ORISSAARE, Estonia (Reuters) – While soccer greats show off their skills in France for UEFA Euro 2016, children at a soccer camp in the Baltic state of Estonia learn how to use an oak tree which sits in the middle of their pitch, to gain an advantage.
The more than 150 year-old oak tree has kept center stage since the park was made into a sports ground in the late 1940s, in the coastal town of Orissaare on the Island of Saaremaa.
The tree remains despite an attempt by two Soviet tractors to pull it down. The cables broke, the tree stood strong.
The oak, which is about 15 meters high, won the European Tree of the Year vote in 2015 with over 50,000 votes. It dominates one half of the pitch.
“I think it might be a strange sight for others, a tree in the middle of the soccer field,” said local coach Mati Ruutel.
“I have been here since my childhood, so for me it is perfectly ordinary that it is in the middle of the pitch.”
On this windy day, 40 children aged from 7 to 12 were at a soccer camp, keeping their water bottles cool in the tree’s shade as they got on with their training drills.
When a match is on players make use of the tree to help pass the ball and make it harder for opposing players to get possession.
“It is good for training … if you need to learn passing your opponent with the ball, then it is good,” said ten-year-old Anette Ige.
“Like when the opponent comes from the other side of the tree, then you can come here and she will not guess from which side you are coming, so you have the opportunity to take the ball.”
When asked how would their favorite soccer stars play with such an addition to the pitch, Hendrik Ellar, 7, said his favorite player, Ronaldinho, “would come running, kick the ball against the tree, and he would get the pass back and kick into goal.”
(Reporting by David Mardiste and Janis Laizans; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)