The season of the ninety-ninth year was the best in the history of Ukrainian football. Shevchenko, Rebrov, Husin, Luzhnyi, Kakha Kaladze and others. Valeriy Lobanovskyi’s dream team: not the team of stars but the star team. Dynamo Kyiv. Football at the peak of capabilities and sports form.
We all looked up to this team, where each player was in the right place and no one of them did anything needlessly. We painted their surnames and numbers on our T-shirts and went out on our “stadium”. The banks of the Ikva were even then and the river was deep. The cows grazed on the field, geese and ducks splashed in the mud, the noises of willow and reed – these were our devoted fans.
“Today and only today!”, Ruslan Movchan screamed on the bicycle, “‘Telizhyntsi’ against ‘Pylyava’ at two p.m”, he was cycling along the street calling people.
We heard his voice. Ruslan was the best half-back of our team “FCT” (Football Club Telizhyntsi).
We were sitting under the willow, waiting for our guests from Pylyava.
Yurko Hilenko was nervous because they were late for 15 minutes.
“If they don’t come”, he said, “we will score technical defeat three-zero”, he had “Shovkovsky” written on his back.
Yurko is our goalkeeper.
Ruslan Enot laughed.
“They’ll come. You’ll see”
Yulya and Kostya climbed the pillar and stared at the road line which led to us.
“Yu, whassup there?”
“No see of them”
Savik read the book and Slavik leaned on the tree trunk and slept.
The time was running inexorably, the sun was setting behind the river. We had two balls of choice: rubber for 15 hryvnias and leatherette for 24. We played with the rubber one. First, it’s harder, second, the grass had grown and it will jump better, perfect for the control of the game and acute kicks.
“I’m barefooted”, said Yurko. “Anyway, I’m goalkeeping”.
“Okay”, Enot nodded.
We all heard how several days ago father berated Hilenko for playing football in sandals. “They’re last and we don’t have money for new”, the old man said, adding that this is the third pair of shoes for summer and the last one.
I also didn’t have sports footwear apart from the father’s wedding shoes of white color with a sharp toe and heels. They were constantly bugging me and coming off since they were two sizes bigger. We would defeat them whatsoever happens, even if we had to rupture the callouses on the feet to blood. The main thing was for the blood to dry up with socks, and the callouses wouldn’t rub against the shoes and feet wouldn’t slip off. After the match, I would pull off the socks anyway, macerate them in the river and pull off.
“Coming!”, Yulya screamed.
And while she was counting, I climbed the willow to see myself: it was dusty on the hill and a good dozen bicycles were moving at us, like the Zaporizhian troops.
Pulyava was their land were the victorious battle of Ukrainian Cossack army of Bohdan Khmelnytsky against the army of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth took place. They grew up in that land and Cossack blood flowed in their veins.
“It will be a life-or-death battle”
They threw the bicycles next to gates and lined up. All in a row: soccer shoes for 27 hryvnias, Liverpool and Real Madrid T-shirts.
“There are even “Barcelona” and “Bavaria”, whispered Slavik.
His brother recognized several Pylyava guys: Raul plays for the district team at the regional competitions; Zidan is from Kyiv, from sports school, comes to his grandmother on summer holidays; Rivaldo runs fast, also in district team; there are Owen, Beckham, and Giggs – also saw them at competitions, they played well.
“Guys, we’re screwed”, he said.
We also lined-up: Yurko, two brothers, two Ruslans, me, Roman Yuanchyshyn, Kostik and Vovka Kuts. At their background we were ragamuffins.
They came with the group of support. Five pretty girls sat on the ditch and screamed the names of their heroes.
And who was for us?
Didorenko Ivan with his dog Zhulka, three cows on the valley and a flock of geese in the mud.
“Hey, guys, more heat!”, Didorenko screamed and the girls laughed.
“OLE-OLE-OLEEEE, PYLYAVA-A-A CHAMPION!”
They chose the gates. We – the ball. Shook the hands. The ball in the center spot. Got started.
The guys from Pylyava immediately took control over the center of the football field. All our attempts to attack were blocked, and passes were intercepted. The control over the ball: seventy against thirty not in our favor. Yurko did his best to defend the gates, but then the ball finally flew into the net. Hilenko hit the ground with his hand and yelled at Kostik: cover him up! Why is he open? Raul like an albatross flew across the field victoriously stretching the hands. The girls greeted him with air kisses and he, similar to titans of the world football, punched his chest with a fist and pointed his finger at the ditch. The girls screeched.
“This is a complete fiasco!”, Ruslan put the ball in the center spot with a lowered head and immediately rolled it at Yenko who was a defender. Slavik was breaking through from the left. Yenko tried to kick the pass but unsuccessfully. Giggs repelled it to the centre with his head, Beckham in one touch passed it to Raul and he, without getting ready, kicked.
“Goaaaal!”, the stands roared.
“Yulya”, Ruslan cried, “take the bicycle and go home. Call Serhiy Popyk and Sashko. NOW!”
And then to us:
“PULL YOURSELF TOGETHER! PLAY DEFENSE. DON’T RUN FORWARD ALTOGETHER!
Yulya scarcely left and we were scored the third time. It was the tenth minute of the first half-time and we had three-zero. It’s obviously bad luck. This was the final match, we couldn’t lose.
“They have the soccer shoes. They’re not slippery”
“But this is our field”
“Thank God, nobody sees us!”
“More pressure, guys!”, screamed Didorenko, “cover them up so that they don’t feel the masters here”. Their attacks were quick-fire and combinations unpredictable. They attacked from the right, Giggs received the ball, with a single feint he bypassed Ruslan, then – Kostik and Kuts. He moved smoothly without applying special forces. I stood before him but Giggs kicked the ball between my legs and I, looking back, fell while he made the ball to the gates. Zidan kicked it with his head – the ball hit the crossbar. Rivaldo finished it off – a kick: G-O-O-A-A-L! And their stands were screaming again. Ivan only shook his head. Who plays like this?!
We took a break, feeling down in the dumps with the score 6:0.
I was laying out all my collectible cards on the floor in veranda: Oleksandr Shovkovsky, Oleh Luzhny, Oleksandr Khatskevych, Valentyn Belkevych, Andriy Husin, Oleksandr Holovko, Vladyslav Vashchuk, Kakha Kaladze, Vitaliy Kosovsky, Serhiy Rebrov, Andriy Shevchenko. The main members of Kyiv Dynamo of the 98-99 years. Eleven cards of players and the twelveth one is the coach’s – Valeriy Lobanovskyi.
I sat and cried over them. The feet terribly hurt and ruptured to blood callouses burned as never before.
“We lost”, I said to Lobanovskyi. His wise eyes looked at the left bottom corner of the card. The expression on the face was very serious and concentrated.
“Eleven – seven”, I said wiping tears on the cheeks.
“What’s up?”, I didn’t hear how father came into the house and I jumped up from surprise as if caught red-handed.
“We lost”, I repeated to him this time. “We could have won…”
“And why didn’t you do so?”
“They had soccer shoes. They weren’t slippery”
“Is it a problem?”
I showed my feet to the father with reproach as if it was his fault, pointed the finger and uttered angrily:
“I play in your wedding shoes”, and started to hastily pick up the cards back in the box from chewing gums “Skeletor. Turbo”.
The tears were dripping on the floor. I couldn’t stop them.
“It’s just a game”, he said.
Having picked up all Dynamo players, I threw them on the bed and ran outside.
Next day, I woke up at six in the morning.
“Let me go with you”, I said to mother.
The car was roaring outside. Blue UAZ 2206. The father was poking around the cabin. The car would warm up a bit more and they would go.
“I need Dmytrulin. I have money”, I held my cash.
“What kind of Dmytrulin?”, she smiled.
“Universal soldier of Dynamo Kyiv. The defender”, I answered with all seriousness.
I tossed everything on the table and quickly counted 77 coins. It would be enough for two cards. That day was Friday, the market day, and uncle Tolik, the seller, had promised to bring from Khmelnytsky the new series.
“Get ready!”, the mother said, “put on your brother’s sandals so that your toes don’t stick out”.
“Okay!”, I yelled.
“Be quiet, you’ll wake up your brother and sister”
She put her finger to the mouth and:
In a minute we’re going…
“No? What do you mean by that?”
“A boy before you took it”
“But you promised me, didn’t you?”
“Just look… There’re Shevchenko, Rebrov”
“I don’t need them. I have already. Couldn’t you have taken two?”
“They go in sets. Dmytrulin is the only one”
“They may be in another place”, the dad said.
I shook my head, “No, only uncle Tolya sells cards. Mom, dad, how long will you be here? I wanna go home”.
“I don’t know!”
Mom went to do the subsidy.
“Where are you going?”
“I’ll sit in the car”
“Will you find the way?”
The door of UAZ opened and the dad sat down on the driver’s seat.
“Try them on!”
She put the soccer shoes on the hood.
NEW, GREEN, WITH STUDS.
“If they don’t fit, we’ll change them”, he smoked Kamyanets’s “Prima” without a filter. I looked at the size: 38 – mine. The soccer shoes smelled with rubber. The laces were bright. Green. I tried on the right, then the left.
“What do you think?”
I was silent.
“Don’t they bug?”
I was silent.
“They’re perfect…”, I finally squeezed an uncertain word out of myself.
The dad laughed.
“Yes! But they’re pricey. I saw. Thirty hryvnias”
“That’s okay, I’ll earn again…”
“Dad, are you sure? Are they really mine?”
“Thanks!”, I immediately jumped out of the car and to the booth nearby. I tossed out all my 77 coins on the counter and took two ice creams for 35 in vanilla cups. I brought them and gave one to dad.
“It’s for you!”
“You won’t have money for Dmytrulin”
“That’s okay, I’ll save up again…”
Ruslan made a bicycle kick and scored a goal. I came up closer.
“How are you?”, he asked.
“Take the pass!”, and Movchan made the ball at me.
San Siro, Santiago Bernabéu, Camp Nou, Anfield, Old Trafford.
The stands above our heads went alive.
The voices of people chanted our names. Ours.
We scored for Barthez, Oliver Kahn, Casillas, won one championship, another.
Here: Championship League and UEFA Cup.
Here: the 11th Championship of Europe and after it the World one.
We escaped the reality and played into empty gates.
The ninety-ninth season will be remembered by these: by five victories in the seven matches of our summer tournaments, by three fights because of defeats and a broken nose, mine.
The ninety-ninth is the season of dreams.
This is the pair of soccer shoes and the team of Valeriy Lobanovskyi.
After three years, we went out on the main stadium of the district wearing white sports clothing of Dynamo Kyiv (without surnames on the back, only numbers). We played for the local “Enerhetik”. There were several hundred people on the stands. They came to look at us. The whole comprehensive school, teachers and students, parents and neighbors. Semifinal for the right to enter the regional football tournament in the junior group. Semifinal against the FC “Pylyava”. I brought my new card with Lobanovsky and put it on the bench so that the coach could see how we played.
“Yulya”, I said to my sister, “keep an eye on him so that the wind doesn’t blow it away.
“Okay”, she answered.
It was May 7, 2002. We went out to the stadium knowing what we would win.