Lokomotiv Moscow’s last home game of the season was against crisis club Mordovia Saransk, who needed a win for a relegation play-off, and the choice of which Moscow football club to watch was narrowed to two.
CSKA were away to poor Rubin Kazan and beat them as they strolled to another title. Spartak were also on the road, at Ufa, and the only other option was to go to Khimki and watch Dynamo look for a favour from Zenit.
Apart from being Tim’s favourite team, it was a no-brainer to go to Cherkizovo.
Our party down to three, we picked up tickets on the day and for the lower West Stand.
There was a problem with our tickets so the staff at the gate led us over to the accreditation centre to print off new ones – and let us in at the closest gate instead of tracking back to our original.
Three smiling faces entered the concourse.
I was surprised by the relatively low numbers of people knocking around the place, though figured it would change closer to kick off.
In the nine years since I’ve been attending games at Loko’s stadium I’ve seen lots of changes. Most worrying is the severe drop in attendances and lack of concession choices for supporters, yet the quality of stewarding is the best in Russia.
It is as good as anywhere I’ve attended matches.
Ticket prices remain affordable for even casual fans with the cheapest seats only 500rbs (under seven euros).
For 1,000rbs (13 euros) you can get your ticket, a drink, a snack and a program. And the stands are clean and tidy.
So when we took our places the sun was just breaking through and there was a sense that the weekend was looking up.
There was some decent music on the PA system being played at a comfortable level and we sipped coffee (Tim had a fizzy drink treat).
Around us arrived a group of teens (mostly) and their carers from an “Internat”. The Internat in Russia is a form of orphanage and in this case doubles as a Foster Home.
The youngsters were thrilled to be guests of the club and their behaviour throughout was beyond impeccable. Yet the shine soon went from the day, for them and us.
The kids sitting around us could be best categorised as those from the most troubled section of Russian society.
For a child to be taken into Foster care in Russia is hard in every case (unless politically / financially motivated) as almost always the Mother is left in control of the child, regardless of her character or behaviour.
Coming from a home where adults are absent, unable or unwilling to behave as parents, you would hope those who now care for them behave with respect and understanding.
Accompanying the group were two “house mothers”, one of whom had her own son with her. Before the game they began a stream of conscious bullshit which embarrassed everyone but them.
Tim had wandered off a couple of rows to our left, so was spared the pain. When Mordovia’s French defender, Thomas Phibel, got possession the racist remarks began. My other half reacted, then saw how the kids around us suddenly found their shoes more interesting.
When Phibel approached our side the pair shouted “Obesyan” (Monkey). The heavier of the two “mothers” exclaimed loudly – “If he ever came near me or touched me, I’d kill myself.” I answered – “If he thought he touched you, fat idiot, he’d kill himself.” Her cough softened, especially when the kids (and her own son) all sniggered.
We moved to where Tim was playing and to focus on the game. Next to us were some officials and a fan from Mordovia. We chatted about the club’s parlous finances, the World Cup, about how they just feel hopeless.
To our left the few dozen young supporters who made the journey continued supporting their side, despite a 2nd half collapse.
It was so painful that even Loko supporters willed the guests to score a consolation, this after they unfurled a protest banner against Loko President Smorodskaya and chanted about getting rid of her.
Another Moscow football club with an unpopular and all-powerful President who is unlikely to be removed anytime soon.
With two minutes to go the young Mordovia fan walked to the side of our enclosure and began the typical Russian chant of “Forward Saransk”, which the supporters in the visiting section responded to.
Even Loko supporters applauded the effort.
It was fun until stewards and security landed. They told him he had to leave – and then the police arrived, manhandled and removed the red-faced lad from the ground.
The stewards were equally embarrassed and told me, “We just can’t take a chance, the Union will fine us.” I sympathised with them, as well as with the fan and police. This nonsense showed how the law and society here is an ass.
Racially abuse a player, nobody remarks. Cheer on your team from the wrong section, you’re removed. It’s not just a Russian problem, though what we saw outside the ground cemented this.
With an official attendance of 5110, an insanely high number of police stood on duty outside the ground.
Herded like cattle and directed through ankle deep puddles, I took Tim in my arms and listened as my other half compared this display with those we’d experienced elsewhere, including League of Ireland.
As she said, “If they treat the fans like animals, what reaction do they expect or want?” She’s right, it was ugly, uncomfortable and completely unnecessary.
I can personally compare the attitude of government, authorities and clubs to the 1980s UK (when I attended matches with my Dad and Brother) and modern Russia. It is a disaster waiting to happen.
Football fans suffer suspicion and antagonism by authorities, though in Russia it seems that fans of each Moscow football club are treated worse than those in the regions, except for Zenit.
Yes there is correlation to fan behaviour and lack of internal control, though authorities need to justify big budgets and charging clubs a fortune. Clubs earn more having empty stadia and inadvertently it is heading that way.
Moscow football club meltdown
When Spartak’s owner Leonid Fedun announced that he was willing to hand over full control of the team to Kurban Berdyev, it raised lots of laughs.
Having been neutered by Fedun, Dmitri Alenichev is a dead man walking.
If Alenichev does go and Berdyev arrive, (though Polish League winning coach Stanislav Cherchesov is also in the mix) it will be celebrated by the self-named “People’s Club” fans for a couple of months, until reality sets in and Dutch star Promes.
Having sold their last game of the season to Ufa, allowing the Bashkortistan club to survive and send down Dynamo, they reap what they sow.
Lokomotiv is another Moscow football club in trouble with fans boycotting matches and a good coach, Igor Cherevchenko, unsure of his future.
Without European football next season budgets will be slashed and despite having brought through talents like 19-year-old Rifat Zhemaletdinov, it could be another Summer slaughter in Eastern Moscow.
Dynamo are down, though not out. There’s a chance that Kuban Krasnodar (should they win their playoff with Tomsk) won’t obtain a Premier licence and the team might get a lifeline.
Just last season they qualified for (before being excluded) from European football. Now as the joke goes, they’ll still be playing Spartak and Zenit, but only their reserve teams.
And worse, their host club, FC Khimki, will be an opponent in next year’s graveyard.
CSKA are the one Moscow football club who succeeded by winning the league. It might well be time for Leonid Slutsky to bow out of club football and concentrate solely on the National team for 2017 and 2018.
He is still young enough to go back into club management after the next World Cup, though a poor showing in France could do for him.
Life isn’t easy being a supporter of any Moscow football club, it’s a roller coaster with questionable management, results and attitudes to supporters.
With the FIFA Confederations Cup a year and World Cup two years away, it’s not just on the field where Russia is suffering.
The decreasing number of supporters coming to games and upcoming financial meltdown, coupled with an inadequate response to supporter engagement, continues to allow the most disgusting elements of society and worse traits come to the fore.
Until Russian football is reformed it will remain so and another generation of talent will be destroyed.