A political career for Ukraine goalkeeper Oleksandr Shovkovskiy?

It seems an odd time for Andriy Shevchenko to decide he’s no longer interested in politics – or perhaps it’s exactly the right time for a celebrity with no experience to steer clear of the turmoil in Ukraine.

He’s not alone amongst footballers in saying little about what’s happened. Some wish Ukraine captain and former Bayern Munich midfielder Anatoliy Tymoschuk would speak out: one blogger has written an imaginary (and probably fanciful) open letter from him, in which he talks of dark outside forces and calls for unity between Ukraine and Russia. That Tymoschuk currently plays for Zenit St. Petersburg – and is one of the club’s modern era legends – perhaps explains his reluctance to express his feelings.

However, another prominent player has been more outspoken. Dinamo Kyiv goalkeeper and journalism graduate Oleksandr Shovkovskiy – who at 39 has played in every single Ukraine championship since independence – has a reputation for eloquence and intelligence. Describing himself as “neither a macho nor a playboy”, he has read Dostoyevsky and Bulgakov and quotes postmodernist writer Viktor Pelevin in talking of his disdain for television.

When the Maidan protests began last year, he used his Facebook page to comment: “I’m not a politician but I’m a citizen. My civil duty is to not be indifferent to the lack of proper rule by the powers that be!” Shovkovsky said he would be attending the protests, and later used Facebook to offer support to an injured protestor. Following the impeachment of President Yanukovych, he raised the question of whether deputies in Ukraine’s parliament should lose their immunity to prosecution.

As things progressed he continued to comment:

“Unity is one of the most important factors…West, East, North, South…some can speak Russian, some Ukrainian. We can argue and have different political views, but we can’t deny that we live under one roof, such a hospitable and welcoming state as Ukraine.”

“I’m always in favour of dialogue, but the will of emotion shouldn’t take over. People here are being strongly emotionally affected by the comments of other people.”

“I won’t be going to Crimea this summer if it’s under the control of Russia. Having served in the army, I could be conscripted. Will I go to the front line if the situation arises? If my country orders me – yes!”

Shovkovskiy writes in Russian, and has friends in the country:

“My Russian friends haven’t reacted badly [to what I've said about the political situation], probably because they’re well mannered and educated people. They understand well that we’re being shown a distorted picture of events.”

Over the past year he has been regularly asked about a career in politics. He has remained coy, but hasn’t hidden the fact he has been approached. When he finishes his career, he will surely have a fuller role to play in shaping Ukraine’s future. He is intelligent, but unlike some sporting figures only comments on matters when he feels the need – which makes what he says even more valuable.

Hopefully it isn’t too late for an intelligent, well-liked, unifying figure to have an impact on today’s Ukraine.


Saul Pope is a Russian/Ukrainian football blogger and contributor to When Saturday Comes magazine. He can be followed on Twitter here.

Also on the theme:

Euromaidan – the views of a Kyiv-based footballer

Why a joint Russian-Ukrainian league is a bad idea

FC Sochi could resign from football league amidst claims they were forced to sign a player

Thanks to the Winter Olympics most people remember the Russian city of Sochi and its magnificent Fisht Stadium, currently being converted into a venue for the 2018 World Cup. It will be the stadium for Sochi’s home football team too – the only problem is that the city is on its third post-Soviet team, and may be about to lose that as well.

FC Sochi’s Director Evgeniy Mukhin recently got in touch with OneDivision.Ru to make some surprising claims about problems his club was having with a Russian football official. Last season, when the newly-formed side was playing in the amateur fourth tier, Mukhin was called by the Professional Football League (the Russian third tier) General Director Nikolay Akelkin. ‘He asked us to employ his brother Stepan Akelkin,’ Mukhin recalled to OneDivision, ‘explaining that then we wouldn’t have problems getting into the PFL. When I asked what problems we could have if we won the league [and so by right got promoted to the PFL], I was told ‘you’ll see”.

Stepan was employed by FC Sochi, but didn’t suit the club either as a player or trainer. ‘We even tried him as a fitness coach’, recalls Mukhin, ‘though he didn’t have any qualifications, nor knowledge or experience. There was nothing left to do but pay him literally for nothing.’

This was only the start of the problems. Having won the league, the club completed the paperwork to register for the PFL South but was told they’d only be allowed into the division if clubs from Crimea were (which eventually happened). Then, after refusing Stepan more money, the club discovered its stadium wasn’t going to be certified by the relevant bodies for home matches. A request from Stepan for a bonus for the entire team followed: when refused, further threats came – and on transfer deadline day the club was only able to register one of six planned signings.

Stepan Akelkin, it seems, has form. He was previously in the squad of another Sochi club whose manager was told he should remain in the squad – even though he told the club management he didn’t want the player. Tweeting the OneDivision story, football agent and former player Roman Oreschuk wrote ‘I know this Stepan very well ))))’.

So what now for FC Sochi? A club made up 100% of local footballers may be forced to quit the league unless it can start using its stadium – which is already cleared for use by various other sports’ teams, including Russia’s Paralympic football team. The frustration in Mukhin’s voice is clear: ‘These people aren’t developing football but instead blackmail people – some for their father, some for their brother, some for unknown people,’ he told OneDivision. ‘There’s no discussion about the development of football at the PFL at the moment…Bureaucracy in football wins again.’

Saul Pope is a Russian/Ukrainian football blogger and contributor to When Saturday Comes magazine. He can be followed on Twitter here.

On the same topic:

How Russia’s World Cup Stadiums are shaping up

FC Saturn disappear

FC Moscow disappear

Moscow clubs run out of pitches to play on

World Cup 2018: how Russia’s stadiums are shaping up (or not)…part three

In parts one and two of this feature we’ve seen how Moscow is doing pretty well in building World Cup 2018 venues, St. Petersburg is lagging behind and will take more than a decade, whilst Kaliningrad and Volgograd might never get built.

Here are the final four host cities – along with one city that isn’t a host but should be:

Strelka Stadium, Nizhniy Novgorod


The authorities have gone back to their original plan of building this stadium close to the city centre, at a confluence between the Volga and the Oka. There was an edge of town plan which wasn’t popular with some fans. This stadium has things in common with several of the others examined so far: looks wonderful in the pictures, but the original plans are being scaled back and work has yet to start.

Is it really needed?

Nizhniy Novgorood is a big city (1.25m people), so a modern, sizeable stadium (25,000 after the World Cup) isn’t out of place. Whether there’s anyone to play in it is another question. The city’s biggest side, Volga, quickly rose through the leagues and last season spent heavily on ageing stars to try and stay in the top flight. Following relegation, the club appear to have serious financial problems and could find themselves relegated again or even resigning from the league.

New Stadium, Samara

A stadium with neither a name nor a location until recently. The site has now been decided upon and the first stone was laid in the summer, but the project is a controversial one. A gigantic 930 hectare complex is planned to include more than the stadium, but it will destroy green spaces and be partly built on land belonging to local people. A recent petition against it gained over 1000 signatures. As for the name, ‘Spherical Stadium’ has been reported, along with the suggestion of one local politician: ‘The Crimean Stadium’….

Is it really needed?

Samara is considered by many to be a true football city. It has a well-supported local club, Krilya Sovietov, which had been an ever-present in the Russian top flight until relegation last season – but they are favourites for a quick return. In the Premier League their home gates regularly outstripped those of Moscow clubs CSKA and Dinamo – and a new stadium would surely see them add to this. Whether ‘The Crimean Stadium’, built on private greenbelt land, is to everybody’s taste is another matter.

Kazan Arena, Kazan


The first of the stadiums that has been fully built and operates as a football venue. It is, according to its builders, the safest stadium in Europe. By 2018 the stadium will already be something of a veteran when it comes to big events. Last year it hosted the Summer Universiade (picture above), and in 2015 will host the World Aquatics Championships – two temporary 50 metre swimming pools will be constructed on the pitch for this.

Is it really needed?

Kazan’s location some way east of Moscow yet still relatively close to Europe seems to be making it an attractive location for international sporting competitions. The locals have also taken to it – Kazan’s attendances had slipped into four figures last season, but so far two home games in the new arena have seen an average of 35,000.

Central Stadium, Ekaterinburg


This stadium underwent considerable reconstruction between 2006 and 2011 – but with a capacity of 27,000 it will need further work to be ready for the World Cup. The original plan was for for 45,000 seats, but hot off the press is news that FIFA have announced 35,000 seaters will be acceptable for WC2018. Building work has been postponed whilst new plans are considered. That the stadium might not need closing is great news for the city’s main side, Ural, who were facing the prospect of playing home games in another city for an extended period of time.

Is it really needed?

Another big Russian city that suits a good-sized venue. Ural are in the top flight and seem to be carving out a niche for themselves as tough-to-beat outsiders. They attract good crowds (15,000-20,000) for bigger games, and a further improved stadium coupled with a dose of World Cup fever might see this increase further.

And one city that (probably) won’t be a part of things

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAСтадион_ФК_Краснодар_21_июня_2013

Above are pictures of arenas in the southern city of Krasnodar, home to Premier league teams Kuban and FC Krasnodar. On the left is the Kuban Stadium, which is – with a capacity of 35,000 – currently one of the biggest in Russia. On the right is the FC Krasnodar Stadium, which will be ready by 2016 and have a capacity of 36,000. Both sides have equipped themselves well at the level – relative newcomers FC Krasnodar seem to be the team most likely to challenge the Moscow/St. Petersburg dominance in the top flight over the next decade. The sides both attract good crowds to the Kuban Stadium, which has also held three recent international matches.

But neither stadium will feature at the World Cup, and it’s hard to understand why. Though Krasnodar is in the south of Russia, security isn’t an issue as it is in Makhachkala (which also has a great new stadium). The city’s sides have only recently established themselves in the top flight, so there isn’t the football history of Volgograd – but more than there is in Saransk. FC Krasnodar owner Sergey Galitskiy (a billionaire who’s building a football club from the foundations up) isn’t always popular with his peers or with the Russian football authorities – though that wouldn’t explain why Kuban and its stadium were excluded.

The decision not to include Krasnodar was a big surprise to many Russian football observers. Every now and again – given the lack of progress with some projects – people suggest that Krasnodar will be included after all. It seems unlikely, though – what’s more probable is that the list of host cities will be reduced.

In summary:

Three big footballing centres – Moscow, St. Petersburg and Kazan – will be ready and each of the stadiums will be impressive.

Sochi will also be there and will also impress

There seems to be little concern over Samara’s controversial project – though the final version will surely be less ambitious.

Ekaterinburg will be breathing a sign of relief that they only need to build 8000 and not 18,000 more seats at an already decent venue.

The projects in Kaliningrad, Volgograd, Saransk, Rostov and Nizhniy Novgorod look shakier, and it’s possible that two of these (Kaliningrad and Volgograd most likely) won’t get built at all. And in the unlikely event that Russia is stripped of the right to hold the World Cup, many of these projects won’t end up being completed.

Saul Pope is a Russian/Ukrainian football blogger and contributor to When Saturday Comes magazine. He can be followed on Twitter @saulpope

Picture Attributions:

Strelka Stadium: «Nizhny Novgorod. Model of Strelka Side in future» участника Алексей Белобородов – собственная работа. Под лицензией Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 с сайта Викисклада – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Nizhny_Novgorod._Model_of_Strelka_Side_in_future.jpg#mediaviewer/%D0%A4%D0%B0%D0%B9%D0%BB:Nizhny_Novgorod._Model_of_Strelka_Side_in_future.jpg

Kazan Arena: «Closing of 2013 Summer Universiade 79» участника Government Press and Information Office – http://government.ru/news/3107. Под лицензией Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 с сайта Викисклада – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Closing_of_2013_Summer_Universiade_79.jpg#mediaviewer/%D0%A4%D0%B0%D0%B9%D0%BB:Closing_of_2013_Summer_Universiade_79.jpg

Central Stadium: «CentralStadium» участника Владимир Задумин (Ekamag) – skyscrapercity.com. Под лицензией Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 с сайта Викисклада – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:CentralStadium.jpg#mediaviewer/%D0%A4%D0%B0%D0%B9%D0%BB:CentralStadium.jpg

Kuban Stadium: “Kuban Stadium FC Kuban Krasnodar vs FC Rostov, Russian Premier League, Krasnodar, Russian 2005 Federation” by JukoFF – Own work. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Kuban_Stadium_FC_Kuban_Krasnodar_vs_FC_Rostov,_



FC Krasnodar Stadium: «Стадион ФК Краснодар 21 июня 2013». С сайта Википедия – https://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D0%A4%D0%B0%D0%B9%D0%BB:%D0%A1%D1%82%D0%B0%D0%B4%D0%B8%D0%BE%D0%BD_%D0%A4%D0%9A_%D0%9A%D1%80%D0%B0%D1%81%D0%BD%D0%BE%D0%B4%D0%B0%D1%80_21_%D0%B8%D1%8E%D0%BD%D1%8F_2013.jpeg#mediaviewer/%D0%A4%D0%B0%D0%B9%D0%BB:%D0%A1%D1%82%D0%B0%D0%B4%D0%B8%D0%BE%D0%BD_%D0%A4%D0%9A_%D0%9A%D1%80%D0%B0%D1%81%D0%BD%D0%BE%D0%B4%D0%B0%D1%80_21_%D0%B8%D1%8E%D0%BD%D1%8F_2013.jpeg

World Cup 2018: how Russia’s stadiums are shaping up (or not)…part two

In part one of this review I looked at the World Cup 2018 stadiums in Moscow, Kaliningrad and Sochi. Things look good in Moscow and on target in Sochi, but Kaliningrad might yet find itself being forced out of the running – along with one of the venues below.

Part two looks at four more cities with mixed progress:

Zenit Arena, St. Petersburg


The picture above was taken in 2012, but you might barely notice the difference if you visited the Zenit Arena now. The Kirov Stadium, previously on this site, was demolished in 2006 ready for the new arena to be completed in 2008. The many delays in building work have incurred the wrath of many, including Prime Minister Dmitriy Medvedev. Initially a project funded by Gazprom, the city authorities had to step in when the gas giant declined to invest further. Work should be completed by 2016.

Is it really needed?

The stadium will have a capacity of almost 70,000, which matches super-rich Zenit’s ambitions – and a city the size of St. Petersburg (almost five million inhabitants). Currently Zenit play at the 21000 capacity Petrovskiy Stadium, and it can be difficult to get tickets for the bigger league and European matches. The location of the stadium, in a park and on a peninsular sticking out into the Gulf of Finland, promises to make it a landmark.

Levberdon Arena, Rostov-On-Don


A project costing an estimated 15 billion rouble (£250 million), the stadium gets its working name from its location – in Russian ‘Levberdon’ is an acronym meaning ‘left bank of the Don’. One of several stadiums where building work is yet to start, it should be completed by May 2017. During preparatory excavation work, five unexploded and well-preserved shells from World War 2 were discovered and had to be removed.

Is it really needed?

Following the tournament the capacity will be reduced to around 25,000, which seems sensible. The biggest city football club, FC Rostov, is a top-flight regular but does not draw large crowds. Another city stadium is currently being renovated and it too will have a 25,000 capacity on completion. With the city’s second club skirting between the borders of amateur and professional football, two sizeable stadiums are probably not needed.

Victory Stadium, Volgograd


The name of this yet to be started project comes from the huge role Volgograd played in the Second World War. Above is Volgograd’s Central Stadium, which will be demolished to make way for the new arena. Entirely funded from the federal budget, the Victory Stadium is at risk of never seeing the light of day. The project has only just been approved, meaning the current stadium is still standing and won’t have been demolished until the end of 2014.

Is it really needed?

As well as being a city of historic significance, Volgograd has footballing pedigree. In the nineties Rotor regularly challenged Spartak Moscow for the title, and famously beat Manchester United in a UEFA Cup tie. However, the club have since had considerable problems, including being excluded from professional football altogether in 2009. Currently they are in the third tier, have no money for kit and are dining in a local canteen to save money.

Jubilee Stadium, Saransk


The Jubilee Stadium was supposed to be completed in 2012 to celebrate 1000 years of unity between the Mordvins and Russians, but has fallen behind schedule. It should be ready by 2017, and will be used for knockout as well as group games. The stadium’s capacity will be reduced post World Cup from 45,000 to 28,000, and it is hoped many will be attracted to its other sports facilities (volleyball, basketball) and shops.

Is it really needed?

Of all the cities selected to be a host city, Saransk was the biggest surprise. 2012-13 was FC Mordovia Saransk’s first ever season in the top flight, and they were immediately relegated. Now back in the top flight and managed by former Russia coach Yuriy Semin, it is hoped the club will be a steady top-flight presence by 2018. A recent home game against champions CSKA Moscow attracted just 11,000 spectators.

Coming up in part three – read about one complete stadium, some that are far from completion and some that are completed and look sparkling but won’t be hosting any World Cup matches. I’ll try to explain why…

Saul Pope is a Russian/Ukrainian football blogger and contributor to When Saturday Comes magazine. He can be followed on Twitter @saulpope


Picture attributions:

Zenit Arena: “New football stadium construction site in SPB 01″ by Florstein – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:New_football_stadium_construction_site_in_SPB_01.jpg#mediaviewer/File:New_football_stadium_construction_site_in_SPB_01.jpg

Levberdon Arena: «Rostov new WC2018 Stadium». С сайта Википедия – https://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D0%A4%D0%B0%D0%B9%D0%BB:Rostov_new_WC2018_Stadium.png#mediaviewer/%D0%A4%D0%B0%D0%B9%D0%BB:Rostov_new_WC2018_Stadium.png

Central Stadium Volgograd: «Central Stadium (Volgograd)» участника Cryonic07 – собственная работа. Под лицензией Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 с сайта Викисклада – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Central_Stadium_(Volgograd).jpg#mediaviewer/%D0%A4%D0%B0%D0%B9%D0%BB:Central_Stadium_(Volgograd).jpg

Jubilee Stadium Saransk: «Стадион Юбилейный в Саранске 1». С сайта Википедия – https://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D0%A4%D0%B0%D0%B9%D0%BB:%D0%A1%D1%82%D0%B0%D0%B4%D0%B8%D0%BE%D0%BD_%D0%AE%D0%B1%D0%B8%D0%BB%D0%B5%D0%B9%D0%BD%D1%8B%D0%B9_%D0%B2_%D0%A1%D0%B0%D1%80%D0%B0%D0%BD%D1%81%D0%BA%D0%B5_1.jpg#mediaviewer/%D0%A4%D0%B0%D0%B9%D0%BB:%D0%A1%D1%82%D0%B0%D0%B4%D0%B8%D0%BE%D0%BD_%D0%AE%D0%B1%D0%B8%D0%BB%D0%B5%D0%B9%D0%BD%D1%8B%D0%B9_%D0%B2_%D0%A1%D0%B0%D1%80%D0%B0%D0%BD%D1%81%D0%BA%D0%B5_1.jpg

World Cup 2018: how Russia’s host stadiums are shaping up (or not)…part one

At the time of writing, the 2018 World Cup tournament is planned be held in eleven Russian cities and twelve stadiums – though this could change (see Kaliningrad, below). The eleven cities are on the western side of the country, with the furthest east being Ekaterinburg (close to the Ural mountains).

Below is a look at the progress being made with each stadium – and whether they’ll likely be in demand after the tournament.

Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow


The host venue for the 2008 Champions League final between Chelsea and Manchester United has been undergoing renovation since the start of 2014 in a project costing £600m. Things will be finished by 2017, and the stadium will have an increased capacity of 81,000. There will also be a grass pitch (rather than the previous synthetic surface), and fans will be able to choose from a choice of three the colour of the stadium’s seats. Once it has hosted the 2018 World Cup final, it will join an elite group of four (along with Wembley, Olympic Stadium Berlin and Olympic Stadium Rome) to have hosted the World Cup Final, European Cup Final and been a main Olympic venue.

Is it really needed?

Luzhniki is a Moscow landmark – its removal from the landscape would be more or less akin to Wembley disappearing from London. Without it, Moscow would not have a huge stadium. But with three Moscow clubs building new arenas of their own, it will likely be used mainly for international matches, concerts and perhaps Torpedo Moscow games (whose home attendance figures rarely get above four figures).

Otkrytie Arena, Moscow


Spartak Moscow have never had a proper home stadium of their own (the Luzhniki Sports’ Complex served this purpose for many years), but this will change on 5th September when the Otrkytie Arena opens with a friendly match again Crvena Zvezda. The stadium will possibly hold the opening match of the World Cup tournament. It will have a 42,000 capacity, and has been certified in the highest category by the Russian football authorities. Outside there will be a 24.5m statue of a gladiator, and inside another statue of four Spartak legends.

Is it really needed?

Spartak must be one of the biggest clubs in the world to never have had a stadium of their own, so in that sense it’s needed. That the club have built a pretty generic modern stadium but used the statues to keep a link to the past is good news too. However, with CSKA and Dinamo Moscow also building new stadiums, it may be that we quickly go from a situation where there are not enough stadiums in the city to having too many.

Arena Baltika, Kaliningrad

An unusual stadium for a modern one in that it will be located close to the city centre; it is also planned to be a ‘green’ stadium with a roof that harvests rainwater. At the time of writing, though, building work has yet to start and has been postponed several times. In August 2014 reports surfaced suggesting the stadium may not be built at all: in this case, Kaliningrad would be removed from the list of host cities. Key issues appear to be that the project is likely to well exceed its budget, and that it will be built on a difficult terrain (marshland).

Is it really needed?

If it is built, Arena Baltika will have a capacity of 45,000 – this will be reduced to 25,000 at the end of the tournament. A sensible decision given that local side Baltika Kaliningrad are perhaps akin to Barnsley – they’ve spent most of the last twenty years in the second tier, with occasional excursions both up and down. They are one of the best supported sides in the Football National League, however, and will hope that by the time the new stadium opens they are a top flight side again.

Fisht Olympic Stadium, Sochi


Constructed for no small fee for the 2014 Winter Olympics opening and closing ceremonies, the Fisht Stadium is now undergoing considerable renovation to become a football venue. The 45,000 capacity arena will definitely be ready by 2017, when it is a host venue for the FIFA Confederations Cup.

Is it really needed?

Sochi is currently on its third post-Soviet football team, the previous two having been disbanded due to financial problems. There is hope that a local side will become a force in Russian football – but currently the city’s team plays in the third tier. A top quality stadium in a relatively balmy climate and with a bit of history behind it cannot be sniffed at, though. The Russian national team will surely make good use of it, especially in the colder months. Just don’t expect FC Sochi to get anywhere near filling it to capacity.

Coming soon…parts two and three – including a look at one city that has been inexplicably overlooked as a host…

Saul Pope is a Russian/Ukrainian Football Blogger and contributor to When Saturday Comes magazine. He can be followed on Twitter @saulpope.


Picture attributions:

Luzhniki: “Moscow (3)” by Maarten from Netherlands – DSC_0103Uploaded by huhbakker. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Moscow_(3).jpg#mediaviewer/File:Moscow_(3).jpg

Otkrytie Arena: “Moskva spartak stadion”. Via Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Moskva_spartak_stadion.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Moskva_spartak_stadion.jpg

Fisht Olympic Stadium: “Стадион Фишт” by Ivanaivanova – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:%D0%A1%D1%82%D0%B0%D0%B4%D0%B8%D0%BE%D0%BD_%D0%A4%D0%B8%D1%88%D1%82.JPG#mediaviewer/File:%D0%A1%D1%82%D0%B0%D0%B4%D0%B8%D0%BE%D0%BD_%D0%A4%D0%B8%D1%88%D1%82.JPG