Posted by: MYPLACE FP7 | April 7, 2012

‘Football is for the fans, not the police’: Activism on the terraces

MYPLACE  Mariia Tsygankova works as a journalist in St Petersburg and is writing an MA dissertation on football fandom at the Centre for Youth Studies, HSE. Here she reports on an unexpected protest event at the Petrovskii stadium, St Petersburg on Sunday 25th March.

For more information on the MYPLACE project visit the project’s website: HERE

The match against ‘Rubin’ (Kazan’) did not presage any interesting events. Certainly not on the pitch. TsSKA (Moscow) had lost the day before and so the Petersburgers had the opportunity to put 9 clear points between them and their nearest Championship rivals. However, events in the stadium turned out more interesting than on the field.

Not long before the match, I read a Twitter message from Lanscron –  a Zenit fan website –  which read: ‘Come 15 minutes before the match, we need to organise a performance.’ People gradually turned up. The game began as usual – with the national anthem followed by Zenit’s own anthem – ‘Lightblue-White-Darkblues, Hey!’ The whistle for kick-off went.  And, at that moment, the whole of the kop began to chant, ‘The filth[1]are stupid morons’ and ‘Football is for fans, not for the filth.’ At that point several flares were lit and people began to leave the terraces. Many external observers could not understand what was happening.

 
Not everyone wanted to leave. Some people tried to jump over the fences separating Sector 11 and 12 of the ground.
 
 
But nonetheless, the majority stuck together – the terraces emptied.
 
 

Almost immediately information was released suggesting that, prior to the game, fans had been prohibited from unfurling a banner. A version of events emerged suggesting that it had not been sent in time to be approved (the police have to be informed of the visual form and content of any banner at least 24 hours in advance), while another said that the fax of the law-enforcement agency had been broken, so they had not been able to see the picture of the banner.

 

What actually happened became clear only two days later. One of the leaders of the movement recounted that on the morning of 25th March, police officers had said that ‘There will be no performance’. It appeared that the banner had not been approved, despite ‘the sketched design having been sent three days earlier’. Moreover, it had been prepared before the match with ‘Kuban’ (which had taken place on 11th March), but had not been completed for that event ‘for technical reasons’. Thus the design of the banner had been known for a long time and anybody wanting to see it, including the police, had had ample opportunity to do so. Consequently, according to the fans, on the eve of the match with ‘Rubin’, the police had not allowed fans to take through not only this giant banner (that it would take the entire Kop to lift) but also the usual fan group banners.

Yet another version of events was expressed by fans: ‘Once again, before the match, MVD [police] officers showed their lack of professionalism and stubbornness in relation to fans, banning an earlier agreed major performance. The reason for the ban was declared to be the portrayal of a fan on the canvas (although Petrovskii stadium has witnessed at least three such performances of this kind previously). Once again it was made demonstratively clear to us that to be a fan in this country is a crime. In response we could only demonstratively leave the terraces with the charge that ‘Football is for the fans!’.

The fans say that the banner prohibited at this game will be raised over Petrovskii in any case. The next home game, against TsSKA, is not until 14 April, but there are already plans for another performance.

In fact this whole story began back in February, when, on 15 February, ‘Zenit’ hosted ‘Benfica’ at home in the European Champions League. Everyone was prepared for this game, including the fans. But at the match itself, things were strangely quiet. The drums and trumpet that regularly sound at Petrovskii were missing. It turned out that the police had sealed the premises where they were kept and the fans had been told to take their things on to the terraces and guard them for 6 hours in temperatures of minus 12 degrees.

This excessively strict attitude to the fans is said to have emerged after the match with APOEL (23November 2011) when the match had to halted twice due to the heavy curtain of smoke emanating from flares set off by fans of the Petersburg team. In the second half the referee even took the teams off the pitch. The police say that the flares make it out to the terraces via the fan-club premises although fans claim that it is not possible to get to the pitch directly from there.

P.S. The final score was  1:1 although it felt like a loss since the gap between Zenit and TsSKA increased by a single point instead of three. Now the fans are anticipating playing them face to face in Saint Petersburg, not least in the hope of getting to the bottom of why this problem with the police arose.


[1] See our previous blog which explains this play on words; ‘musora’ in Russian is a slang term for ‘the police’ but also denotes ‘rubbish’.


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