By Manuel Veth –
Peschanaya Street is perhaps most famous for being the home of two of Russia’s biggest football legends: It is the location of CSKA Moscow’s new stadium, which will be one of the most modern of the post-Soviet space. Lev Yashin—the legendary Soviet keeper, who was voted the best keeper in the 20th century—lived just around the corner as well.
CSKA Moscow also maintains a small base with a stadium that is used mostly for youth matches, the second team, and the club’s rugby team. The facility hosted a tournament that was organized by several anti-fascist (antifa) football clubs from Belarus, and Russia. Vladimir (name changed), who is in charge of the tournament, explains to me that there are 23 teams (20 male and 3 female), and each team paid €60 to cover the cost of renting the facility from CSKA.
23 Teams from Russia and Belarus Participated
The attendance is excellent, despite the fact that Father Frost—with temperatures at around zero degrees and recurrent snow flurries—has made an early visit to Russia’s capital. The atmosphere is joyful, and some groups even chant fan songs from the small stand at the Peschanaya Stadium.
Vladimir is extremely busy throughout the tournament, as he runs all the logistics, and our chat is frequently interrupted by players who are trying to find out where and when their next match is. “I am nervous,” Vladimir explains, “there are a lot of things to consider.” Yet he makes a considerable effort to find time for Futbolgrad. Vladimir also points out that this is tournament organised completely independent from any official body, and that they don’t receive help from FARE or FIFA, “this is a good thing, as otherwise we would be branded as having foreign support. Also this is a very alternative crowd.”
The importance of such a do-it-yourself tournament to support the Antifa in Russian football is evident when I look around the facility. A number of stickers are placed throughout the old stands of the Peschanaya Stadium, with several of them displaying fascist and white pride symbols. These decals reveal that, despite the recent efforts of organizations such as CSKA Against Racism, the fight against right wing extremism, and xenophobia continues in post-Soviet space football—as the tournament progresses many of the stickers are replaced by antifa and anti-communist stickers.
Where are the Big Clubs?
Participating clubs include several teams founded by ultras, but as Vladimir explains to me, “None of the big Moscow clubs have sent fan groups to participate at the tournament.” The group which is perhaps most prominent, includes Partizan Minsk ultras—a club with a long history of opposing both the Lukashenko regime and racism.
When asked about Arsenal Kyiv, which in the past was one of the most prominent examples in the fight against right wing extremism in post-Soviet football, Vladimir tells me that he has received no response from Arsenal. In general, he explains that when it comes to fighting right wing extremism in the stadiums, “Ukraine has gone quiet”. A member of the ultra club FK Start Moscow later explains to me that the reason is the current conflict in Ukraine. He tells Futbolgrad, “Ukrainian antifa groups have now joined the war, and they are fighting us as well, even though we don’t necessarily agree with the conflict in Ukraine.”
This story is later backed up by Vladimir, who tells Futbolgrad, “Ukrainian antifa fans now fight alongside other ultra groups [in the Donbass], even though most other ultra groups in Ukraine are from the far right.
Even more evident is the absence of ultras from the big clubs in Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia. Vladimir explains to me that this is a typical phenomenon: “All the big clubs—not only in Russia, but in all of Eastern Europe—are completely controlled by Nazi ultras.” At the same time, however, Vladimir points out, “Officially the big ultra groups in Russia are apolitical, and many of the players playing here today are part of ultra groups at big clubs, they just won’t tell anyone that they are antifa.”
Ultras are Mostly Apolitical
Vladimir is also adamant that, in fact, the majority of the ultras in Russian stadiums don’t care about politics at all. “It is the heads of the ultra groups who push their political ideology onto groups, of which, 50 to 60 per cent don’t care about politics at all.”
Vladimir has pointed out an important aspect of the problem, which is that right wing radicalism, and xenophobia is largely coming from the very top of the ultra groups. When asked how this can be changed, Vladimir responds by saying, “I am not sure to be honest, it is a difficult situation, and it is a situation that is very common in Eastern Europe in general.”
Vladimir believes that much of the acceptance of right wing radicalism is a reaction to the communist past: “Perhaps people are tired of left wing ideas.” This has led to a situation where people are more accepting of right wing ideology than left wing ideology. But as Vladimir points out, “Many fan groups are against any form of extreme ideology, including communism.” Indeed one of the stickers that replaced the right wing stickers includes an anti-communism symbol.
Russia is not alone with this phenomenon; in fact many of the right wing stickers displayed at the Peschanaya Stadium include fraternity stickers—which shows the close friendship that exists between fans of clubs from Russia and other teams from Eastern Europe and the Balkans.
Perhaps the most important benefit of the tournament is the inclusion of various fan groups that have felt alienated by the far right tendencies in many post-communist football stadiums. The various teams have come together from diverse political backgrounds—the fact that these 23 teams from both Belarus and Russia have come out to play also shows that there is a football fan culture beyond the right wing, xenophobic culture that so often finds its way into the news.
Furthermore, the exclusion of the active political fan scene has brought about a sense of teamwork between the various groups. As evening approaches and the temperature drops, most people stick around to watch the final between FK FEKA and S.G. (Sran Gospodnya, roughly translates to holly s..t). In the end, S.G. (Sran’ Gospodnya) wins the game, and as is the case in football on any level, the losers are lost in despair at having come so close to the trophy, and the winners will be celebrating tonight with vodka and beer.
Manuel Veth is a freelance journalist, and PhD candidate at King’s College London. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada. His thesis is entitled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States”, and will be defended in November. Follow Manuel on Twitter @homosovieticus.