Anzhi Makhachkala – No European Football for Dagestan
Anzhi Makhachkala play in the Republic of Dagestan, a federal area of Russia located in the Northern Caucasus region, along the western shore of the Caspian Sea. The republic has a large population, just under 3 million, and is one of the few regions in Russia where population is increasing instead of decreasing.
For the 2012/13 season, the Dagestan locals will have to come to terms with the fact that they will not be seeing any Europa League action at their local Dynamo Stadium in Makhachkala. This decision was reached on the 2nd July 2012 by UEFA and was met with mass protests across the Republic several days later. The club’s fan group, known as the ‘Wild Division’, held a rally in the Dynamo Stadium (along with other supporters) in the hope that they could overturn UEFA’s ruling and that Dagestan would be able to host Europa League action. This came to no avail and UEFA stood firm on their decision.
UEFA’s decision was based on security issues within the Republic of Dagestan. Ethnic and tribal clashes have caused worries for UEFA planners who would not allow icons Samuel Eto’o, Roberto Carlos and co to play their matches there. Therefore Anzhi was allocated ‘Stadium Saturn’ to play their first two ‘home’ games in the Europa League Qualifying stages. This is a stadium located 1,121 miles away in Ramenskoye, a medium sized town 45 minutes drive south east of Moscow. The stadium used to belong to FC Saturn Moscow Oblast, but they had to dissolve in January 2011 due to financial problems. Currently Locomotive Moscow’s stadium is now being used for Anzhi’s home games for the Europa League Group Stages. So the local Dagestani’s have a choice either to watch home games in front of the TV or to make the 2-3 hour plane ride or the 40 hour train trip up north to Moscow to watch a ‘home game’. However, there are benefits to this move if you are an Anzhi player as most of the Anzhi players actually live and train in Moscow.
‘Anzhi players live and train at a training camp outside Moscow for security reasons and travel to Makhachkala for home games, flying about 1,250 miles 15 times a season.‘ (http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/football/14664378)
So from the point of view of the players, coaches and staff, playing virtually up the road isn’t that much of problem and it will certainly save them plenty of travel time in not making the long midweek journey south.
This also benefits the many ‘exiled’ Anzhi Makhachkala supporters who live and work in the Moscow area; these people have fled the Dagestan region due to the ongoing unstable situation. These ‘exiles’ give their side a tremendous boost when Anzhi play against the big Moscow outfits of CSKA, Spartak and Locomotive, with Anzhi supporters usually filling out the away sections.
Anzhi finished 5th in the Russian Premier League Championship Group last season hence gained qualification to the Europa League Second Qualifying round. Anzhi qualified for the Group Stage after dispatching Budapest Honved of Hungary in the second round, Vitesse Arnhem in the third round and AZ Alkmaar in the play-off round. Anzhi was very impressive scoring a total of 15 goals in the qualification rounds, with Eto’o scoring five of them alone and conceding none. Anzhi was drawn into Group A, along with English European giants Liverpool (ENG), Udinese Calcio (ITA) and BSC Young Boys (SUI). Supporters of the latter should be fairly pleased that they only have to travel to the Moscow region and not all the way south to Makhachkala. So far Anzhi have played away to Udinese where they got a 1-1 draw and then in their second fixture won 2-0 at ‘home’ in Moscow against BSC Young Boys. They travel to Liverpool on Thursday 25th October.
Anzhi Makhachkala’s home attendances in the UEFA Europa League have been fairly decent so far considering the circumstances. They have accumulated on average 6,000 fans, boosted no doubt by their Moscow exiles and the local branch of the ‘Wild Division’. Unless there is a dramatic improvement to the unstable situation in Dagestan, it looks as if the Moscow ‘home’ matches will remain the status quo for the foreseeable future.