Motoball is an exclusively European sport originating from France, which has gained enormous popularity in Ukraine during Soviet Union times. Motoball tournaments and several motoball teams have survived until today only on enthusiasm of players, coaches, and few spectators. In Kamianets-Podilskyi motoball has already been existing for 52 years, and with a lack of local teams’ success in other sports, the Podillia motoball club has become famous in Ukraine during this time. There is a separate motoball stadium that you can find only in Kamianets-Podilskyi. Here, motoball is a local highlight, still unknown to many guests.
A motoball match is played on a football field with slightly different marks: the field doesn’t have a central circle, and the goalpost area has a semi-circle shape. Asphalt and gravel are usually used as a field cover. To improve motorcycle maneuverability, the asphalt is lightly sprinkled with sand. The ball used for the sport is several times bigger than a football. Each team has five players including a goalkeeper, and all players, with not exception, are on motorcycles. In English, motoball is also called “motorcycle polo”.
There is almost no difference between a motoball bike and a regular cross motorcycle. The main difference lies in the control levers. The motoball motorcycle is equipped with a duplicated rear-brake pedal on either side of the bike. Since a motoball player uses one leg to control the ball, the front wheel is armed with arches for moving the ball. The front of the motorcycle is also equipped with “plows” that make it impossible for the ball to get under the motorcycle. In some motorcycles of this type, gear-shift levers are connected directly to the handlebar to control the motorcycle easier.
The oldest motoball player and the Kamianets-Podilskyi team captain, Volodymyr Danyliak, was once in demand by many teams, but now he earns his living by driving a minibus. For six months he works in Kyiv, and then, after the motoball season starts, he returns to Kamianets. Volodymyr’s love for football on wheels has only grown with age.
Once in Sovetskiy Sport, a former Soviet newspaper that today is a Russian sports daily, there was an article about “a big match under the walls of an old fortress”. It described the Kamianets fortress and the motoball. The city was known only for the motoball team and the fortress. Many people were coming to watch the games in 2008 and 2009 — back then the team was winning almost every match.
“Currently there is a rapid team rejuvenation. Because other teams have only two older men, and, well, I am the oldest in Ukraine,” said Volodymyr, 65. “I was training today – got such a buzz, the real deal. My wife says, ‘Oh my god, you look so alive. Your eyes began to sparkle. So come on. Keep up with the training.’ As for now I work as a minibus driver in Kamianets. So, I got off the route and had training, and now I’m going back to the route. For the last seven to eight years I have tried every job.”
Volodymyr is still being recognized by fans on the street, but the benefits are little. With an advent of the Ukrainian independence, motoball no longer brings money.
“During Soviet times we received wage rates. Some of us had double rates, some had triple rates. It was good. And the only thing we did was training. That’s why we had such results. Boys are working now, and after work, so to say, it’s hard to get here.
Volodymyr started playing motoball in 1968, when he was fifteen years old. Before that he was into football. His oldest and middle brothers are football players, therefore, he initially went that way:
“There was a tournament in Kyiv. After that tournament, I was supposed to be taken to study at the Dynamo School (Kyiv). But my parents did not allow me to go. They said, ’Enough! We have two footballers, we don’t want the third one,’ Well… And then I retrained to play motoball.”
Back then there was an all-union program that in every way encouraged creation of motoball teams. Volodymyr is from Stryi, a city located in Halychyna, and it so happened that many of his friends were involved with motocross, and then they switched to motoball:
“Well, I also decided to try. And at 17 years old I was summoned to the Poltava military commissariat, this time my parents did let me go, because my brother had been already playing on a football team of Poltava. So they were no longer worried. That’s all. There, in Poltava, as they say, I was taken to the army. Playing for Vympel Poltava, we became the champions of the USSR and won the USSR cup in 1973. That’s how it all started for me. And then in 1979 I was invited to come here, to Kamianets-Podilskyi. That’s how I’ve live until now, driving the minibus. What can I do, life is life, and everyone has to survive somehow.
Motoball has been played in Kamianets since 1966. Volodymyr recalls that at that time there was such a program that allowed for nearly each city to have a motoball team: motorcycles were brought and teams were created. There were more than 30 teams in Ukraine.
A special stadium for this kind of sport was built in 1982. Volodymyr tells us that he and his friends were levelling breakstone there. The first game of the Kamianets team in the Premier League took place in 1982 on the pedagogical institute’s stadium, located in the city center. And the second game, with Novopavlovsk team (Stavropol Krai, Russia), took place at the new stadium.
In 1998 and in 2000 the German team Tornado from the town of Kierspe visited Kamianets-Podilskyi, and in 2001 Ukrainians visited them. Volodymyr remembers that tournament pretty well — the champions of Germany against the champions of Ukraine.
“We were invited. Silver and bronze winners are four teams together. And we took the first place that time, we won the cup. Then the Germans were interested in me, but I didn’t change from Kamianets. And our team mechanic stayed there. Now you can compare — me driving a minibus, and him… Well, we also have a Mercedes engine here. So I am also driving a Mercedes.”
Volodymyr says that in the 70s and 80s he had a lot of offers to go to Moscow and to Riga; people from the Baltic countries were interested in him. However, he admits that nothing attracted him outside of Ukraine.
Generally, that’s how I am working, and trying to find time to practice with boys, to give them advice, to show something. Well, at least it’s interesting for me. I’m 65 years old already, and I, to be honest, don’t feel it. Because I’m constantly with the boys, running here and there.
In Kamianets there has been a motoball team since 1966. And in 1984 in Kelmentsi, a settlement located in Bukovina, a new team was created from scratch, Volodymyr was playing with them. He says that young people gathered, but they strengthened the team only a bit. In 1987, a group of young players from this team became the champions of Ukraine among junior teams.
“It was a good team, but, as it happens in our lives, everything falls apart.”
But in Kamianets, compared to previous years, the boys from the team are growing professionally. Volodymyr thinks that they need to train more, that those who only started learning need to “catch the course,” to catch up with those who have played for a long time:
“We invited two boys from Stavropol Krai and two from Voznesensk. They are still living here. And then in 1981 with that team composition we, as they say, scored. Our smallest score was 4:0 in our favor. We played with Volgograd here on the grass, on the central stadium. There was no stadium yet. It was a swamp. Such heavy rain. That swamp, it was hard. The ball was heavy. Besides this game we had 12 goals per game and more. At that time I became the best scorer of the USSR Premier League. Together with the cup I had 106 goals.”
Volodymyr says that he has had a lot of injuries during these 45 years that he has played motoball — his ligaments were damaged, and he had fractures. And during the Europe championship in Belarus he got hit in his head with a ball. He says the ball flew straight to his head from under a motorcycle — he didn’t have time to react. His wife, who at that time was sitting in the stands, later said, “You fell and your legs started to shake, and that’s it.”
“Then for two days I was walking around thinking, where am I? It’s over. What to do, it is such kind of sport. But, at least it is interesting!
The team’s coach, Pavlo Vidlatskyi, says that compared to a usual bike, a motorcycle for motoball is smaller and narrower, and it has special arches.
“A simple motorcycle is wide, it can be used for driving straight through a rugged terrain. And this one should be nimble, should spin.”
After playing a season, a motorcycle piston has to be replaced right away as a nikasil coating wears off.
Pavlo joined the club in 2013, he has never been a motoballer before this. His father took him once to watch games — in the 80s it was like matches of the Dynamo football club in Kyiv with whole families coming to watch. That’s when Pavlo became interested in motoball, but it didn’t work for him – he was in the army, and then the team didn’t play for a while. But as it was revived, he immediately went there. Since then he has been working with the team.
“We repair motorcycles by ourselves. Well, during Soviet times when we were getting the motorcycles in Kyiv, we, I can say, were remaking and rewelding motorcycle chassis. Engines, however, we were giving to others — an electric factory was working here at that time, which had a special department number 20. Engines were also given to us there, well, by our fans and admirers.”
Volodymyr says that they had to remake motorcycle often by themselves:
“It had plows for the ball. At that time we had to completely disassemble the frame and recut and reweld the plows. They are also a protection for the motorcycle to hold it together as it is constantly in a collision. We had to redo everything from scratch.
Currently the Kamianets team has German motorcycles. They are old and have to be repaid quite often:
“It wasn’t a problem during Soviet times. In the USSR, on the contrary, it was enforcement. Well, there was a production of “Kovrovets” from the town of Kovrov. (“Kovrovets” is a type of street bike produced at the Degtyarev plant in the town of Kovrov, today a part of the Russian Federation.), It was such a huge production that you could take as many as you liked. Well, of course, you can’t compare those motorcycles to these that we have now — it’s like night and day. First of all, with these bikes, if you take a new motorcycle, it will last for five years. Just you’ll have to change a piston and that’s all.”
Pavlo shows us the workshop and says that they repair motorcycles in it. The motorcycles are stored here in the winter since they have a liquid-cooled engine.
“Here you can see one of the engines being disassembled. The motorcycle should be around 1.5 times older, for sure, than most players. It was probably made in 1985. They are still our fighting horses, which are still, something can come out of them, and something can work out. They are being repaired now. Well, and we’ve been told that two more motorcycles will be enough, as necessary. We’ll disassemble them again.”
In the past a motoball match lasted four periods of 20 minutes each. Pavlo recalls that it all started in the 60s — back then goalkeepers stood with motorcycles:
“Nowadays, it’s like an official version, in order to save fuel a game lasts four periods in Ukraine. Four periods of 15 minutes each. In Europe they play three periods of 20 minutes each. That’s probably because our Ukrainian rules are not adapted to European ones.”
According to Volodymyr, four periods of 20 minutes each were the best: there was enough time to match points or even to reach high scores. And now 15 minutes, according to the new game rules, pass really fast. Five minutes is a significant difference — you can score three goals during this time:
“There is no such thing as a certain number of people, as in football. Here a substitute can be constant. And if a motorcycle is broken — a player raises a hand, rolls the bike off the field, and the next player gets in. A substitute is performed only through the field center. In the past, extra players were standing on a central line outside the field in order to get in immediately.”
To play one game, eight motorcycles require 40 liters of petrol. The same amount is used during training.
The president of the club, Serhiy Isayenko, says that the Podillia motoball club was formed by more than 50 people. In 2013, those who remained on the team approached him asking for help.
Serhiy indeed helped them: a charitable foundation, which helps boarding schools in Podillia (approximately 15 schools and 2500 children), started to bring children to the matches for free. Besides that, they started to support motoball financially, to restore it. The man thinks that it is the pride and glory of Kamianets, as well as the fortress.
“If you’ve been to the fortress, you should have seen one of the first motorcycles that belonged to the first team ever established here. And that’s how we started our contribution. Well, the contribution is indeed significant, as we are talking about hundreds of thousands of hryvnias. The motorcycles used today are the new ones that we purchased for the team. Apart from that, we ordered Ancer team wear from the United States in Ukrainian patriotic colours. And, it means, turns out that in 2014 we already played here the motoball Ukrainian Cup. I personally was engaged in it.”
According to Serhiy Isayenko, authorities didn’t help them a lot — they gave 10 to 20 thousand hryvnias for a year, and the team, playing in the field, will spend five thousand in half an hour:
But at this moment it is the only team on the territory of Western Ukraine. There are no teams on the territory of seven regions, roughly counting. These guys are exclusively from Kamianets. And we think that patriotism can no longer be bought by money. Hence, they work for free to restore the team and to return to glory that they had before.
Serhiy says that they established the Kamianets-Podilskyi federation of motoball, which is part of the Ukrainian Federation of motoball. He lives in Kyiv, and comes to Kamianets for work as the foundation works there and it’s easier to interact in such a way.
According to Pavlo Vidlatskyi, this type of sport requires equity investments and takes a lot of time. There were two motoball leagues in the Soviet Union — the Kamianets team played in the Premier League since 1982. The highest accomplishment was fifth place position in the tournament.
“When the Soviet Union collapsed, the team for six years was the champion of Ukraine, the owner of the Ukrainian Cup. We are now following their steps. That team, those champions. Very hard. Everyone wants to score an extra goal against Podillia, or to do something else. Even the glory of grandfathers does not allow descendants to rest.”
For the last few years the Kamianets team hasn’t been below fifth place — it is always in the first half of the tournament table. By all accounts, it has been a young team since 2014. The new team was formed by boys, who are now 21 years old. But every year someone leaves and someone new comes. The coach says that they visit educational institutions, give lectures, and look for those who wants to play. From potential players one needs only desire, and the rest — motorcycle, fuel, sportswear — will be provided:
“This is where the team started to play. It was established in 1981. Since then there have been practically no breaks — constantly someone has been engaged in motoball, developing somehow. There were downsides, there were splashes, we had everything. Starting from 2007 we haven’t played only for one year. Apart from this, I think, a break, if I am not making a mistake, was from 2002 until 2007. What’s for sure is the team was not playing in the championship of Ukraine. In 2013 this team that we have now started its recovery with support from the foundation, let’s just say.”
This year none of the Kamianets motoballers got into the national team of Ukraine, and last year their goalkeeper was there. However, whatever difficulties they may face, the team shows by its own example that the main thing is not to give up and to do what you love.”
In this vlog we will get to Kamianets-Podilskyi, watch the hot air balloons flying over the fortress, get to know Mykola Shlapay, a migrant from Crimea, see what’s going on inside the Kamianets-Podilskyi castle, get to the motoball training, visit Otrokiv and the “sadyba” (homestead) of Stsybor-Markhotskyi, and in the end, we will get to Velyka Yaromyrka, where a fantastic man, Seraphim Lesko, created his own museum.