Header Ads

Zenit Fans Cast Shadow over Russian Football

On the pitch, Zenit St Petersburg are known as one of Russia’s most successful clubs of recent years. However, off the pitch, their fans have developed a reputation for their behaviour. In Russia, where violence is on the rise, the Zenit fans have become known as one of the most militant groups.

The past week has demonstrated this darker side of fan action to devastating effect. Yesterday, Zenit were playing away to Dinamo Moscow. With 39 minutes on the clock, Zenit were on the attack. Suddenly, play stopped and the cameras panned toward the Dinamo Moscow keeper, who had fallen to the ground.

He had been struck by a pyrotechnic missile, thrown from the crowd, which exploded at his feet. After being treated on the pitch for several minutes, Anton Shunin was taken to a local hospital where he is still being treated for problems with his vision and his hearing.

There is a difference between fans looking to intimidate opposition players and throwing exploding missiles at them – a difference that seems to have escaped certain sections of the Zenit support. Interestingly, it would appear that the missile was thrown by a young woman – dispelling the common stereotype of a football hooligan.

Zenit potentially face a technical defeat for the incident, where the match will be awarded 3-0 to Dinamo Moscow – a punishment that has been supported by the Dinamo President, Gennady Soloviev.

However, the Zenit General Director, Maksim Mitrofanov, strangely is blaming Dinamo Moscow for the event, claiming that they were the club that had sold the tickets and should have been responsible for checking the fans as they entered the stadium, even going so far as to suggest that it was not a Zenit fan that threw the missile.

This event follows less than a week after the Zenit fans set fire to the away section of the Lokomotiv Stadium following a victory over FK Volga. Fire trucks had to enter the stadium, and eventually managed to control the blaze, despite the Zenit fans throwing broken seats into the fire. In the end, once the fire had been extinguished, it was estimated that around 430 seats in that part of the stadium had been destroyed.

In recent years, the Zenit fans have been in the news several times. Their home tie against APOEL in the Champions League had to be halted twice due to fans detonating smoke bombs during the match.

The reaction of Zenit’s midfielder, Roman Shirokov, to the events demonstrated that the players are very much against the actions of sections of the fans. “The referee warned us that if the fans won’t stop burning flares, we’ll get a technical defeat. I went up to the fans, but we failed to find common ground. I asked a fan with a flare: ‘Why are you doing this?’ And he answered: ‘I’m not doing anything.’ What can you say? Those people are morons!”

There were also sour scenes after Zenit clinched the title two years ago when between 200 and 2,000 fans invaded the pitch, tearing down one of the goals. They then headed into the city, where they were met by riot police, against whom they fought a series of running battles. This was only months after they had clashed with Hajduk Split fans ahead of a Europa League match.

After the ugly scenes yesterday, one would hope that the events have reached a nadir. The club needs to find a way to control their fans, before somebody gets serious hurt. However, whether it has reached a point where they can no longer be controlled is an issue.

It also provides the Russian FA with an opportunity to demonstrate that they are willing to take serious action when incidents such as this happen. With the World Cup coming to Russia in 2018, they need to prove that players are safe on the field of play. If they cannot guarantee that players will not be targeted by idiots in the crowd, they run the risk of FIFA sanctions and boycotts.

No comments:

Powered by Blogger.