Russia’s hooligans

May 30, 2012

By Maxim Shemetov

Photographing a soccer match for the first time, I realized that shooting the fans can be more interesting than covering the game itself.

We all keep up with the destinies of football clubs and the careers of soccer players. There are many parts to soccer life, however, that rarely appear on TV and on the front pages of newspapers. It’s the life of people absorbed by the game – those inspiring exciting games, TV translations, as well as the construction of new stadiums.

Fan life is inseparable from the game itself, but there are certain aspects to soccer-fan culture that are rarely talked about. It’s a quiet closed-off world with its own unwritten rules and laws, concepts of respect and dignity. The community is very picky about who it lets inside. The fan culture is aggressive and resembles that of medieval knights at first sight. Physical power, fighting skills and determination in battle are often attributes of soccer fans.

The world of fans, outside of ordinary team supporters, can be divided into two main categories: “ultras” (those arranging performances and focused on supporting the team in the dedicated area in the stadium) and “hooligans” (those fighting for their club with fans of other soccer teams). As a rule, the fan movement consists of a combination of such groups, competing against each other for authority.

The life of every diligent fan revolves around the number of trips to the matches of his or her team. Those trips are different for Russian and European fans. For Europeans, it is usually a comfortable daily trip by car or by train. Whereas for the Russian fans (usually younger and poorer) such a trip can be an adventurous and risky journey, as many travel ticketless by multiple trains or hitchhike. There are stories about fans, who traveled from Moscow to Novosibirsk and Tomsk (about 3,500km, 2174 miles) by local electric train with no tickets.

The Russian soccer fan movement emerged in the mid-70s and today is blossoming. With big money reaching Russian regions, provincial clubs have started to develop their own fan movements, although Moscow and St Petersburg are still the most developed.

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