These photos are a series taken for The Cynical Challenge whilst I was in Kazan, Russia. I travelled to Kazan to watch home side Rubin take on CSKA Moscow in a top-of-the-table Russian Premier League match. The game ended 1-0 to CSKA, the only goal of the game coming after some lovely build-up and finished off by Liverpool cast-off Mark Gonzalez, but it was action off the pitch which really captured my attention.
An hour before kick-off, Kazan's police ready themselves outside the city's Tsentralny Stadium. The police (militsiya) and security services (OMON) are a highly visible presence at Russian Premier League matches - I would estimate about 750 members of the militsiya were at the game in Kazan, policing a crowd of 17,000. Moreover, fans have to undergo several security checks, including searches of bags and pockets, prior to entering the stadium. I was told that a pen in my bag, a souvenir from Kazan, could be used as an offensive weapon, and was therefore confiscated. Bastards.
Written on the back of this CSKA fan's t-shirt: "God is with us".
Kazan's lovely Kremlin, a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, reflected in the glass of the Tsentralny Stadium. It's also worth pointing out that the young lady in the blue skirt at the front of the shot was giving away free packets of cigarettes to everyone - including minors.
In the background - the Qol Sharif Mosque, one of Europe's largest mosques. Kazan's population is around 48% Tatar, a Turkic-Muslim ethnic group, and 44% ethnic Russian, and the city is regarded as a true melting pot of Eurasia's cultures. In the foreground - a CSKA fan brandishes the tricolour flag of the Romanov dynasty, Russia's Imperial royal family. In recent times the flag has become popular among ultra-nationalist groups, and waving it in a Muslim-majority city such as as Kazan brings its own, rather overt, political connotations.
A view from the away end at the Tsentralny Stadium. Note the fences surrounding the away fans on all sides. Also, regular readers of The Cynical Challenge will know of my soft spot for Eastern Europe's lovely floodlight pylons, and here's yet another fine example.
2,000 CSKA fans travelled to Kazan, many making the 1,600 mile round trip by sleeper train. By comparison with some away trips in the Russian Premier League, Kazan is relatively local. Still, you have to take your hat off to supporters for making the journey - and it's worth adding that, as the match took place on a Friday evening, the visiting fans would have had to take a day off work to do so.
The practices of Russian football supporters differ from that of their British counterparts in one particularly noticeable way. Fans in Britain tend to behave spontaneously, with chants and songs begun from within the stands. In Russia, by contrast, fans tend to look to supporter representatives, posted at the front of the stand and armed with loudspeakers, for a lead on which songs to sing. This is rather more reminiscent of the Ultra groups in, say, the Bundesliga, who orchestrate continuous (and impressive) vocal support throughout matches. You have to be pretty fit to lead the chanting - the man standing at the front of the shot stood on a narrow metal beam, shouting through his loudspeaker, for the full 90 minutes, in 30 degree heat. Rather him than me.
Once the cry of "shirts off" went up there were plenty of volunteers.
Leaving the stadium under the watchful eye of the Russian special services. It's rather like having the SAS police a Premier League game. Still, this is Russia...