Hockey rivalry: From Russia with hate, arrests and a few foul cheers
Ivan Yurchenko, a 27-year-old Russian journalist who spent time last year at The Seattle Times, covered his first American sports event – the Seahawks’ 58-0 victory over the Cardinals, and wrote a Take 2 blog post. Now he has returned to Moscow and reports on his country’s passion for ice hockey.
The atmosphere around the most famous hockey rivalry in Russia comes down to two words: aggression and drive.
With a few foul cheers and bottles thrown in.
Feb. 1 was a special day for hockey fans in Moscow. It was the championship of the Kontinental League, our NHL analogue. It matched the most famous Russian team, CSKA Moscow, against Spartak Moscow.
These matches are always sold out, and the atmosphere is openly hostile. The fans of these teams really hate each other. Fights are common, but more on that later.
The teams have informal nicknames. CSKA are called Horses (think Denver Broncos, I suppose) and Spartak are called Pigs (think Arkansas Razorbacks).
The rival fans of the Horses and Pigs give a lot of headaches to the police. Unlike American sports, like the Seattle Seahawks game I observed in December, about a thousand police officers were assigned to this match, and they were ready to stop any provocation between hosts and guests by putting up an impressive cordon.
Each match was accompanied by singing fans. Don’t be fooled. They weren’t being friendly. They want to insult the opponent. Naturally, hockey officials do not like such abuse, and kept threatening sanctions, including having a match without spectators. It does not come to this.
This time, the balance of power in the Kontinental League was such that this match pitted one of the leaders (CSKA finished second in the Western Conference) and one of the outsiders (Spartak was 13th, or next to last).
For fans, this rivalry was a festival. The arena was colorful and vibrant. And the fans were colorful, too, erupting with tons of hate in a loud chorus of foul cheers directed at each other. I can’t tell what most of the cheers were. The most innocent was when CSKA fans chanted was: “Death to the Pigs!”
The match? Oh, that ended 4-2 in favor of the Horses. Afterward the real fun began.
CSKA fans, coming out of the stands first, began to gather in groups. When police urged the fans to disperse, flares, snowballs and bottles flew. Police detained 100 people, mostly for fighting. Because of the unrest, fans of Spartak had to sit in an empty stadium for more than an hour after the match.
Hockey usually draws good-size audiences, but fighting at a match is out of the ordinary. Fans are passionate, but it isn’t necessary to be afraid of Russian hockey.
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