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Sep 22, 2019, 11:59 PM
Location: South Birmingham
Team(s): Barnstoneworth United; Bostock Stanley
Just back from two weeks in Uzbekistan which I thoroughly recommend as a tourist destination. It wasn't a football trip but I was fortunate enough to squeeze two games in having timed most of the holiday during international break week meaning there was no domestic football the first week. The locals must have been hoping their international side had also stayed at home as they managed to lose a WC Qualifier 2-0 in Palestine.
Visa requirements for most European nationals were lifted earlier this year and this, combined in no small measure with the televised Joanna Lumley travelogue along the Silk Road, has resulted in greatly increased numbers of tourists. Any feeling that we were embarking on an "edgy" journey soon disappeared when we saw our fellow-passengers at Heathrow check-in - mostly groups of well-heeled oldies on Saga Tours. Uzbekistan is ranked the 5th safest country in the world on the recent Law & Order index. There are direct flights from Heathrow with Uzbek Airlines on Tuesdays & Fridays, taking about 7.5 hours and costing about £450 return. It may be possible to find cheaper options by routing via Istanbul, Moscow or Astana.
The currency is the som of which there are 11,000 to the pound; some zeros will be lopped off in the near future, but the best currency for exchange or even best purchase deals in the US dollar. Most cities will have plenty of ATM's dispensing both som and USD. Forget about using your phone with calls over £3/minute or £1.50/text. Mrs BB got a local sim with sufficient calls/txt/memory for £8. Wifi is generally available but can be iffy.
Post-Karimov reforms are transforming the country with new Spanish Talgo trains halving travel times along the Silk Route and early this year a new line was built into Khiva, some 1,200 km across the desert from Tashkent. Lots of new hotels of all levels are spring up in these places as locals cotton on to the wealth that outsiders have/bring but you'll still struggle to spend £20 a day (accom excl) and that includes plenty of alcohol, I can assure you.
Most tourists will head west along the Silk Route but another new rail line (Chinese money, natch) goes east from Tashkent into the mountainous and densely populated Fergana Valley which is a much more conservative (and can be edgy) part of the country
The Super Liga consists of 14 clubs,three of which are in Tashkent. The seven fixtures seem to be spread across Friday to Sunday. The Pro Liga A (second tier) has 8 clubs with the regionalised 3rd tier having 6 in the west (2 having folded) and 8 east although the structure seems to change almost every year. The pfl.uz site isn't great for fixtures though good on stats.
Wednesday Sep 11th @ 16.30 : Pro Liga A - Sherdor-Presstizh 7 Iftixor 2. Admission 5,000 som. Attendance : 125 (hc) at Dinamo Stadium, Samarkand
Samarkand is just over two hours away from Tashkent by Afrosiyob bullet-train for which you'll need to get an agent to sort out seats. Slower trains are bookable online (in theory). There are a number of daily trains, loads of buses and even more taxi's, some of them legal.
The station is several miles out of town and you'll pass the Dinamo Stadium on the way in to the centre. Sherdor normally play at the Olimpja Stadium in the north of the city but it's currently closed for refurbishment, so they're here for the duration. This was a 4.30 kick-off in well over 30 degrees and featured the two worst teams in the league. The stadium looks impressive at first glance, a sunken bowl of about 15,000 seats with a great facade and lights but it's very tatty round the edges and you don't really want to use the bogs unless utterly desperate or have lost your sense of smell. I had to go twice as the street behind the main stand/offices is the one (and only) in Samarkand with pubs. It's potholed and unloved but there must be a dozen huge drinking (and eating) dens along it, along with the Pulsar Brewery and its tap-house Bochka which we'd already discovered, so I visited a couple more pre-match, purely in the interests of research. 5,000 som a pint, since you ask with a shashlik not much more. You can get alcohol in most restaurants, but this out-of-the-way street must have been designated Pissheads Alley or Pivo Street as we called it, well away from prying eyes or anyone who'd visited the city for its culture.
In an almost funereal atmosphere, Sherdor scored two first-half goals which were barely applauded by the paltry attendance which included an inordinate number of military types. The visitors from the distant Fergana Valley did pull one back only for Sherdor to forget how crap they were and turn on the style. One goal prompted the previously dozing announcer to issue a protracted "GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOLLLL" before he dropped off again. With the last kick of the game the visitors scored a sumptuous second and that was that, just as the sun began to disappear.
We were staying in a small hotel behind the city's show-stopper, The Registan with all the other main sites within walking distance. The Shah-I-Zinda complex is astonishing as is the mausoleum of Timur or Tamerlane, one of the world's greatest mass murderers and National Hero - he was responsible for the slaughter of one-sixth of the world's population at the time but they needed something or someone to replace all the removed Stalin stuff so he fits the bill nicely.
The modern city is nothing to write home about; everywhere we went was by taxi and usually £1.50 maximum.
Friday September 13th @ 18.30 : Super Liga - FK Buxoro 0 Surkhon Termez 2. Admission 8,000 som; no progs. Attendance : 4,820
Back on the bullet-train and ninety minutes further west is the Silk Road city of Bukhara. The station is actually 10km out of town and our hotel had thoughtfully arranged a pick-up for 45,000 som (£4); we could have got one for half of that but hey-ho. This time we were central, only 5 minutes walk from Lyabi-Hauz, the Old City's great meeting place. A much more sedate city than Samarkand yet stuffed with architectural wonders - most, like particularly Samarkand's Registan, salvaged and brought back to life by the Russians........funny how we don't get to hear the full story in the telling of "our" version of modern history.
No Pivo Street in Bukhara sadly, but the Markaziy Stadium is only fifteen minutes walk south of Lyabi-Hauz and is most impressive. It was apparently done up for the Womens U-20 world cup in 2012 only for Uzbekistan to lose hosting rights late in the day. It seats in the region of 25,000 with the ends miles away due to the athletics track. As per Dribble's original post, the excellent floodlight towers still remain as do the band on the far side who were the best I've ever heard in a stadium. Fodder inside was delivered by a scary woman in traditional garb with gold teeth wandering around dispensing bags of rabbit food but out front by the ticket-offices and turnstiles were all manner of food vendors, some of which looked pretty good but I didn't want to spoil the lagman and somsa later. Papers were also being distributed - not for reading purposes but for sitting on. And the pitch is still awful.....
Nominally, there is cover on all four sides but in the (unlikely) event of rain, those at the front wouldn't benefit much. We were very much objects of curiosity but, as everywhere else we went, it was extremely friendly. Turns out the only Irishman any Uzbek seemed to know - and they all seemed to know - was Conor McGregor, the horrible twat. Buxoro kicked-off bottom of the league but buoyed by a 3-0 win in Samarkand last time out, were hopeful of beating the visitors from Termez, a town on the Afghan border many hours away who'd brought quite a few fans with them. It's hard to describe how awful the home team were, and goals at the beginning and end of the second half gave Surkhon an easy win. Lots of fans stayed to barrack the home side off the pitch while we headed back to town for fodder which can cost up to £3 at good restaurants.........
The final leg of our Silk Road tour was a five and a half hour train journey across the Kyzylkum Desert to the oasis town of Khiva which is a time-capsule of astonishing beauty within its fully-intact mediaeval walls. I could see a stadium in the New Town but couldn't find what division they were in. I did spot the ground of second-tier Khorazm in Urgench, half an hour from Khiva, from which we took an internal flight back the 1,200 km to Tashkent for about £45. And flying over Tashkent I also spotted the impressive grounds of Paktahor and Bunyodkor but wasn't taken by the city which is vast, the biggest in Central Asia, and where every taxi trip was a white-knuckle ride. The best of these was on night 2 of the holiday when £2.00 was invested in a cab journey to the Craft Brewing Company in a desolate location on the southern edge of the city but where the beer - and there's lots of it - and grilled meats from the barbie were fantastic.
A terrific trip, highly recommended..........but really, don't go for the football alone; it ain't great.