It has taken almost 6 years, but finally, I can say that I’ve been to a Zenit Saint Petersburg match. Yes at Zenit’s youth teams match, but a Zenit game nevertheless. And it wasn’t just a first in the sense of seeing my club play, almost incredibly it was the first time that I had been to a football match in my life overall.
While the result didn’t leave any sort of satisfaction, a heartbreaking 2-1 defeat right in the dying embers of the game, the atmosphere of being in the stadium, and around the Zenit hardcore supporters, is something that turned out to be even better than I expected it to be.
Already this is my third trip to Russia but it’s the first time I have made my own personal pilgrimage to the hometown of my favourite football and ice hockey club, and it hasn’t disappointed one bit.
Being a Zenit fan but at the same time living in a country like England, isn’t easy. Instead of being able to go to the stadium to watch your favourite team, you have to rely on sometimes very poor internet streams to be able to watch games.
Yes being a fan of a foreign club while living in England can be to put it mildly, frustrating at times, but it doesn’t make you any less of an important asset to your club.
I myself have helped Zenit to become more well known and respected where I live following my own personal interview with the club a couple of years ago, but instead of reading about how wonderful it is to be at a Zenit game, the feeling of wanting to experience it for yourself is something that was impossible to lay aside.
In December of last year and already in March this year, I had made my first two trips to Russia, however both times, the capital Moscow was the only place I got to see. So when the opportunity came up to go to the hometown of both my clubs, Zenit and ice hockey giants SKA Saint Petersburg, I jumped at the chance. While SKA may have been away in Finland during my stay in the northern capital, Zenit players following the international break were preparing for the upcoming showdown at Petrovsky against a crisis stricken Anzhi.
The only downside for me was, that at the start time of the Anzhi game, I would already on the train to Moscow, and there was absolutely no option to change that. But all wasn’t lost, as on Friday, Zenit’s youth team were due to be in action. And for me to be at one of the youth team’s games, is something not to be looked down upon. For already around 2 or 3 years, I have written previews for each home youth game on the forums of the Zenit site, and long have been the calls for me to be finally at a game in the flesh.
This year the only problem with me and the youth team, is that somewhat surprisingly, Zenit have stopped showing the home games live on their site. So in fact, this game against Anzhi was probably the first and last game in which I would be able to watch, but what better way than for that game to be enjoyed at the stadium itself. The small Petrovsky arena may only hold around 2000 fans, but the atmosphere as I was to find out, wasn’t meek and mild as the stadium capacity would suggest.
In Russia the youth league, or the reserve league as it would be known as in England, is taken pretty seriously by the fans of most clubs. At each match you can expect to see at least some ultras supporters of the home team, and for me, it didn’t turn out any differently. And if you thought the fans sounded loud on a computer screen, you are in for a pleasant surprise when you’re at the stadium yourself.
Zenit fans have a reputation for being loud and disruptive, and even for this match, it turned out that way. Right from the off Anzhi were insulted with every word you could think of, but the atmosphere that the fans managed to create, was something to remember.
English fans would think that you’re not from this planet if you told them just how the Zenit fans supported their youth side, in fact very rarely do fans turn up at all to any youth games in Britain. And what makes the fans support even more amazing, is just the fact that the Zenit youth team isn’t quite what it used to be.
After historically claiming gold medals in 2009 and following up that with a respectable bronze in 2010, supporters have had to get used to less successful results. For whatever reason, while at the same time churning out excellent players, for example Dzhalman Hodzhaniyazov who at just 17 has just recently made his Champions League debut, results have dried up.
On Friday, along with attending the match, I met up with the main editor of the English version of the Zenit site, Chris Pascone, and he made a great point that some players, not all, are feeling too big for their boots at such a young age, just for the fact that on the shirt which they pull on before every match, lays the now famous, Zenit logo.
Going back to the match though, and being pitch side, you get much more a feel of just how high the level of the game is. The only thing that was a real let down, was the result. After conceding early on in the match, Zenit rallied to level at the death, with Vladislav Efimov striking an excellent shot past the Anzhi goalkeeper. It was surely enough to earn a point, but no.
Unbelievably in the next attacking move of the game, Zenit defenders were nowhere to be seen as Anzhi left everyone in the ground, especially me, with their mouths wide open in a serious state of shock. The ball found its way into the back of the net, and just as it seems everything was okay, it became one of the most bitter defeats that I myself can remember.
While that moment hasn’t quite left my head completely yet, that hasn’t taken away just what a great experience it was. Zenit’s ultras sure know how to put on a good show and to support their hometown club, and to see such dedication to your club has to be applauded.
If that was any good though, being at the main Petrovsky stadium is going to be even better and I’ve been assured 10 times louder, and as soon as the opportunity arises, I’ll be headed there!
Written by Shaun Nicolaides
Follow Shaun on Twitter @zenitfan93
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