Tallinn – The Frozen North

Estonia is a beautiful Baltic state that offers visitors the chance to see a tiny modern and dynamic land that sits on the shores of the Baltic Sea.  Numerous beaches line the extensive coastline although taking a dip in the many waters is far from a regular past time.  The Baltic states are not renowned for warm weather – something that any visitor to Estonia must be aware of; this is a place where the summer is short and the winter can be severe.

Tallinn’s picturesque medieval old town was built by the Germans in the Middle Ages and thanks to careful upkeep it is in magnificent condition.  The medieval city walls and towers are almost completely intact and it rates as one of Europe’s best medieval old towns.

Visitors can also experience a country that is now part of the European Union where the € is in use. Traces of the Soviet era are still to be seen including a deserted Soviet army base that was once off limits to the Estonians themselves. The Russian language is also widely spoken and popular with some 66% of the population said to speak the language. Further afield St. Petersburg in Russia can be reached thanks to coaches that pass through from Tallinn.

Finland and its capital Helsinki can also be reached just across the sea via Tallinn.

However, if its Estonia that you wish to travel around for the great outdoors this is a place renowned for its islands and extensive bogs that are now national parks with easy access for tourists.  Estonians are said to have a special love for nature and the outdoors. Estonia’s tranquil, laid back and unspoiled Baltic islands provide a splendid getaway to numerous natural trails.

As far as football is concerned there are one or two destinations in Europe that can rightly be titled as being off the beaten track.

Thanks to its relationship with the Soviet Union, Estonia is far better known for its track athletes and weightlifters than any footballer. The most successful national team players have seldom reached any great heights in the game.  Martin Reim played almost all of his career in Estonia and the national team top scorer Andres Oper never got any higher than Torpedo Moscow or Roda JC.  Far beyond the global appeal of Real Madrid and the stars of Chelsea there are locations that do not fit the title of being hugely ‘popular’ and Estonia is one of them.

An Esiliiga game in late March is perhaps not the ideal weekend away template for most football fans but on a cold Sunday in late winter it offers a chance to see some Estonian football.

Trips to Tallinn are really about relaxation, sightseeing and nightlife with the city known for its party nightlife come the weekend.  The city centre of the capital is small and rather village like but the country is very nationalistic and hugely go ahead. Estonia is said to be one of the most Wi-Fi enabled countries in the world with many city bus stops and restaurants having hot spots open to customers and travellers.

Your typical Saturday in Tallinn evening can be loud and noisy.  Parties of young people from both the UK and nearby Finland populate bars that line the city centre.  Football in Estonia is popular but the issue is that the football matches that are popular tends to be those of the English Premier League or Russian football rather than Estonian domestic football.

Typically, football in Estonian during early April is often played played in an ice box.   Grass pitches are frozen thanks to the ravages of the winter past and the snow can often be piled up 10ft high around the field of play.  However, thanks to the smaller artificial surfaces that often adjoin the larger stadiums league matches often get the go ahead.

The national team have been improving with youth participation increasing year on year and the team come close to qualifying for UEFA Euro 2012.  Only a two legged play-off defeat to the Irish prevented the team qualifying for Poland/Ukraine.

Club wise Levadia Tallinn and Flora continue to dominate the league championship.  Club structures continue to improve with youth sections well coached and professionally organised.  Thanks to the use of Russian a number of Russian coaches and players are also part of the league system adding extra expertise and insight.

With the season in Estonia starting late March pitches are seldom thawed out by the time the season starts.  Large parts of Tallinn in early April can still be covered in ice and pools of water can be seen on pavements as the movement towards a thaw begins.  Flora are unable to use the La Coq arena in the early stages of the season and a smaller fenced off ground with one small stand can serve as home.

Likewise a similar tale exists at Levadia Tallinn where the Kadriorg Stadium can be frozen throughout the winter months. This means matches of both Levadia and Nõmme Kalju are often taken elsewhere.

Things are much the same at Kalev Tallinn – one of Tallinn’s many other club sides. With the club unable to use its central Kalev ground due to it being submerged beneath snow and ice, games can be pushed out to the adjacent plastic pitch come training ground next door. Wooden benches with room for around 100 fans serve as temporary stands and the 10ft high ice packs serve as terracing surrounding the pitch.

Esiliiga is the second division of the Estonian Football. It features several amateur clubs and the reserve teams of top clubs. The top league is currently known as the A. Le Coq Premium Liiga.  As in most countries with low temperatures in winter time, the season starts around March and ends in late November.

Kalev Tallinn are one of only a few Estonian sides to have appeared in the top league of the former Soviet Union. Alongside Zalgiris Vilnius they played in the top Soviet division for two years in the 1960’s.  Unlike the Lithuanians, who managed a third place finish, they could only finish in a lowly position in the league before relegation.

For some images from Tallinn clubs during the winter period see our images here.

This first appeared in 2011.