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How 25 Belarusian Guys Dumped Soccer For Football [PHOTOS]

American football is an exotic kind of sport for Belarus. It doesn’t bring athletes fame or money or crowds of fans. These guys train in the evenings, after work and classes. “We play for passion”, says “Litwins” player Nikolai Borovoy. “It’s only your emotions, but it’s these emotions you want to constantly experience.”

The story of one Belarusian guy and his teammates who fell in love with American football – in pictures. 

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“I didn’t know what American football was. I saw it only in movies”

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In Belarus there are six American football teams. Three of them are based in Minsk, and one in Brest, Grodno, and Vitebsk. Perhaps there are other teams playing without official uniforms.

 

I was studying in school when my friend suggested: “Here’s a cool idea, let’s go and try it out.” I agreed and started training, and I got sucked into it. It was fun: we gathered and went to practise.

Before this, I had no experience in American football. I only saw it in movies. But I was generally active, and I had many friends and acquaintances who participated.

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“Litwins” are not professionals. They have normal life with work and study. The team train in the evenings. Currently their training schedule is 20:30-22 on weekdays, and 20-21:30 on Sundays. So exercise often takes place when it’s dark outside.

 

When I began, we didn’t have equipment, or team uniforms, anything. So it kind of looked like preparation for a fitness exam. But we were people burning with one idea.

In winter we trained in the football arena, and then later, closer to springtime, when snow melted, we went out onto the field. By that time we had equipment, and we had game plans.

Then the whole thing started to move in a more concrete direction; this was just the beginning.

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The prices of the equipment here are not quite affordable. The full uniform costs around one thousand dollars (the average monthly wage in Belarus is currently around $350 – note). The helmet and shoulder pads don’t need to be changed every year, while the boots and gloves should be replaced. But they are cheaper; boots can be purchased for one hundred dollars, and gloves for thirty. New-comers who decide to take it up seriously are given an extra set of uniform.

 

Not many are left from the team we started with. At the beginning of 2011, we had about 40 to 50 people. From them, only 20 to 25 remain. There’s a constant flow: someone leaves because they don’t like it, someone gets injured and decides to quit, others are forced out by personal reasons. Sometimes a person leaves and after a year or two they join again, when their wounds have healed.

Right now we are playing in the League of American Football, where we are the only team from Belarus, so the Litvins don’t play against other Belarusian teams.

We have joined the League this year. The teams playing there are more advanced, and the tournament is more serious.

“It would be great to get paid for doing what you love”

It’s not just about money. Of course, it would be great if I would get paid for doing what I love. But since at present it’s unlikely we could play for money, we play for passion. This is our life.

You know, when I sometimes miss a training, due to injury or because of work, and come home as early as eight in the evening, I can’t stop imagining myself on the field. It has ingrained so deeply into my mind.

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“When you tell people you play American football, it often surprises them. Usually, people confuse it with rugby, or something else,” laughs Nikolai. “They’ll mix it up a thousand times, but we’re used to it.”

 

We play for passion. These are your only emotions, but it’s these emotions that you want to constantly feel.

I took a break from training for a half year or so. Couldn’t make it with time, I had work and studies. When the season started, I began going to the games and those emotions rose up again. I couldn’t sit calmly and watch from aside. The blood inside me was boiling. The flame inside me was relit, and in 2014 I returned. I am still playing.

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Nikolai is an independent entrepreneur. He earns by consulting and management in commercial activities.

 

As for university, studying during the day wasn’t very interesting for me. I understood that when you’re a full-time student, it takes a lot of of time. I didn’t want to depend on my mother for money either. I chose correspondence courses, opened a business and started working.

“I’d rather get injured playing than in other situation”

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“The game itself is very dynamic. It’s a rough contact sport- and that’s what I like. I don’t think I could do any other sport,” the athlete remarks.

 

Have I become more careful? You know, yes. Probably after the injury I started limiting myself a bit. Since I have a weak knee, there are some activities I try to avoid. I won’t go skating, or play basketball or soccer. I have sport, and I’d rather get injured from it than from who knows what.

So in life, yes, I try to be more careful. But at the stadium you don’t think about that. And you don’t have time.

“Spectators at our first games were only those few whom we invited”

At first the only spectators at the games were those few whom we invited, our relatives and friends. Come and see what American football is like, we said. Then we started advancing, and some advertising started as well. People began to recognize us. And they started coming.

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These guys train three times per week. They begin with theory, followed by half an hour of game play. Additionally, they have mandatory gym time three times per week. Without the serious preparation, it would be more difficult to keep up.

 

Our team, “Litwins”, is the one with the most supporters in our league. At some games our side of the stadium was practically full. And it’s a really nice feeling when people you don’t know come and support you. It motivates and helps at difficult moments during the play.

“When you start to win, it’s precious”

Relationships with the coach are totally friendly, there is no formality. But when it comes to  training and playing, you do what the coach says. He praises you or corrects you because he is the coach.

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In Belarus, there are no fields for American football, which is different from a regular football field in width, length and markings. The games are played on “classic” soccer fields, with the necessary markings made with tape, plaster or paint. “Well, if there’s a field, we can play”, Nikolai Borovoy notes. “Of course, it would be awesome if we had at least one field. But without the support of sponsors and the state it will not be possible.”

 

Every victory is remembered, it evokes some emotions. Do I remember anything in particular? When we played against Zubrs (The Minsk Zubrs, another American football team) we always lost, but in 2014 we beat them for the first time. That year our team won the championship.

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Litwins are playing their next game in Minsk on 24th or 25th of September.

 

Victories are most memorable. When you start to win, it’s precious.


Pictures by Dmitry Brushko. The original version of this article was published on TUT.BY. Translation by Mariya Pekar for BelarusFeed.