The alarm clock is set up for 7.30. It’s Saturday and normally people do not wake up so early unless they have to go to work. I have to go to watch a football game.
RdS goes to…Valga!
The situation in Tamme Staadion has compelled Tammeka to relocate their play-off return game in the furthest point possible: at the border with Latvia in the city of Valga.
It’s an 85km trip that the Tammeka fans have decided to take by the most unusual means of transport to follow football away in Estonia: the train.
It brings me romantic memories about a trip from Bari (my hometown) to Lecce (150km) to go follow an away game of Internazionale at US Lecce.
Now I am embedded with a bunch of white-blue fans on their hope trip to nowhere to preserve the place in Premium Liiga.
The early wake-up was due to avoid missing the only train that could have made me make it to Valga on time for the kick-off (13:00). The Tammeka fans, guided by Martin ‘Mällar’ Kivimäe (the drummer and pyrotechnics expert of the group) reaches the station just upon the train arrival into platform nr.1 . I am just worried as I don’t see my Spanish friend, Nicolas ‘Hispaanlane’ Tamargo. He slept in. And on the day of the most important game. Luckily he manages to take a coach that will bring him in Valga on time for the kick-off whistle.
It would have been a nasty prank for one of the most faithful supporters and the only foreigner of the group.
The train atmosphere is great and makes me think this is the best means of transport to reach an away venue. ”Fans prefer to travel mostly by car or small coaches” explains me ‘Mällar’ ”however this time we opted for the train as it’s cheaper and well connected with Valga”. The group starts soon to sing to grow the atmosphere while a flag hangs on one of the compartment windows to remind at every station that this is the Tammeka train.
Once in Valga, the group thinks first of all to ‘fuel’: food and drinks before starting the parade (rongkäik) to the Valga stadium.
Instead of hitting the usual fancy mall supermarket, we just opt to peacefully invade a small grocery just outside the train station named ‘Doonau’ (Danube). If you travel to Valga by train and feel hungry, don’t miss their deep-fried ‘vineeripirukad’ (meat pies), it’s a must-eat.
Given it’s almost 12 and I have missed my breakfast, I opt for a coffee to accompany the delicious ‘pirukad’ before hitting the road to the stadium.
Erki Tarro, the press officer at Tammeka, is constantly on his smart phone to provide live updates via the club’s official Facebook page to those who will not make it to Valga. He agrees that the meat pies were really delicious and how sometimes it’s nice to find such delicacies in what otherwise would look as a dodgy place.
He then asks me whether I ever done a ‘rongkäik’ with Estonian fans. This is actually my second time as some days earlier I did it for the Estonian national team game in Tallinn.
It is my first time with club fans.
As soon as we reach the center of the small town, chants start and flags are unfolded. I get the impression we are disturbing, instead the locals are not bothered at us at all. Some horn in support from their cars, others send a smile as greeting. Very far from the stereotype of the violent ultras devastating the world around him. We’re taken with sympathy and later on many locals will join Tartu on the stands to support the neighbours in the ‘battle’ against the Northern club from Rakvere (Tarvas).
We reach the stadium with enough time for the fans to set up their flags, banners and prepare the pyro that will accompany the game until the final whistle.
I place myself in the middle of the ‘torcida’, not far from Mällar’s drum and side by side with Nicolas, who finally has reached the stadium.
When everything is ready, the two squads are out on the pitch for the warm-up.
Uwe Erkenbrecher is following the warm-up drills with attention while holding his famous umbrella to shelter from the rain. In Valga the weather is dull with no hopes for sun as it was a week earlier in Rakvere where Tammeka managed to win 2-1.
Also the Rakvere fans manage to reach the stadium. They are in a smaller figure however their support will warm and constant praise their side also when the achievement (being promoted to Premium Liiga) is clearly off hand. Nicolas receives a scarf from a Rakvere fan for his growing collection and happily stores in his bag, he doesn’t want to be mistaken for a fan sitting in the wrong side.
Ready. Set. Go.
The vocal support is massive and the pyrotechnical choreography helps build the atmosphere in the small facility. After all, Tammeka are playing ‘home’, and the fans want to show that without any kind of misunderstanding.
The game is vibrant. Tammeka are clearly controlling the game and pushing the ‘bulls’ in their half in the attempt of scoring the opener that would put the environment at ease. However, Rakvere have a couple of go’s at Kaido Koppel and almost manage to net the 0-1.
They are dense 10 minutes those that bring to Heiko Tamm’s opener. A bit of luck helps Tammeka three minutes later when Rakvere scores an own goal. With the 3-0 netted by Tomson before the half an hour, Tammeka fans feel at ease to celebrate the success and push away any dramatic end of season.
The second half sees Tammeka controlling the game and trying to score a fourth goal, however, Erkenbrecher’s men feel the fatigue of playing on a wet pitch and don’t push at full throttle. Rakvere’s goal on 51 minutes is enough to make them understand that is better not to wait idly for the final whistle. On 63 minutes Tamm scores his second goal that basically puts the word ‘amen’ on the game and the season.
At final whistle, a peaceful and authorized pitch invasion, makes the fans come together with the squad. ”Üks klubi, üks pere”, one club, one family says Tammeka’s most popular slogan. And there it comes all the Tammeka family: the fans, the players, the club staff and the coach, celebrating in a power circle.
The captain, Kristian Tiirik, has a small speech and soon after, his teammate Siim Tenno is awarded with the fans ‘Best Player’ prize.
Once cleared up the place and taken the ritual memory pictures, it is already time to head back to the station for our return train (the only one available). Obviously no one can resist to have another go at ‘Doonau’s meat pies: the lunch-dinner is done.
On the train back they are all tired, however you can see the satisfaction in their face. Alcol helps to keep the spirit (ops) high and other few chants are thrown before getting into Tartu station.
It is been a long day of a long season, now it’s time for Tammeka fans to rest and prepare for the next one. The ‘family’ needs a holiday.