Terek Grozny is a curious beast. The club from the capital of Russia’s most infamous republic hold a very strange position within Russian football. Some years ago at a match between Lokomotiv Moscow and Terek, I had some Maltese guests in the VIP lounge and by chance there were two directors of Premier clubs there.
In the midst of an interesting chat about Irish music and poitin (there was vodka involved), the subject of Terek in the Premier League came up. Instantly they looked around then spoke more conspiratorially.
“If we’d our way we’d cut them loose. What do they add?” one said. “It’s an embarrassment,” the other joined, adding “can you imagine how difficult it is for players to lose to that?”
I didn’t ask if they were using the same stick that came down across Rubin Kazan’s back, that they were allowed to win the Premier to keep Islamic fundamentalists at bay and the President of Tatarstan trotting alongside VVP when meeting leaders of Islamic regimes. This offensive accusation continues in Russia today.
I didn’t ask because I didn’t see the merit in the argument then, or now, for the Rubin conspiracy. There are fixed matches (not a result of betting syndicates as is conveniently doled out), but the success or existence of both clubs Rubin and Terek is not due to the largesse of other clubs.
Terek, we all know, are run by the “colourful” Ramzan Kadyrov, the ginger strongman of the Caucasus who was able to bring legends of football to Grozny in 2011. The line up was not quite legendary, Robbie Fowler and Steve McManaman were good players, though paled next to team-mates Luis Figo, Alessandro Costacurta, Ivan Zamorano, Franco Baresi, Fabien Barthez and Maradona.
Up against a Kadyrov captained side of local celebrities and professional footballers, the visitors fell 5-2 in front of 30,000. Kadyrov got a couple of assists, though not the hat-trick assigned to him in an attempt to completely ridicule the man and the effort. Such ridicule goes hand-in-hand with reporting from Russia and while non-Russians giggle, the locals find our mirth offensive. As would we when caricatures or racist insults are thrown our way.
The telling point about the ridicule and lies heaped upon the event, was that nothing was directed at the real crime of the day – Ramzan’s choice to play in tracksuit bottoms. For real sports fans this is reserved only for Hungarian goalkeepers, then again, those doing the ridiculing would normally be the ones wearing tracksuit bottoms while trying not to fall over in a five-a-side, or more likely complaining about the oiks making noise kicking the ball nearby.
Short case in point. I organised a Legends XI versus City Select game in a small Russian town in 2011. It was a nice money-maker for our company, great fun for the players and spectators, and most importantly brought the town of 60,000 together for something other than celebrating death (Victory Day), New Year or May Day. Such matches are always played for the craic and the more ridiculous the better. We agreed upon the result before hand and it was about as realistic as a Maltese Premier League match.
The sight of the founder of the local club, then aged 81, scoring with a poke of his walking cane led to the biggest cheer of the day. The man, who had survived the Leningrad Siege, was laughing so hard we feared for his heart. His two minute cameo was worth the 100rb (then about two euros) admission.
I played for the Legends XI as two lads failed to show and I invited a foreign journo to take part. He was only there to report on something outside of Moscow and hadn’t played any sport since childhood, however he enjoyed it told me that 100% he was submitting a story on it. We met in a Moscow café next to Kazansky Station to chat about the article and I’d to give him a memory stick with photos from the event.
However, the tone of his article was to be mocking, he wanted to ridicule the local United Russia (ruling political party) parliament Deputy as a slap against Russia. For decency and business I asked him not to do so. Eventually he relented and we co-operated later on. But that one moment summed up how ignorant most in the media will be regarding the spirit of sport and such events. I was lucky he had the humanity to alter the tone and from that on I stepped back from such events.
Terek Grozny are a decently run club, a beacon for the Chechen nation and rallying cause in one sense. As with Rubin in Kazan they are a symbol of national identity. On my last visit to the impressive Akhmat Arena there was something very different about the attitude and behaviour of the supporters and officials.
Sure I saw a few of “the boys” swigging something that was definitely not pomegranate juice, despite the label on the carton, though they were well behaved. The crowd was very varied, lots of older people along with girls, women and kids. Men in their early-20s helped one man on crutches navigate the ticket barrier and there was a joyous carnival atmosphere inside and out. The supporters even followed the flow of the play, unlike their brethren in most of Eastern Europe.
There were flags and banners, but the noise rose and fell with what was happening on the pitch. It almost felt like home. Surrounding the game itself, there was a lot left to be desired in the match day events, though that is a constant gripe of mine in Russia. For a day out, football in Grozny was pretty good.
At the aforementioned match in Loko, Ramzan Kadyrov arrived amidst a mass of bodyguards. Short and stocky, we was not an immediately imposing figure, though I’d no doubt he’d take care of himself in a row. For this is what the father of eight has portrayed about himself, a man of action, tough guy, man of the people and someone who is the leader of his nation. Like VVP, Bush Jr, Obama, the North Korean lads, it’s de rigeur to do what the nation expects and wants of you. In Italy their leader had his sex parties, in Ireland Enda photo bombs, the UK – an under-educated toff who doesn’t give a toss about the people. Ramzan is no different to the rest.
His Instagram is littered with photos of him boxing, shooting, on motorbikes and generally living a life that lads mags try to promote as the domain of the alpha male. Yet a worrying trend has taken hold which could affect the club he has genuinely given time and effort to, and there is nobody there to tell him to stop.
He is no longer President of the club, leaving that to an experienced functionary, Ramzan has better things to be involved in. His dalliance with the parody biker gang “Night Wolves” turned the stomachs of many, even tacit supporters of his government. The overweight men who are an abomination to bikers have regularly railed against “blacks” – meaning people from ex-USSR republics and North Caucasus. They were strange bedfellows.
Giving them a gift of motorbikes was objected to even by kadyrov’s most ardent supporters, though gift-giving is is not unusual for the region and certainly the norm for Ramzan. Gift-giving is a mark of respect for visitors as well as a show of wealth and success, anyone who has visited the region will understand this.
Not unlike Ireland, guests are given better cups and dishes, even better food, than we get on a run of the mill day. It’s a lot about show and a lot about respect – both self and for others. But being linked with such people and giving them gifts was not good PR.
His plan to make a movie, translated as “Whoever doesn’t understand will get it”, has the main man in camo gear shooting guns. There was a bit of a kerfuffle over this, saying that it was a wind up or some sort of anti-Kadyrov propaganda. Yet most people just rolled their eyes and said – “Sure, what of it?” The abnormal is becoming the norm. And most recently the man appointed Chechen President by VVP is a pro boxing coach.
Working with WBA Heavyweight Champion Ruslan Chagaev is a big deal as the Uzbek-born Tatar is winding his way to a rematch with number one Vladimir Klitschko. Known as “White Tyson”, Ruslan is a product of the Soviet atrocity against ethnic Tatars, who, like Chechens, were banished in their tens of thousands, from their homes in Russia (especially Crimea) to Asiatic Republics like Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.
It is from these displaced groups that Islamic radicals have emerged. They were not alone in being so dislocated in the USSR, or pushed outside of it, though events from over 50 years ago leads us to a topic that has a very direct relevance on life in Russia and the rest of the World.
Only a week ago Ramzan vowed to stop ISIS from getting into Chechnya, what he should have added was the word “further” as in “further into Chechnya”. ISIS and the associated support acts are already there. Murdering, bombing, destroying and recruiting young men and women disillusioned with life and now radicalised through Islam. Terror attacks are very regular in Chechnya and the region, they are Islamic-based and wanting to drag teh region into the same chaos we see in Syria. The number of recruits from Russia itself is disputed, though a recent case from Voronezh of a disturbed young woman who found refuge in Islam and was shunted off to Syria (via Turkey) to become the wife of a fighter surprised not many.
Chechnya is a frontline against the most violent strains of Islam and even though the normality I felt in Grozny and at the Akhmat Arena was real, Qatar, Saudi and Western supported fundamentalists are doing their best to increase their foothold. Unfortunately the leader of the Chechens is not helping to stem this tide with both his actions and lack of action.
But away from geopolitics and all that, this is about football and how it is, and can be even more, a force for good. Terek tried a “western” style, and it backfired because of who they chose. Ruud Gullit’s period as manager of Terek lasted only five months in 2011 and while there was an attempt to paint his failure in a “party boy lifestyle” light, it was basically down to the fact that he was not particularly good as a coach and at motivating the local players.
Young Chechen players are as good as any found in Europe, though they need to be understood to get the best from them, the Dutch way was never going to work and it spoiled the chances for foreign coaches to come in and bring the club forward. Terek have been a force for good in Chechnya and their survival in the Premier League is testament to their owner (Kadyrov) and his officials, though they are now stuck in the middle, seriously so.
Head Coach Rashid Rakhimov is fine for a small club looking to stabilise, though to be competitive and successful, the former Spartak Moscow player and Lokomotiv Moscow coach, is not the right fit. He has brought stability, though tactically and mentally there is little more he will add. Mid-table again this season would represent a waste of investment in the club and even greater loss of face than the Gullit experiment.
The Brazilians in the side are decent journeymen, though not the type of players needed to challenge for a spot in Europe, as Terek briefly threatened last season. Midfielder Kanu arrived with great expectation from Anderlecht, though like compatriots Mauricio, Rodolfo and Adilson, he shows little flashes and little else. Pole Marciej Rybus is one of the better players in the side and it has been a question of how this player has not moved, though luckily for Terek he hasn’t.
So what next for the club? As one of the best supported outfits in the Premier League they should be in the hunt for a Europa League spot and while it’s an outside bet, should they be allowed play in Grozny, it will be a truly amazing atmosphere. It’ll be 11 years in September since the night when Glen Fitzpatrick scored two late goals to earn Shelbourne a draw at a nearly empty and rain-soaked Lansdowne Road.
The bandwaggoners for the Deportivo game had long since gone and missed a fine performance from the Boys in Red. The same night in the Lokomotiv Stadium in Moscow, current Terek Deputy General Director Andrei Fedkov put Terek one-up against Basel before half-time. The match ended 1-1 and, like Shels, Terek would go on to lose the away leg 2-0.
As far as I know Glen Fitzpatrick has yet to have a street named after him, as Fedkov has had, and Shels have moved away from the top flight. So it remains to be seen whether or not Ramzan is going to concentrate a bit more on the football and governance and less on getting likes and followers, because in the case of Chechnya, the power of football can be a matter of life and death.