads, roundabouts and traversing a motorway to reach the woods around the Kadrioru stadium. The game had just got underway and I paid my £1 for a seat “anywhere in the woods” as I was told by the gate man. The Kadrioru is a single stand Athletics track – about the same as the one in Hesketh Park Dartford for those in the know. Now one of the issues of coming into an empty stadium (even the players stopped and stared at me when I came in) is that you don’t know which side is which…Who am I supposed to support ? What happens if one team score and I cheer and its the away team ?? Being an Athletics ground, the ball spent most of the time a long way from the pitch with ball boys (obviously their equivalant of borstal) chasing after the balls from another John Jensen-esque shot. The crowd were obviously all related to players as they spent most of these gaps in play talking to their loved ones on the pitch. I left the ground after a 1-1 draw still unsure who was who, but save in the knowledge that a professional footballer in Estonia is about as glamorous as a worker in the DHSS in England. The long walk back into town was sustained with the thought of finding a quiet bar to watch some football from Spain or Italy. After the 20 minute walk I found them at last – bare chested, tattooed and in full voice singing “If it wasn’t for the British you’d be Commies” – classic Brits abroad. I decided to give the old town a pass and head back to the confines of my hotel for a traditional Estonian night – a sauna and a skinful of vodka.
As a postscript the following morning, my flight was delayed by over an hour as an Estonian woman got pissed on the outbound flight and the captain had to threaten to divert to Copenhagen to have her arrested – nice!
The Stadium – The Le Coq Arena Asula 4c, Tallinn
Capacity: 9,300 All Seater
Fans of Scunthorpe United, Walsall and AFC Bournemouth will feel really at home in the new Le Coq Arena in Tallinn. Just to underline the importance of football to the Estonian’s it was felt that such as small stadium was more than adequate for the national team’s purposes. FC Flora Tallinn who play their home games here struggle to get crowds over 1,000 and so the arrival of McClaren and the rest of the England team will see the first time the stadium has been stretched to capacity. The stadium is an excellent venue to watch football on a long summer’s night, as it will be when England play Estonia in June 2007. The sight lines and leg room are excellent, each stand has a large bar and refreshments area and the roof offers protection from the occasional Estonian rain shower. The two side stands are identical – resplendent in their green seats. Both are two tier with the lower tier much larger than the upper one. The concertina-style roof is also unusual as it sits quite away above the final row of seats. The end stands are set above the action on the pitch by 8 feet, which may allow an additional 1,000 seats to be installed in the stadium when the England game is played next year. The hardcore Estonian fans, if you can call them that, will be located in the lower tier of the south stand.
How to get to the Le Coq Arena
The stadium is located in the southwest of the city, just outside the main ring road. On a nice sunny day the stadium is easily walk able from the city centre in around 30 minutes. The new stadium is located next to the main railway line, which causes a small logistical problem. You have two options for reaching the stadium by foot. The shortest way is to head south along the Parnu Mnt main road until you reach the elevated bridge over the railway line. At this point, head down the steps on either side of the road and turn right into the residential road. Follow this for approx 500 yards and then you will see a tunnel (see left) that is more a kin to something you will find in Lord of the Rings. Despite being dark, dank and only 4ft high, this magical tunnel opens up on the far side to the away end car park of the magnificent Le Coq Arena, yards from the turnstiles. The other option is to carry on over the bridge across the railway and turn right into the access road which takes you to the stadium – which is a 5-10 minute walk longer. Tram number 3 runs down Parnu Mnt from the town to the stadium entrance road every 20 minutes, and takes less than 10 minutes. A taxi should cost less than £5.
How to get a ticket for the Le Coq Arena
Assuming you are in town for a league match, then simply head down to the stadium on a match day and buy a ticket from the table on the corner of the south east stand. For a mere 30EEK you will get a ticket for the main stand and a programme. If you want to sit with the dozen or so hardcore fans in the south stand then a ticket costs 5EEK less.
Around the Le Coq Arena
The brand new stadium sits on an old area of wasteland to the south of the city centre, and has very little around it. As the city centre offers so much in terms of hospitality it is much better to stick here until 30 mins before kick off before heading down.
The Stadium – The Kadrioru Stadium
Capacity: 4,700 All Seater
The Kadrioru is home to both TVMK and the current stars of Estonian football, Levadia. It is a very basic ground set in some nice parkland on the east side of the city. It is primarily an athletics track with one main covered stand offering basic facilities. On the other side of the pitch is a 4 row temporary stand that runs from corner to corner but is uncovered. Based on the normally chilly weather in Tallinn it may be worth avoiding this stand. Behind the south stand there are a number of benches where in the summer you can sit and watch the game from.
How to get to the Kadrioru Stadium
The stadium is located a ten minute walk outside of the old town. Follow the main road Gonsiori east out of the city until you reach the junction with Laagna Tee. The stadium is on the left behind the trees.
How to get a ticket for the Kadrioru Stadium
With average crowds in Estonian football in the hundreds, tickets are never sold in advance. Instead buy a ticket and a programme from the windows at the one and only gate open in the east corner of the stadium. Entry is 3EEK and you can sit anywhere in the stadium.
Around The Kadrioru Stadium
The Kadrioru is located in parkland to the east of the city. It is so basic that it doesn’t have any refreshment facilities within the ground. There are no options for food or drink within a five minute walk of the stadium so its best to stick to the city centre.
How to get to Tallinn
Estonia is one of the former Soviet States that has opened up its borders to the west and welcomes tourists with open arms. Unfortunately, the mix of excellent cheap beer, budget airline flights, stunning women and good nightlife attracts stag groups by the plane load every weekend.
Tallinn Ůlemsite Airport (Airport Code TLL)
Telephone: +372 6 05 88 88
Located on the shores of Lake Ůlemiste, and just 4km from the city centre, Tallinn Airport continues to grow as more airlines start opening routes to Estonia. The airport is very small with one terminal, a small café and a couple of shops. The airport is served by Easyjet from Lndon Stansted, and Estonian Air from London Gatwick. To reach the city centre catch bus number 2 that leaves from outside the terminal building. A single fare costs 15EEK and travels to the Downtown bus terminal outside the Kaubamaja department store. The journey takes around 15 minutes. You can also reach Tallinn from Helsinki via Helicopter or Fast Ferry. The journey is run by http://www.copterline.com and takes around 15 minutes although it is not cheap. The Ferry is run by Tallink (http://www.tallink.fi) and costs €49 return for the 100 minute journey.
Where to Stay in Tallinn
Tallinn is often over-run with tourists at the weekends, but ha plenty of hotel beds to go round. Accommodation is not expensive but it is wise to book in advance if you are budget conscious. The Tourist office on the corner of the main square can help you find a room if you are in need.
Barons – Suur-Karja 7 (Tel: +372 699 9700) http://www.baronshotel.ee The Barons is located right in the heart of the old town, a 2 minute walk from the main square. The hotel has an excellent Restaurant and all rooms have free WiFi. Double rooms start from £95 including breakfast at the weekend.
Radisson SAS – Ravala Street 3 (Tel: +372 682 3 000) http://www.radissonsas.com The Radisson SAS hotel is the tallest building in the city with 24 floors. The hotel has 280 rooms, a fitness centre with swimming pool and of course a sauna. Lounge 24 is the rooftop bar offering the best view in town. All rooms have free broadband and Satellite TV for all guests. Rooms start from just €105 for a double room at the weekend.
Dominia Ilmarine Hotel – Pohja pst 23 (Tel: +372 614 0901) http://www.dominahotels.com The Ilmarina is located close to the ferry terminal, and a 10 minute walk to the old town square. The building dates back to 1881, and has been remodelled to include a new wing with some excellent spa facilities. The restaurant offers international dishes as well as some local ones if you want to experiment. The hotel has 150 rooms, including 46 split-level suites. Weekend double rooms start from €75.