According to legend, no trip to Vladivostok is complete without three things. Firstly a weekend bike rally and secondly a banya with a group of hairy arsed bikers. As a reminder of the former I have a beautiful tee shirt and for the later, simply the memory and a few healing scars. The third element to this triptych of wonders is a visit to the speedway stadium, … preferably on ‘Race Day’.
In the hierarchy of Vladivostok pastimes, speedway comes second only to drinking vodka. The local heroes, ‘Team Vostok’ have until recently been the champions of all Russia. Today, 23rd July 2008, the new champions and pretenders to Vostok’s throne are the visiting team. We buy tickets for our friend Andre and his beautiful wife Ulia, .. centre stand, centre row, .. best seats in the house, $10. It’s a party atmosphere, the alcohol ban is enforced as if it never existed and the girls in the audience outnumber the boys. I look around as the riders are introduced, …. I’ve been to speedway in England but this is different, .. this is more like fashion week in Milan, .. it is as far removed from Ipswich or Manchester on a rainy evening as it is possible to get.
The MC is loud and judging by the reaction of the crowds, … funny and popular too. The riders are heroes, … well, the Vostok riders at least. The team from Ukraine includes the reigning world champion from Sweden, .. Andre suggests that they are in fact ‘the Chelsea of speedway’, … a team lacking neither talent nor finances, .. just history and heritage. The racing begins, I stand, I shout, I cheer along with the masses and become an instant supporter of ‘Komader Vostok’. It’s impossible not to become involved,… in the nicest possible way, Russian people are 100% infectious. (Komander = Team).
To complete an almost perfect evening, Team Vostok win by 60pts to 30pts, .. ‘Komander Vostok’ will once again be national champions, … Vladivostok will party tonight, the party will last until dawn, ….. that is the Vladivostok way. We head back to the ‘Box’ and hope that the resident rat will be sleeping soundly after feasting on our emergency food rations for the previous six days, …. wishful thinking I’m afraid.