What’s the furthest you’ve ever travelled for a league game? If you’re in England and you’re a Carlisle or Plymouth fan you probably have travelled the furthest, if you’re in Ireland, maybe you’re a Cobh Ramblers fan that has gone up to watch your team against Finn Harps?
It’s a little bit more complicated in Russia.
Football in Russia is very successful and the structure in place for development is adequate which is one of the reasons why regionalisation in their leagues doesn’t take place until the third tier meaning that the top two tiers have no geographical boundaries in place.
The Russian Premier League is relatively compact in terms of the geographical location of its teams but it’s a different story when you get to the second division.
Out of the 20 teams competing in Russia’s second highest division, seven of them are located in the Asian section of Russia with both SKA-Energiya Khabarovsk and Luch-Energiya Vladivostok representing the nation from the extreme east near the border with China.
The city of Vladivostok itself is only two hours and 30 minutes away from both Beijing and Tokyo by aeroplane and you could drive to the North Korean border in about three hours.
As you can imagine, Vladivostok have some cumbersome away trips against a fleet of teams on the European side of Russia, none more so than when they play Baltika Kaliningrad – Russia’s furthest west Footballing team.
Baltika play their home games in Kaliningrad, a city located on the Kaliningrad Oblast exclave, cushioned into the Baltic Sea by Poland and Lithuania, 530 kilometres west of mainland Russia itself.
This makes for entertaining reading as an away trip between Baltika and Luch Energiya-Vladivostok consists of either a 13 hour aeroplane journey across six time zones through Russia, China, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Belarus and Lithuania, or a hardy 127 hour car journey if you are scared of flying.
It’s Russia’s equivalent of “Land’s End to John O’ Groats”, just on a gigantic scale.
This mammoth journey occurs twice a year but with a number of other teams located on the extremities of the worlds largest country, these incredible endurance journeys are carried out around six times a season.
As expected, the cost of funding travel is a huge burden on many of the teams which is why there has been significant support for regionalisation in the second league, something which the Russian Football League may have to look at very closely after the last few years which has seen a handful of teams collapse as they can not sustain the funds carried through from the amateur leagues to pay for travel in the national second division.
As for Baltika and Vladivostok, the show must go on, and its Vladivostok’s turn to make the perilous 7,363 kilometre journey to the Baltic Sea.
The game took place on Wednesday November 25th at 6pm local time – 3am on the Thursday morning for any Vladivostok fans back home who wanted a glimpse of the action.
The Vladivostok players had to quickly acclimatize to the 7°C conditions, much warmer than Eastern Russia where they had left behind average temperatures of -8°C, and that was in the daytime.
As expected, it was a rather lethagic start to the game for both sides, on top of Vladivostok’s long journey, they were also on a five match losing streak and they hadn’t won a match in two months which sees them sit in a relegation-threatened 17th position.
Baltika themselves were in no position of precedence either coming into the game with just one win in six games.
In front of a crowd of 1,500 spectators, Baltika took the lead on the 26th minute with a goal from their top goalscorer – Artem Serdyuk, and it wasn’t long until they took full control of the match with another goal in the 33rd minute followed by a 40th minute own goal coming from Vladivostok’s midfield.
The second half passed by with little action, a dilapidated Vladivostok side were unable to shake off their jetlag in front of goal whilst Baltika were comfortable in sitting back on a 3-0 scoreline, which is how it finished.
Unfortunately, Vladivostok weren’t able to take any reward home for their long journey, their winless streak goes on. Baltika can sympathise, they face a 7,000 kilometre away trip on November 29th to Vladivostok’s nearest competitors, SKA-Energiya Khabarovsk – co-incidentally, Europe’s second furthest match-up of the season.
It’s something we may have to savour as Russia may well end up looking at regionalising its second division, but for now, we can sit back and think “Wow, maybe that trip to Devon on a wet Tuesday night wasn’t that bad after all!”