The rise of Russia’s neo-Nazi football rowdies

The long speak: For the past two decades the Russian regime has encouraged groups of violent far-right devotees. As the World Cup approachings, it is struggling to tame them. By Simon Parkin

The day that Denis Nikitin, a Russian neo-Nazi who claims he formerly retained a framed image of Joseph Goebbels in his bedroom, took part in his first street campaign, his mother realise him a jam-packed lunch. During the past 12 times, the Moscow-based MMA fighter has become a rising star of the far right, after brawling his route up through the ranks of one of Russia’s top rowdy conglomerates. But on that day, Nikitin says, he was like a schoolboy on his first field trip; his mother, who thought her 22 -year-old son was going to watch a football match, replenished his rucksack with meat and heated clothes.

Nikitin took a six-hour bus razz to the coincide, but he had not bought air tickets.( His colleague hooligans joke that, in the last few decades, he has been inside a football stadium fewer than five times .) Since their own families had moved from Moscow to Germany a few years earlier, the best interest had narrowed to far-right politics and violence. Nikitin’s neighbourhood “team” was calling Hamburg- a town whose left-wing boosters were a favourite target of the far-right Cologne goons. Nikitin’s hobbies just happened to meet at football.

At around midnight, as two bus carrying Cologne’s supporters approached Hamburg, person hollered: “They’re here.” Through the window, Nikitin encountered around 30 Hamburg rowdies in front of the vehicle. It seemed odd- the 90 -odd Cologne goons on the buses greatly outnumbered “the mens” outside. It would not be a fair crusade. Nikitin disembarked, passed to a nearby bush, and determined his rucksack beneath the divisions. Then he appeared up. On the guardrail of an overlooking footbridge he saw a line of silhouettes- at least 70 men, to add to the 30 in front of the coach-and-fours. An attack, then.

Nikitin recollects moving toward the Hamburg hooligan. He picked out his first target and, from behind, territory a operating pierce. As “the mens” twisted in outrage, Nikitin realised he had impressed one of his own surface.” Oh, fuck ,” he screamed,” sorry, sorry, sorry, person .” The oppose was chaotic; in the dark it will not be able to pick out team colour, buttons or scarves. With the hysterium of a person who wants to immediately put right a wrong after it is induced, Nikitin climbed on another silhouette and began striking him in the president. This, more, was a Cologne supporter.

Blushing under his balaclava, Nikitin waited for some kind of signaling. Minutes eventually it came. One of the Hamburg bully came passing at him, hollering corruption. Nikitin, wearing gauntlets lined with metal pellets, territory a sucker punch on the screamer. As “the mens” fell to the field, Nikitin readied a follow-up blow. Before it connected, a rival booster plucked off Nikitin’s balaclava, and began pummelling his face. Nikitin break-dance free and started extending for the bus, over field scattered with descended phones and wallets. Back at the road, only one vehicle remained; the other move had fled.

As the remaining bus pulled away, Nikitin looked at “the mens” around him, their faces flashed with browning blood, and felt a surge of euphoria. It had not become unnoticed that he was one of the last soldiers to get back on board. In his presidents’ gesturing approving, Nikitin knew the first flush , not only of belonging, but of something close to a calling.” The media feigns that beings like me will end up alone in prison, or as an alcoholic, or depressed ,” he told me last year.” This is considered your inescapable fate as a Nazi football hooligan. It is a lie .”


In the summer of 2016, the Russian football hooligan, previously a county sort of bogeyman, padded on to the international stage at the European Championship in France. On 10 June, an estimated 150 Russians descended on Marseille’s Old Port. They moved in orderly phalanxes, greeting any England followers they ran into with extravagant brutality. One England fan had his Achilles tendons sliced. Two English males were left in a coma, one of whom was left paralysed on the left-hand surface of his form( his alleged attacker, craved for attempted slaughter, detained in Germany in February ). Another man apparently jaunted dwelling on the Eurostar with glass from a shattered bottle still lodged in his neck.

Russian
Russian boosters attack England followers after a European Championship match in Marseille, 2016. Image: Thanassis Stavrakis/ AP

” It was like nothing I’ve ever seen before ,” Ch Supt Steve Neill, of Northumbria police, one of various officers distributed from England to facilitated French police the working day, told Sky News.” The Russians came with serious intentions to carry out cruel brutality. They are all very much organised, very effective. We read football hooliganism on a different level .” One Russian hooligan who took part in the fighting later told a French news organisation:” The English ever say they are the central football goons; we went to show that the English are girls .”

Some Russian legislators claimed their country had been disproportionately singled out by the media and authorities( two English devotees were to imprisonment for their part in the savagery ). The deputy prime minister, Vitaly Mutko, then Russia’s athletics minister, travelled so far as to call it a “set-up”. Other Russian public figure praised the rowdies for promoting a strong, unassailable perception of their country to the world.” I don’t see anything wrong with the fans fighting ,” tweeted Igor Lebedev, deputy chairman of the Russian parliament.” Quite the opposite: well done chaps, keep it up !”

At firstly, Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, smirkingly questioned how 200 Russian backers could see off” a few thousand Englishmen “. But the Kremlin was also is conscious that these same people could fluster the nation if mass savagery explosions at the 2018 World cup finals, a tournament Russia offered to host for the first time- and the governmental forces belatedly is seeking to distance itself from the rowdies. After a has met with the leaders of his own security bureaux, Putin publicly stressed” the need to learn from the French event “. Russian police gained new capabilities that class even minor offences, such as adjusting off fireworks at football match, as acts of terrorism.

According to Russian newspaper reports, in December 2016, more than 100 police officer and members of the FSB, Russia’s security service, attacked hooligans’ residences. Detentions duly followed, including information of Alexei Yerunov, the head of the FC Lokomotiv firm Vikings, who had already spent several months in a French prison before returning to Russia. In all, more than 200 goons have been issued with court orders censoring them from football matches till the completion of its World Cup.

Hooliganism came relatively late to Russian football, emerging in the early 1990 s as a self-conscious print of the decades-old English precedent- with its brutal houses, favoured garment names and racist chants. In a country emerging from the Soviet despair in search of a brand-new, assertive identity, hooliganism seemed to offer young men like Nikitin a shot of steady-going patriotism, as well as a hypermasculine community that provided status and belonging. Hooliganism also presented something of a vocation route through the wreckings of the post-Soviet economy. Legislator, especially on the extreme right, met Moscow’s football robbers as a possibly forceful group of disenfranchised voters- and initiated to courtroom these young men, laying on free transport to away activities, compensating members to work as protectors or street muscle, and even offering the occasional well-paid persona as “states parties ” official.

In time, resemblance of the English developed into a brand-new culture of thuggery. In Among the Thugs, the defining notebook on England’s hooliganism, are presented in 1990, the writer Bill Buford characterised the football yob as the” fatty appearance of gallons and gallons of lager and incalculable lengths of bacon-flavoured crisp “. The Russians, by differ, set down their brews and began training in earnest , is not merely at the gym, but also in covert campaigns staged in neighbourhood woodlands, where young hooligans from rival units would scrap in the sunrise mist.

It was at one of these rendezvous, after an bidding from a fellow gym-goer, that Nikitin converged his first bullies, and began to learn the prowes of the mob clash, first through observation, then participation. Like many of his peers, as Nikitin germinated in confidence, he began to compete in and even organise MMA tournaments. Collectively, the Russian rowdies were becoming more professional.” At some item, Russian hooliganism changed away from amateurism ,” he told me when we gratified last autumn. In turn, pushes became more deadly: in November 2017 a 30 -year-old man expired after his neck was interrupt during a clash between rowdies affiliated to units Sibir Novosibirsk and Yenisey Krasnoyarsk.

It was this well-trained force that debuted with such barbarism on the international stage in Marseilles. And as the World cup finals reaps closer, distres on Russian hooligans has intensified further. The Kremlin panicked after the broadcast of a BBC documentary last year announced Russia’s Hooligan Army– in which the then-leader of the Spartak firm, Gladiators, Vasily” The Killer” Stepanov, was privately filmed saying that the Moscow hooligans were Putin’s foot soldier. Some of the men interviewed for the programme said it enclose circumstantial faults( Nikitin was assigned to the wrong firm, for instance, and Stepanov declarations their own views were misinterpreted)- but in Russia, as one senior rowdy “ve told me”, it was ” like a missile had gone off “.

Russian police issued a call for anyone featured on the documentary to report to local terminals in order to sign forms stating that the latter are pressured by the BBC to lie on camera.( At a competitor the following month, Spartak devotees unfolded a panoramic placard that simulated the BBC logo, alongside the words” Blah Blah Channel “.) Last year, the Kremlin apportioned an FSB agent to each of the 11 associations in Moscow, where they work with a devotee liaison policeman- often a elderly hooligan from each conglomerate- in an attempt to control their members.

Spartak
Spartak Moscow devotees with an anti-BBC banner during a game against Lokomotiv Moscow, 2017. Photo: Tass/ PA

For goons who have for years had the backing of the authorities concerned, both tacit and explicit, this change feels like a sellout.” For 10 years we were supported by the government ,” said Alexander Shprygin, who took part in hooligan campaigns starting in 1994, and who chartered an aircraft and winged leading cadres of Russian bullies to Marseille in 2016.” After France, the governmental forces stopped corroborating us .”

But the obsessive focus on violence at the World Cup- not least from UK tabloids- has overshadowed the real relevance of Russian hooliganism. For two decades, Russia’s firms have been a machine for recruiting and radicalising young man to the far right, which has seeded prejudiced ideology at the centre of the country’s football culture. They may have been forced underground, but Russia’s potent houses are not likely to vanish- and their affect will take decades to delete.” After the summer ,” Shprygin told me,” everybody will forget about us .”


Shprygin was turned away from his first football match at the age of nine. He had come to watch his squad, FC Dynamo, play at the Central Dynamo Stadium in Moscow, but unaccompanied children were disclaimed entering. So the coming week, he persuaded an older man outside the entrances to pose as his father. Once inside, he echoed, Shprygin was immediately attracted to the loudest and most rabid partisans- the ultras- and began to regularly sit among them.

Young, isolated and with few profession promises, Shprygin was the ideal hooligan draft. In August 1993, when he was 14, one of the older people approached him with news of a are projected to been identified of Russia’s first houses: Blue White Dynamite. As its membership germinated, BWD’s members began to seek out and attack rival ultras. At first, these clanks, typically staged in Moscow’s vaulted subway stations, were modest. But when devotees of Moscow’s best-known club, Spartak, worded a competitive conglomerate, the savagery intensified in both seriousnes and scope; conflicts sometimes concerned 500 players.” By 1995, every Moscow football club had a conglomerate ,” echoed Shprygin.” The battles became much better .”

As the numbers swelled, smaller firms burst off from the larger groups, creating a network of distinct, yet interlinked mobs. Today, the largest of the Russian capital’s 11 football clubs, Spartak Moscow, has three major conglomerates- Union, Shkola and Gladiators- each with an accompanied youth discord. Beyond these, a constellation of smaller splinter group operate under the Spartak umbrella. One senior hooligan estimates that there are as many as 500 active members of Spartak-affiliated conglomerates. By collaborating with one another as the motive originates, Spartak’s firms are able to raise a small infantry under their team’s banner.

This collective influence was firstly demonstrated in 1999, when Spartak played an away game against Saturn Ramenskoye. When Spartak acknowledged its first destination in the 23 rd hour, savagery began to bubble in the stands: jostling germinated into a few fistfights and, eventually, a full-scale rioting. For the first time in Russian football record, the coincide was stopped due to fighting in the stands. Footage of the happen establishes some police beating Spartak followers in the honcho with batons, while others struggle to pull their colleagues away.

In August 1998, Shprygin, who was by then editor of Dynamo’s fan magazine, claims he received a content on his pager asking him to call a mysterious multitude. It was a fulfilling request from a foremost rightwing opposition politician. The next day Shprygin claims he visited the State Duma, the lower mansion of the federal forum of Russia. In the hallway, he saw one of the hooligan chairmen from Spartak Moscow. The duo were ushered into the politician’s office and offered undertakings as his assistants.

Shprygin’s role was to act as a liaison between the politician and the firm, who would routinely provide security for his party.” We were never fists of the working party, per se ,” Shprygin showed, where reference is met in a football-themed tavern in Moscow. But, he claims, they would furnish the legislator with security, and in return, his party would pay for buses and develops to take the bullies to away fixtures. No fund changed sides, but Shprygin says the expectation was clear: the fans would afterwards vote for the party in elections, and crusaded when called upon.

The arrangement demonstrated useful for Shprygin’s career. In 2007, at the behest of the FSB, he says, he founded working group called the Union of Russian Fans. Despite his rising lucks in politics at the time( Shprygin has been photographed with Putin on at least three separate occasions, before his alleged involvement in the Marseille violence led to his arrest) Shprygin continued to be actively involved in street brutality. Shortly after founding the union, Shprygin and other member states of his firm were invited by a far-right group of skinheads to meet up in a local park. The contrive, it was explained, was to attempt hip-hop concertgoers as they left a venue.” Rap is black music ,” Shprygin told me, by way of rationale.” So we went to the park and we waited .” That night he took part in his first street brutality is targeted at beings outside of football.

Shprygin’s progression is common.” Many ultras are likable to revolutionary nationalists and some even take part in their activities ,” said Mikhail Akhmetiev, a professor at Sova, a Moscow-based thinktank that learns nationalism and racism in Russia.” The former head of Spartak’s Fratria fan community, Ivan’ Combat’ Katanaev, and the head of the Gladiators firm Vasily’ The Killer'” Stepanov was participating in ultra-conservative works ,” he said. In recent years there has been a marked increase in so-called ” white wagon” attempts, where groups of racists wearing surgical masks and balaclavas board learns and assault anyone of non-Slavic drop-off. A 2014 report from Sova reports that lily-white wagon operations are committed” at least partly by football adherents”, and are” more likely to occur on accord periods “. For the young people who, like Shprygin, grow admission by the older devotees at equals, the direction to radicalisation is quick and clear, and there has been no dearth of political entities eager to co-opt and leverage these fans.

For Nikitin, hooliganism is inextricable from far-right activism. After he returned to Russia in the 2000 s, radicalised by his time crusade in German goon circles, he been increasingly involved in violence against immigrants. He separated his time between campaigning goons and attacking minorities in the street. When, during one of our rallies in Moscow last year, I requested Nikitin whether there was a difference between hooligan brutality and prejudiced savagery, he told me to switch off my record-keeper.” If we kill one immigrant every day, that’s 365 migrants in a year ,” he said, after agreeing that I could enter again.” But tens of thousands more will come anyway. I realised we were fighting the consequence, but not the underlying intellect. So we are currently fight for knowledge , not on the street, but on social media .”


Football, with its tribal local communities and martial symbolism, have all along been a battleground for subconscious. A sketch Home Office paper on English football hooliganism, are presented in October 2000, described the sky at England’s international fixtures as like” watching a football match during a Nuremberg rally”- a hostile climate that was decades in the making. In 1981, for example, the National Front publicized a publication about music and sport that included a part titled the League of Louts, in which football goons were invited to compete to have their association labelled “the worlds largest” prejudiced in Britain. Readers were encouraged to hurl bananas on to the lurch whenever a black musician was fielded. As Derek Holland, an organiser for the far-right group, formerly employed it, the aim of targeting football devotees was to” prevail the hearts and attentions of young people “.

” The old National Front act was that you didn’t counting England objectives that were tallied by pitch-black musicians ,” illustrates Mark Perryman, a British academic and generator of Hooligan Wars.” In the 70 s there was a generalised combating racism and xenophobia which was a thoughtfulnes of the popularity of the National Front, which had a strong base in certain golf-clubs .” Some football hooligans grew members of neo-Nazi organisations at the time, such as Combat 18, while, in the early 1990 s, members of the Headhunters, one of Chelsea’s best-known houses, would offer muscle for fascist incidents. It was only following maintained anti-fascist campaigns at English golf-clubs that racist savagery around football began to subside.

In Russia, hooligan intolerance did not generally face this kind of organised ideological opposition.” There were far more of them than there were of us ,” says Maxim Solopov, a journalist who took its participation in anti-fascist clanks with Russian hooligans between 2006 and 2010. Without the intervention of police, anti-fascists like Solopov took the fight to the streets, placing snitches in each of the different fan radicals.” They would tell us where their groups were going to appear ,” he said.” The first ruler was to engage firstly. We were always are seeking to instigate the fights, to give us an advantage .”

Maxim
Maxim Solopov. Photograph: Pete Kiehart

The first street oppose Solopov attended, in autumn 2006, took place in central Moscow, outside the offices of the ministry for internal affairs.” We had girlfriends acts as sentries ,” he recalled.” When the bullies arrived, a sequence of antifa approached them with gas handguns .” Solopov, who is currently standing in the second string, break-dance a bottle over the head of a neo-Nazi.” Time collapsed ,” he told me.” Ten seconds felt like for ever. I could see everything that was happening, every tiny item .” The far-right goons, he says, were maintaining bayonets.” The hooligans were attacking people not merely to daunt, but to kill ,” he said.

Without any concerted challenge from associations, rightwing extremism in Russian football has abode. Nazi imagery remains rife on the terraces, according to a 2017 report from Fare, a network of groups set up to combat discrimination in and around the game:” Football fans use other neo-Nazi symbols such as the Celtic cross, SS Totenkopf and the representations of rightwing Slavic neopaganism .” Sightings of historic Nazi slogans, such as” My honour is loyalty”- the motto of the SS- and “ Jedem das Seine ” (” To each what he deserves”, a German motto written above the entrances of the Buchenwald concentration camp) are also common.

The same report like to remind you that, during the course of its 2015 -1 6 season, xenophobic attacks at pairs “increased significantly”. In May 2017, the is chairman of the Russian Football Union disciplinary committee, Artur Grigoryants, claimed there had been” no racist manifestations” during the course of its 2016 -1 7 season- but the authors of the Fare report clarified that” in fact he meant that there were no monkey melodies “.( If true, even that postponement was short-lived: last-place month there were monkey melodies directed toward black French actors at a friendly pair in St Petersburg .)

To change the international impression of Russian football followers, the Kremlin has hired PR agencies that have planted so-called gentles followers who give sugaries, heated tea and coverings at matches and pole cheery selfies on Instagram. Despite these public displays, some said he believed that the government are supporting bullies in private.” It’s true that the government is trying to cleaning process the image of football ahead of the World cup finals ,” says Solopov.” But “theyre about” far more concerned that something like the Ukrainian change might happen here, and that, if it does, the rightwing hooligans will take to the streets against the authorities concerned. So in private, they still assist brutal follower groups. I said he believed that political dominance remains in the sides of the rightwing fans .”

The appointment of a so-called follower liaison detective in every association shows that the Kremlin believes it can control the goons.” The guilds nominate real hooligan governors hoping they are in a position keep the goons under control at important competitors ,” says Pavel Klymenko, who works for Fare. It is not clear the extent to which the system is effective, or even how it works.

It may be difficult for the position to see what it earlier turned a blind see toward.” The commonwealth believed that[ goon radicals] were an organised force that could be used to maintain order ,” said Yuri Abrashov, a former police colonel who is now the executive director of Event Safety, a government figure that organises stewarding at sporting episodes.” But these groups cleared hopes that were not being fulfilled .”

Despite the FSB monitoring, the bans and other efforts to crack down on far-right hooligan activity, there is still a legitimate risk of violence at the World Cup.” There might not be any pre-planned organised attacks because the goons are afraid of the security services ,” says Klymenko.” But the channel their structures make represents it is not easier than i thought to dominate everyone .”


On a drenched October afternoon, 40 times outside the center of Moscow, near the dour Rostokino train station, I accompanied Nikitin along the rail ways and down a slicked inclination, into the timbers, to a popular spot for hooligan forest battles. Though bareknuckle fistfights were outlawed by the Bolsheviks in 1917, in recent years hooligans have resurrected the nationalistic habit of Russian grove combat-ready, known as Stenka na Stenku . The tradition, which provides a relatively low-risk entryway degree for young soldiers to connect the hooligan ecosystem, has spread throughout Europe, and forest battles are now part of hooligan culture from Ukraine to Switzerland.” You sometimes hear of fatalities ,” says Nikitin.” But I don’t believe anyone has died. That said, I recently had to help a person whose lung had been punctured .”

When Nikitin firstly been hearing forest fightings, he had no those who are interested in football or brutality( he was, he acknowledges, “into breakdancing”). ” It seemed so stupid ,” he says.” Surely it’s just idiots who have nothing better to do .” Then, when he was 23, a friend at his local gym invited Nikitin to a wood battle.” He seemed like a ordinary person, so I become interested. I started requesting him questions and he told me that it’s the best hobby everyone can haunt .” Nikitin, who says he rarely pushed at school, was a natural.” I liked the environment, the adrenaline, the need to be alert .”

A
A battlefield and stand of trees to be applied for’ forest fights’ in the suburbs of Moscow. Picture: Pete Kiehart

Nikitin is broad-set and with a system of scars on his forehead. As we marched, he maintained one hand in the chest pocket of his grinder coat, where he retained a knife. We tripped along a mud footpath till eventually, a few hundred metres past the treeline, Nikitin stopped and gestured toward the clearing we had come to look at.

Here, Nikitin interpreted, every few weeks in the early morning, 30 or so gentlemen will accumulate. They arrive in separate groups, partitioned according to the football unit they each supporting( in chaotic street opposes the rowdies use a codeword to show which line-up they are on ), and squat at either dissolve of the remove to discuss tactics. After a while, “the mens” model two resisting routes, 20 metres apart. Some limber up on the spot; others hamper tins of ammonia to their snouts, to increase their gumptions. Around the clearing stand other, older people, their limbs bridged, watching what’s happening with the keenness of talent scouts. Some will film specific actions, to be reviewed later- footage rarely appears on YouTube.

A whistle punches and the two groups pad toward one another. They move slowly at first, applauding their hands to show that they are not carrying artilleries, before accelerating to a sprint. The lines smash into each other, before peeling off into one-on-one conflicts. Some boxers go down readily, perhaps hoping to avoid serious damage. Their need of ambition is noted by the watching scouts; they will never again be invited back. Others crumble with real traumata. After just a few minutes, it becomes clear which side still has soldiers standing, and has triumphed. Some limp residence or off to infirmary. Those who have proven their endowment for violence in the forest may be invited into the house, and, from this boot camp, on to the street.

When their own families returned to Russia in the late 2000 s, Nikitin began to look for a new team and house. The owner of a attire accumulate, to whom Nikitin sold Thor Steinar clothing, a German label closely connected with neo-Nazi radicals, asked if he would like to join a Spartak firm, which was due to fight another crew from Saint petersburg.” But before that fighting took place, another of my friends invited me to fight for another team, CSKA ,” he recalled.” So I exactly started fighting for the other side. I never returned a shit about football teams, you know ?”

Once a hooligan please choose his team, however, there can be no switching. When one Spartak hooligan swopped sides a few years ago, his previous house threateningly unfurled a giant banner abiding his mention and face at the next competition. At CSKA, Nikitin soon began to rise through the ranks. In 2016, he received his pin, a badge of award gifted for long and efficient service that, he forecasts, merely 20% of the team’s rowdies have received.

While we waited for a automobile back to center Moscow, as darknes descended, Nikitin claimed that a forest fighting is most often be the mere start of the day’s brutality.” After a forest engage, I would often say to the guys:’ OK, who wants to go knock some immigrants ?'” he withdrew.” Most of them would respond:’ Yeah, we can do that .'”

A few weeks later, at a Viking-themed restaurant in central Moscow, his bayonet resting on the table, Nikitin was said that, in recent months, his interest in street savagery has lessened as he has come to realise it is an inefficient room to disseminate and apply his views.” Across Europe hooliganism is on the extreme rise right now ,” he says.” But in Russia, it’s in drop-off”- thanks in part to the unwanted courtesy of this summer’s World Cup.

To help inspire a new generation of football bullies, Nikitin launched his own attire label, White Rex, which is marketed to hooligans and neo-Nazis.( In 2013, a convicted crook who announces himself Tesak wore a White Rex shirt in a video he filmed of himself attacking a gay man .) From the gym, to the forest, to the street, Nikitin’s far-right ideology has been nourished and intensified by football hooliganism. And now through his own business, he’s promoting these values to younger males, some of whom he hires to simulate his clothes.

Just as racism’s traction on English football has slowly tightened since the 1990 s, positions may eventually shift in Russia as well, but it could take decades to destroy what the goons have helped compose. A few people suggested to me that attitudes among the youngest followers may already be starting to change.” Some are losing interest in the rightwing motion ,” says Solopov, the former anti-fascist demonstrator turned correspondent.” They want to merely follow football. It’s happening gradually, but they are becoming apolitical .”

But these young followers will grow up in a footballing culture immersed in nationalist racism and promiscuous brutality. The present crackdown on Moscow’s goons may halt the brutality that placed Russia’s houses in the spotlight. But the obsessive fixation on whether English fans will be met by mobs in Volgograd threats missing the much larger storey: the hooligans, with the opportunistic endorsement of the government that’s now trying to wreaking them under control, have encouraged and normalised the racism of the far right.


On a lazy, sunny October afternoon, Spartak’s second team plodded on to the field to face off against Luch Vladivostok. A couple of haggard athletics reporters squinted unsmilingly at their notepads. In figurehead of them, a seated position of elderly men in identikit beige sports jackets sipped from water bottles. Behind the Vladivostok goalkeeper, a squad of young Spartak devotees, arranged in nifty rows, started up a braying chant.

There were maybe 15 sons here, between the ages of 12 and 17; trainee ultras who showed up to support the trainee-players on the field. The Spartak devotees cycled through about five sings. Some of the precariously regarded chants I recognised as English football chants, rewritten with loosely searching Russian words. Others sound like age-old Soviet folk-songs. The singing was led by Arkady( not his real refer ), a son with an unlovely hitherto muscular expres and a Beatles-ish mop. He rocked on his ends, thought back, seeings closed, almost prayerfully, while the other boys followed his cues.

Fans
Fans sing during a game of Spartak’s second team. Image: Pete Kiehart

The half time whistle blew and, finally, the Spartak sons descended quiet, and settled into their plastic chairs. An announcer politely expected, through the crackling tannoy, that supporters refrain from hollering prejudiced mottoes. Arkady is, by his own admittance, a Spartak superfan.” I stand in the apolitical part of the stadium ,” he said.” The firms and forest crusades aren’t for me. Too many of those people have been prohibited from coming to matches .”

But boys like Arkady have learned what it means to be a football devotee in an atmosphere are specified in boys like Nikitin and Shprygin. In the second half, Spartak’s standout player was Sylvanus Nimely, a 19 -year-old striker from Liberia, one of exclusively two black players on the field- who showed dogged commitment even after his line-up was reduced to 10 boys. At one point, when Nimely flashed forwards with the dance, a Vladivostok player slide in from behind and the Liberian international crumpled to the ground, rolling in agony on his back as his teammates clustered around. Arkady whispered something conspiratorial to his gang. Then he leaned back and exhaled a low-pitched “Ooooooh.” The document collected and thrived in capacity as each son in turn contributed his tone to the crescendo. And then, in unison, with faces as clean as cherubs, they began to sing a prejudiced song.

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