Sleepy town with nu­clear threat await­ing Eng­land in Rus­sia

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - SOCCER - AMIE FERRIS-ROTMAN

IF Eng­land are look­ing for self-re­flec­tion and med­i­ta­tion, the sleepy Rus­sian town where they will train dur­ing the World Cup next sum­mer could fit the bill. The 10-minute drive north from their mod­est ac­com­mo­da­tion in the vil­lage of Repino, 30 kilo­me­tres from St Peters­burg, cuts through birch and pine for­est, the view oc­ca­sion­ally punc­tu­ated by a large steak restau­rant or a glimpse of the Baltic Sea.

“Peo­ple come here look­ing for to­tal and ab­so­lute quiet,” says 61-year-old real es­tate agent Nadezhda, whose al­lot­ment gar­den touches the train­ing com­plex. “The young are not in­ter­ested in buy­ing here. There’s noth­ing for them to do.”

Ze­lenogorsk, with a pop­u­la­tion of around 15,000, is one of a string of re­sort towns lin­ing the Gulf of Fin­land and is home to a cu­ri­ous mix of newly-built vil­las and crum­bling Soviet ar­chi­tec­ture. In the sum­mer, its sandy beaches fill up with St Peters­burg res­i­dents ea­ger to flee the city. The town’s main drag, Lenin Av­enue, has a lim­ited se­lec­tion of run-down shops sell­ing Rus­sian food sta­ples and co­pi­ous amounts of hard al­co­hol. Most lo­cal busi­ness own­ers were un­aware that Eng­land will train here.

A few min­utes’ walk away sits the fu­ture sta­dium. En­cir­cled by a rudi­men­tary grey, iron fence, flu­o­res­cent-clad mi­grant work­ers from Uzbek­istan are busy lay­ing down the pitch. A new, two-storey build­ing sits on one side, its beige ex­te­rior re­flects the light. Seats are yet to be in­stalled.

Ros Stroi Mon­tazh, the pri­vate firm build­ing the com­plex, did not grant ac­cess to the grounds, but a spokes­woman said the work would be com­pleted by the end ofyear dead­line.

On a re­cent visit, the si­lence in the air was in­ter­rupted by two work­ers weld­ing metal and the crow of a rooster. A man nearby, un­der a light spray of rain, was grilling pork ke­babs in his over­grown gar­den.

Lo­cals have mixed feel­ings about the mas­sive con­struc­tion ef­fort un­der way, which re­places a Soviet-era pitch that was used pri­mar­ily by chil­dren. For decades, Nadezhda, who de­clined to give her last name, has grown cher­ries, plums and black­cur­rants on the plot the Soviet govern­ment gave her. She and her neigh­bours, who also own al­lot­ments, worry they will be flat­tened when Eng­land ar­rive. Irina, a 70-year-old for­mer school­teacher, dis­agrees. “It will do noth­ing but good for our small town. Af­ter the English leave, it will be re­turned to the Rus­sians for us to use,” she says.

Repino, though with­out a town cen­tre and much smaller with 2,000 peo­ple, is more up­mar­ket, with a gourmet su­per­mar­ket and a vast wine store, though still nowhere near the plush sur­round­ings Eng­land teams have be­come ac­cus­tomed to dur­ing past tour­na­ments.

The vil­lage’s sole night­club, Zaliv, mean­ing Gulf, is fre­quented by mid­dle-aged peo­ple danc­ing to a steady stream of Rus­sian pop mu­sic and smok­ing shisha pipes. Com­plete with a mir­rored ceil­ing and a disco ball, Zaliv re­cently held strip shows and “school­girl out­fit” nights.

The ForRestMix re­sort club where the team will stay is also no lux­ury affair. Nes­tled be­tween a pri­vate school and a di­lap­i­dated ce­ment tower block filled with con­struc­tion work­ers, it is un­der­stated in style. The rooms’ decor is spar­tan, but the beds are large. They look out on to a thicket of trees, whose leaves are an au­tum­nal yel­low and red.

Gareth South­gate has de­fended his de­ci­sion to base Eng­land in the mid­dle of a for­est, say­ing it would ben­e­fit the play­ers to live qui­etly and with pri­vacy.

But an in­vis­i­ble nu­clear threat could be lurk­ing among the tran­quil­lity, warn sci­en­tists and re­searchers. Across the Gulf of Fin­land lies the town of Sos­novy Bor, home to the largest nu­clear clus­ter in the Baltic Sea re­gion. Next year, up­grades to the Len­ingrad nu­clear power plant, as well as the com­ple­tion of a new nu­clear fa­cil­ity, are ex­pected to go on stream. While they pose no im­me­di­ate threat to res­i­dents, nei­ther have un­der­gone en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact checks, says physi­cist Oleg Bo­drov,

“If an ac­ci­dent hap­pens, it will take one and a half hours to reach Repino,” said Bo­drov, adding that Rus­sia’s staterun atomic in­dus­try has for­feited safety for eco­nomic gain. “Fifa should take this into ac­count.”

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