Unhappy New Year in Russia

While working on a year end review with all the fun of the fair and recovering from a series of dentist appointments, a brilliant article flashed across my LinkedIn page that sent me into uproar.

It nudged to restart an article from October which I felt was going to sound too unreal. Thanks to our apparatchiks here in Russia, I needn’t have worried, the unreal just got real again.

 

November 2013, I’m sitting watching my first hockey game in Voronezh, flanked by a former colleague and her sister who were my guests for the weekend. A bunch of lads next to me (by lads I mean men in their 40s, 50s and 60s) were in great form.

They were crunching away on pumpkin seeds (spitting the shells liberally at our feet) and swigging two litre cartons of multi-fruit juice which they passed amongst themselves.

By the end of the second period they were struggling to communicate in any known language.

Kindly they offered me a sip, as I politely took the carton, I caught the whiff of alcohol. I didn’t dare taste it but asked what was in it. Samogon (Russian poitin or moonshine) came the answer.

Since the ban on alcohol in Russian stadia (except in VIP lounges of course) finding ways to get alcohol into stadia or load up beforehand is an increasing problem.

While being shown around a Premier club’s stadium in 2013, after watching a game where fights broke out between competing supporters clubs of the same team, I was disappointed to discover dozens of empty bottles which once contained medical alcohol scattered about the perimeter of the ground.

The club rep blushed and said “Bumzhi”, meaning homeless people. Yet we both knew not all of his clubs followers are homeless.

The lads had juiced up before approaching the security checks and this is commonplace at grounds around Russia.

It is never a surprise in Russia to find these little 50 to 100ml bottles lying around playgrounds or just off main streets. They normally cost 20 to 40rbs (30 to 60c) and add a kick to your juice of choice.

The normal way drink this muck is to buy a can or bottle of cheap beer, Zhiguli perhaps, and have something to eat with it – seeds, a slice of bread or, for the summer season, some watermelon or cucumber.

No rushing for a pint at the bar and handful of peanuts for these folks! They have their beer then enjoy a nice spirit cocktail al fresco.

Since the pathetic ban on alcohol sales in and around stadia, sports supporters, particularly football, do this to extremes, usually with hard alcohol and the cheaper the better.

The ban was a plaster over a gaping wound that needed stitches. Now this wound has festered and is pungently gangrenous.

Yet still the sheltered fools who have little contact with real life, similar to our own under-educated buffoons like Enda “Imaginary Man in the Pub” Kenny, ignore facts, figures and what is best for the people.

Straight up, I am not advocating a must drink alcohol policy, nor am I slamming a nanny state, I am simply commenting a broken system which is rotting from the head down.

The application of a this law actively promotes dangerous drinking habits and pushes more and more people away from attending football matches.

Why does fan behaviour here continue its downward trend? Maybe because in addition to the factors laid out in this article, the fact that many of the easily led are treated like animals by the authorities and loaded up on cheap booze? Why are fans staying away from stadia in their droves?

Take a walk along any of the routes to the grounds or in the parks/playgrounds nearby (where police are kept away from) and the empty bottles of alcohol will not entice you to take your loved ones to an out of control tragedy in the making.

Add to the underlying lack of conventional and social education, and removing the opportunity for adults to at least have the chance to enjoy a normal, cordial atmosphere at a sports event, and attending a football match in Russia is just less and less interesting.

So what do the leaders have to say? What is their solution? Treat fans like adults, like human beings, engage with them and make the match-day experience one you’d happily bring your six year old to? Not a chance.

And even Mr. Mutko is shying away from it, despite the fact that for the Confederations Cup in 2017 and World Cup in 2018 (plus World Ice Hockey and Bandy Championships in 2016) alcohol will have to be sold due to sponsor commitments, International best practice and simple common sense.

One of the gombeens running the country, Gennady Onishchenko, says that people “underestimate” beer because of its low alcohol content. His Enda Kenny moment should have us all screeching for a halt to the stupidity.

…mothers of fourteen years old boys took them to our drug therapists and a doctor said: “Your child has alcohol dependence” and the mother , “How so?! He drinks only beer,” exclaimed the mother. And the man goes on to say that energy drinks have appeared and it is a catastrophe.

Now give him his due, it’s not difficult for him to be so out of touch with reality when the only time he sees regular people is if he happens to look out of his chauffeur driven Mercedes as it races on a special lane in and out of Moscow.

God help him, sure he doesn’t know any better.

So as another ABBA song blares out on the radio and the same celebrities turn up on each channel to sing to a backing track on a show recorded in November, let us raise a glass of cheer for the unfortunate among us who have to attend Russian football and hockey games.

And remember, because of the dental appointments and the antibiotics, I’ll be fulfilling Mr. Onishchenko and his boss VVP’s wet dreams, not a drop of alcohol will I enjoy as 2016 dawns.

Author Details

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Alan Moore

Russian based sports journalist and consultant, working with major clubs including Hajduk Split, Eintracht Frankfurt, Lokomotiv and Spartak Moscow. Current host of Capital Sports FM in Moscow, former international boxer and semi-professional footballer and commentated at the FIFA World Cup 2018.

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