To fully understand why Kirill Gotovtsev becomes a cult hero in Gloucester, you have to go back to his rural beginnings in the Russian village of Boguchany.
Life was hard. There was no running water, alcoholism was rampant, and jobs were scarce after the fall of the Soviet Union.
‘I lived in a village in the north, 600km away [373 miles] from Krasnoyarsk, âthe prop says, occasionally checking the translator app on his phone to help him find his words.
Kirill Gotovtsev had a crazy trip from his Siberian upbringing to the Gloucester team
âIt was a really wild village. Sometimes people go to the forest to collect nuts and berries and don’t come back! “Hello! Hi! I’m lost!” It is a big forest. Bears, wolves, dangerous animals. The lucky ones find their way back to the village after a few days!
âOnce, when I was young, I saw a little bear while I was collecting berries with my family. A baby bear. It was maybe 100 yards in the trees. I said, “Oh mama, look at that, wow it’s a little bear!” A big bear is dangerous, but I didn’t know that a small bear was even more dangerous.
âThe wind was blowing towards us at the time. If the wind blew away from us, they would smell us and his mother would kill you! 100 per cent. My mom said, âRun! Out of the forest!
âThe culture was berry picking. It was our life. You grow vegetables, potatoes. If you have a car you can go further and collect some nuts. We didn’t have a car. It was a basic life but it was not easy. Physical work every day. We had to fetch water every day from a large tank because we did not have water at home. Only buckets. From the age of 11, I started living with my father.
Gotovtsev becomes cult hero at Kingsholm stadium and performed for Russia
âWe couldn’t carry water to the street in winter because the road was steep and icy. Instead, my dad warmed the snow to melt it for water. Have you ever drunk snow water? Totally disgusting! You should never taste it! Bitter. I can still taste it. You could put jam in your tea and you could still taste the bitterness.
âThere was no water but we had electricity and we had a wood stove. Every winter my grandmother and my mother chopped wood with axes. We used it to keep the house warm. All the villages were the same. It was normal.
âWhen I was young, the country was broken. Some of my friend’s fathers drank vodka like animals. My father was an example to everyone. An incredible father. All economic systems were broken.
âMy mother received her salary twice a year. Six months without pay and the pay was smallâ¦ just enough to survive. As kids you just want to joke and play, but we had to work.
Raised the hard way, Gotovtsev doesn’t hesitate to fight. Until now, he avoided interviews because he did not trust his English. Yet here’s a storyteller with a wicked sense of humor, worthy of a place in the eccentric frontline union.
He is, however, a latecomer at the club. Growing up in Siberia, his dream was to become a professional wrestler. He liked it so much that as a child he went to training in extremely cold temperatures.
âI love wrestling,â he said. âI loved the wrestling. It was my life from the age of 10. I didn’t want to do volleyball or theater like my school matesâ¦ standing on the stage pretending to be different animals, talking like a bear! I wanted to fight. I lost to my classmate in my first session and from that point on I just wanted to win, win, win.
âMy gym was 3 km from my house. One winter, we had a temperature of -58. I saw it through my eyes on the thermometer! I went to practice wearing three pants, three jackets and a hat. I got there and my coach was there alone. No one else had gone to training.
Gotovtsev is passionate about wrestling and was Russian number 3 but never competed in the Olympics
âMy trainer said to me, ‘What the hell are you doing! Go home! “We could only go to training if it was -40! Wrestling is a tough sport. When I was 15, we held a regional championship in Krasnoyarsk. The boys in the village normally lose against the boys from the big cities, but I won.
âA coach from the city invited me to live with him, so I finished school and moved. I grew up fast. Just me and my opponent. The struggle is like a small war. Only you and your opponent in a small circle. Who wants to win? You can have great, strong, and great technique, but if you don’t want to win, you won’t win. I always wanted to win.
So why stop? ‘Difficult question. I had good results but not the best for Russia. You had to be the first in Russia to go to the Olympics and I was number 3. My teammates were Olympic champions. I was 25 and felt powerful, but I wanted to be a great athlete and I knew I wouldn’t be doing wrestling.
“So I thought, ‘So what? I lived in a community student house and I knew someone in the bobsleigh. Some of the guys said, “Kirill, come try it, maybe you can do it.” I thought maybe I could be a great bobsleigh athlete, so I did one last wrestling tournament and finished.
âAfter three months I had just finished a regional competition in Sochi and the Russian coach loved me and said, ‘Wow, we are leaving for the European Cup NOW, come with us! It was a funny story. I had no winter clothes on and my car was left in the expensive parking lot at the airport. I bought some shoes and they gave me a team kit.
âAfter a few months I got home and my car was still in the airport parking lot. It cost a few thousand rubles. Extremely expensive for me! My car was buried under a lot of heavy snow, alone in the parking lot like a wild dog! No battery, the engine would not start and it was -42C!
âIt was the start of bobsleigh for me. I worked like crazy for a year and a half. The training was hard and I learned a lot, but I was not chosen for the Olympics. It was disappointing and after that I thought to myself: âSo what? ” Again!’
At 25, Gotovtsev discovered an improbable passion for rugby. He was lucky to have all the raw materials of a rugby player but there was one problem: he had never watched a match and had no idea of ââthe rules.
“What do you call a reunion with boys before they get married?” ” he asks. ‘A deer ? OKAY. We had a bachelor party in a restaurant and the head coach of the rugby club said âHello! Salvation! How are you? What are you doing now?”
âI told him I was thinking of finishing bobsleigh and he said come to rugby. He knew I was a wrestler and he said to me, âCome on and tryâ. The next day I arrived at the rugby club. All I knew was that the ball is like a bowler and the pass can only go back.
âThe first year my head was about to explode. So much to learn. It was like someone grabbed my head, put it in the washing machine and hit the button [motioning his head in a washing machine motion]! But I wanted to win.
âIn the first session, they put me with all these fat guys and these weak guys. I thought “What the hell am I doing!” These guys don’t even want to be here! The coach just wanted us to get high and go!
âWhen the coach gave me a chance, I killed anyone on the pitch. Sometimes it wasn’t legal. I used wrestling techniques. I just thought “He’s got the ball, I have to stop him”. I did everything to stop them … to kill them!
âI would throw people out, push people out and the opposition would say, ‘What the hell are you doing! I would say, “What the hell are you doing!” I’m gonna punch you in the face now! Some old rulers put me aside and said, “Hey man, stop it, you can’t do that.”
âThey said it wasn’t legal and I said, ‘Oh really, what can I do?’ Only then did they teach me the rules! I played in the second team and I scored three tries per game because I was fast and strong in bobsleigh.
âAll the other players were young boys. Boom! Boom! Push everyone out of the way. The coach said, “OK, now you can train with the adult team.” I thought it would be easy but they killed me! Strong men. It was not easy.
âI didn’t have a job. I had never been in a scrum but they said to me: âYou are strong! You should be stubborn! It was a nightmare. I stood with my head down in the fray pushing myself, thinking, “What’s going on here?” I had no technique.
âSome props had great technique but we didn’t have anyone to teach us. Sometimes I pushed them back. I learned from scrum to scrum, trying to get a feel for it. What happens if I bind like this? What happens if I put my foot like this? I learned it myself.
âThe fight helped because the fight is a feeling. It’s like waterâ¦ flexible, fast. Scrums are about technique and control – and wrestling is based on the same principles. You have to understand the feeling, you have to understand the best angles. It’s not like the back row where you run and tackle like a dog. Prop is different. Renowned for his mobility, his physique and his piece work, he quickly rose through the ranks.
âI came to Gloucester in 2015 for a preseason camp with Krasnoyarsk. I played a few pre-season games with the first team against the Bristol second team, Gloucester, Harlequins, Sale Sharks. Wow.
âI played in the back row then. It was beautiful. At that point I thought, ‘I want to play rugby in UK’. After the 2019 World Cup, I had a lot of invitations from European clubs. When Gloucester hooked up with me, I thought, “Wow!”
Gotovtsev eventually left everything he knew in Russia behind and moved his family to Gloucestershire. It quickly became part of Kingsholm folklore.
âIt’s an absolutely different world here. Different food, different side to drive the car, different house, different internet providers. Do you like soup? You have never eaten soup! British soup is not soup! It’s just mashed vegetables! Our soup is meat, vegetables, two hours of cooking. Everything is new here.
‘Life changes. Three years ago, no one thought we would have Covid Passes and QR Codes. Sometimes change sucks, sometimes it’s fun. For me, sport is not just a profession. It’s half of my life. The other half is my family. Politics, economics, taxation, reds, whites, whatever.
‘I have my great job and my good family, I don’t need anything else.’