Today was a Sunday. While a few St. Petersburgians are rising up early to go to church, I’m waking up for a different reason: Zenit plays today. Some Russians go to services at the The Church of Christ on the Spilled Blood and pay their respects to Saint Paul or whomever, approximately 20,000 fans came out to their personal church, Petrogradsky Sport Centre and pay their respects to St Arshavin and St Tymoschuk, (patron saints of the penalty kick and the far left cross, respectively). I was one of those 20,000 who went to see their Russian version of the beautiful game, and left with a feeling that is only paralleled when I see Timbers matches back home.
Back in the
Taking the metro there is the first sense that you are entering a European football atmosphere: getting off at Sportivnaya, you look over across the platform and see just an empty track. The reason? In order to control unruly crowds, the outbound train and inbound train platforms are on different levels. Thus when the 3,000
The atmosphere only increases once you reach street level, and see the sheer amount of military presence. While you see police and soldiers on the street all the time in the center of the city, today I caught sight of the elusive military elite of
After buying some tickets off scalpers using my awesome Russian skills for 300 rubles each (about $12), me and my friends proceeded to enter the stadium, and got frisked by aforementioned OMON folks when we entered the grounds, again when we went through the turnstiles, and once more when we went into our section. These friskings are to ensure that we do not carry any contraband or weapons, as unfortunately, hooliganism is a rather large problem here. The only exception to this rule is the Zenit supporters section called “Nevsky Front”. They are a non-profit organization who actually bought out four entire sections (Sectors 12-16), and they alone control that part of the stadium. There it is mass chaos and bedlam as they raise giant flags and banners, and let marine flares and smoke bombs off whenever Zenit scores.
Before the beginning of every game the entire stadium stands and sings a song about the glories of Zenit (our city, our team, our pride, from all of us in Leningrad we stand tall and sing this song for you, our Zenit…etc), and then proceeds to stand for the next 90 minutes. Chants are flying everywhere, I learn a couple of new words I should probably never say, and then spot a single section of Khimki supporters surrounded by riot police with helmets and truncheons; 22,000 Zenit fans against 200 Khimki fans would not be a fair fight.
The game finally begins. For the first ten minutes we watch the action while participating in a call and response with the other end of the stadium, yelling out “Vperyod, za Piter!” (Forward, for
Twenty minutes later, when the whistle blew for the half I didn’t need to fear anything. Zenit was up 2:1 and looked firmly in control. The second half was just as intense, with Zenit putting away two more goals and then winding down the clock. Final score, Zenit 4 Khimki 1. Next match is the 25th against Nuremburg for UEFA cup rounds, and it will be absolutely mental to watch.
In less than a week I’ll be headed out to