Friday, September 25, 2015

футбол Spells "Football" in Russian

Zenit celebrate their 2008 UEFA Cup final victory over Rangers
When we were in Russia recently, I got the chance to see my first ever match in the Russian Premier League. The match was on a beautiful sunny Saturday afternoon in St. Petersburg featuring last year's League Champion, FC Zenit vs FC Krasnodar.

Russia, and Russian football has been in the news in the last year because of the upcoming 2018 World Cup and the corruption scandal within FIFA, the governing body who awarded the event to Russia, in what some are saying was "questionable circumstances." Setting the FIFA politics aside, I was really excited when I learned that Zenit was playing at home while we were in St. Petersburg and that Petrovsky Stadium was just a 45 minute walk from our Airbnb apartment.


Petrovsky Stadium seats 21,000 and is completely surrounded by water 
Kick-off was scheduled for 4:30 pm but I set-out early to make sure I found the stadium and arrived in time to soak-up some of the pre-match activities. The walk was easy. The stadium is located on a tiny island and I mean really small, because the stadium takes up the whole place with 21,000 seats all on one level. The pitch is located inside a running track so the place lacks any sense of intimacy, especially at the end zones (curvas) where is sat.

In order to get onto the island, fans cross one of the two bridges and then run through a gauntlet of police and security forces, no worse than at other stadiums in Europe but somehow it felt a little scarier. The KGB is now called the FSB and I wondered if, or how many, agents were part of the security detail.


Before I got to my seat, my backpack was searched three different times.
When I arrived I spotted a group of young ladies who were face painting the Zenit logo and or team colors for just 150 rubles ($2.50). As you can see, I stepped right up just as I had done when we saw Barcelona play last year at Camp Nou.

Young lady who did my face painting


The finished product

With that done, I took a lap around the outside of the stadium to check things out before the match.  I stuck up a conversation with a group of policeman standing in front of this "paddy wagon" which looked like it was made in the 1950's. Turns out, it was made in 2006 and the driver pulled out the registration certificate to prove it. We all had a great laugh!


Paddy Wagon waiting for customers. What year do you think it was made?
I headed for my seat and had my backpack searched for the 3rd time before two very friendly young stewards showed me to my seat. I was surprised that the crowd seemed so laid back. There was no music, no cheer leading announcer, hardly a chant and even right up to game time you could almost hear a pin-drop in the stadium.

My seat was up high in the north end so I was looking into the sun the whole match and as you can see from the pictures, I was far away from the pitch. The ticket cost 800 rubles, which a year ago would have converted to $24 but because the value of the ruble has fallen dramatically I actually paid just  $12.
Not a soul around me spoke English so I for the first time ever I wasn't able to find a seat-mate who could answer my questions about their national sport. Before long, the match got underway and fans started to cheer but not like anything I've seen at matches across Europe. As the match progressed I got the impression that the crowd would have been more comfortable at a tennis match.


In the 25th minute FC Krasnodar scored to go up 1-0. Zenit stepped up their game but the Krasnodar goal keeper rose to the occasion and made some incredible saves and his offense managed to find the net again in the 49th minute so Zenit went into the locker room at the break down by two goals to none.

Just a beautiful day for football
As the second half unfolded I thought to myself that even the players seemed to be  playing without passion. On the plus side I didn't see any players faking injuries or diving hoping for a foul. On the other hand, none of the Zenit players seemed to be bothered by a ticking clock and a two goal shortfall. Even the few cheers from the Zenit Ultras seemed more like a group of high school students reciting a poem in unison. In the 72nd minute, their seemed to be a minor flare-up with some pushing and shoving  in the middle of the pitch but that was quickly squelched by the referee and before long the he blew his whistle. The home team lost. None of the fans seemed to mind and everyone filed out the stadium like good comrades.

Young Zenit fans had a great day out even though their team didn't appear to show up for the match.
I'm glad our schedule worked out so I could see a match in Russia so now I have a feel for just how popular (or not) football is in Russia in the build-up to the 2018 World Cup. I learned that the average attendance in the Russian Premiership last year was an unimpressive 12,500...in a country of 142 million.

Afterwards - I had read that Russia was building a new stadium in St. Petersburg for the World Cup and that made sense to me after seeing the match at Petrovsky Stadium. So two days after seeing the Zenit match I went to visit the new stadium in a huge park on Krestovsky Island. Turns out they started building Gazprom Arena 10 years ago, long before FIFA awarded Russia the World Cup which made me want to go see it even more. I wondered how could they be building a stadium for 10 years and still not have it finished.....even in Russia?

So off I went. I took the #6 trolley and then transferred to the Blue Metro Line and before long, found myself in this huge and beautiful park. At one end, about a mile from the Metro stop, I spotted the stadium - work-in-progress. It was a Monday morning and I saw actual workers and cranes at work. I've read that they expect to finish the stadium well before 2018. They say it might end-up being the most expensive stadium in the world. (With the falling value of the ruble, comparisons to US dollars is hard but I've seen estimates that it will cost in excess of $1.4 Billion which is probably on the low side.


New home for FC Zenit after 2018 World Cup will seat 67,000 fans. Wanted: More Fans to Fill Stadium!
Assuming Russia hosts the 2018 World Cup, assuming that the new stadium is completed and assuming that Zenit moves out of Petrovsky Stadium after the World Cup, I have to wonder what 21,000 dispassionate Russian football fans will look like sitting in a 67,000 stadium for decades to come.  As a Russian friend told me, we like big things in Russia. Some things in Russia are just hard to understand and this might be one of them.


Michael






3 comments :

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