from Vladimir Kozlov's book "Football Fans. The Past and Present
of Russian Hooliganism")
have been clashes with the police since the seventies, when the first
set of fans emerged in the USSR. These have continued until the present
day. These clashes can intensify, reaching the point of absurdity, like
in the nineties - back then it was not only the big matches which saw
fights happen between fans and the police. However, these fights could
be stopped if the two find a reasonable compromise. In the Soviet era,
police officers did not allow fans to bring flags and other items of paraphernalia
into the stadium. They saw fans as lawbreakers, people who engage in activities
which are 'not allowed'. But that is not the case, they were just like
all the other supporters, simply sitting, while some would also wave flags
and chant. From the outset, these fans were singled out by the police.
They were perceived as 'potential lawbreakers, people who disturbed the
The police often went overboard and were simply absurd, and this led to
stadium wars. They were also known as 'seat' wars , when in the mid-nineties
pretty much every match started and finished in a fight with the police.
There were also large-scale fights even if there was a match going on
or not. The fans were not at fault, it was the police who were to blame
for the conditions in our stadiums being so inhumane. They banned so many
things, basic, simply elementary things, like a flag on a pole. Now that
issue has finally been resolved. But how many years did that take? It
was only three to four years ago you could take in flags on hollow poles.
At some point or other, both fans and the police along with the [Russian
riot police] OMON overstepped the mark. Police and OMON officers acted
as if they owned the stadium and simply clubbed fans for no reason at
all, just for doing something they didn't like. In actual fact, this happened
in the eighties too, but fans didn't retaliate. But now they have realised
that they can fight with the OMON and the police in the stadium.
officer who asked for his surname to be withheld:
Back then the country was in a transitional state, a dilapidated state,
and the law enforcement agencies were unable to control the situation.
We didn't have sufficient experience to know how to diffuse these situations
when fans started to misbehave on the terraces. We relied on using force
to suppress everything. There was no preparatory work back then. The Soviet
era came and went and nothing had changed at that point. The law enforcement
agencies started to learn how to work from scratch. Information on what
happens during football matches in the West became accessible. Fans fight
with the police over there, so why don't we show them that we are no fools?
But the response from the law enforcement agencies was kind of narrow-minded,
primitive: 'huh, you want to show us that you are better than us?' Well,
go on then. As a result, we got what we got: all-out fights in stadiums
with seats being ripped up and thrown at the police, truncheons being
waved about. But to say that fans were the innocent victims of police
and OMON violence is incorrect. They themselves, as it happens, started
fights with the police in stadiums by, for instance, throwing flares onto
hooligan, member of one of the CSKA firms:
What was happening in the stadiums at the end of the nineties, at the
start of the noughties was to do with the police. There was this real
sort of legal lawlessness.
between fans and the law enforcement agencies continued all through the
nineties. However, towards the end of the decade they resulted in a series
of 'stadium wars': fans ripped up chairs, threw them at the police and
OMON officers, who would be swinging their truncheons here there and everywhere.
The 'stadium wars' reached their peak in 1999. That was when two away
trips to Ramenskoye, on the outskirts of Moscow, involved two teams from
the capital, both resulting in huge clashes with the police and the OMON.
Local team Saturn played Spartak on 19 June 1999, clashes between the
Spartak fans and the OMON officers, who were based in the Moscow region,
had started before the game. But when Spartak's first goal went in, the
fans started to jump and dance around in the stands. That is when the
OMON moved in and started a 'clean-up operation'. Fans began to fight
back and a huge fight between fans of the red and whites, and the OMON
officers kicked off. As a result, one of the stands was seriously damaged:
Spartak fans ripped up the plastic chairs from their bases and used them
to fight against the OMON officers who were swinging their truncheons
with all their might. The match even had to be stopped, the coach of Spartak,
Oleg Romantsev, and the club's leading players, Andrey Tikhonov and Ilya
Tsymbalar, got involved in the situation. As a result, the fighting stopped
and the match was somehow played to a finish. There were 487 broken seats
at the Ramenskoye stadium, resulting in approximately 10,000 dollars'
worth of damage to the stadium.
in Ramenskoye caused a huge public reaction. All the main television channels
covered the story. It was written about in magazines and newspapers. Several
programmes and special reports focussing on fan culture were broadcast
on television. The overall message of the programmes and articles was
reduced down to the fact that football fans are far from angels. However,
the OMON had no right to clobber them with their truncheons for little
or no reason. Despite having this kind of coverage in the public domain,
it still proved impossible to change public opinion and to solve this
issue. That was already apparent at the next mass away trip to Ramenskoye
involving fans from the capital - this time it was CSKA. Saturn were playing
CSKA on the 2 October 1999, and yet again the town on the outskirts of
Moscow went down in the criminal history books for football violence.
At the half-time break, almost the same situation happened in the away
sector as during the Spartak match: a fight between fans and OMON officers.
The CSKA president, Shakhrudi Dadakhanov, had to launch himself into the
thick of it and attempt to bring the savage OMON officers to their senses.
The situation only changed in 2002. Only then were the fans cut some slack
- and what did the stands turn into straight away? If before, people were
sitting in them ready to break out and fight the police at any time or
be beaten up by them, then now they were adorned with huge banners, flags,
visual performances, chanting.
officer who asked for his surname to be withheld:
Thank goodness, the law enforcement agencies realised quite quickly that
this was not the correct approach in terms of working with fans and that
prevention measures were needed, not force. Yes, it's possible to show
some force but not engage in an all-out fight. Now we understand that
we mustn't provoke fans. If one brings a flare into the stadium, there
is no need to climb ten rows, fish him out of the crowd and grab the flare
off him. It's clear that will only cause a fight between fans and the
police. It's best to let the flare burn away, put it to the side of the
pitch and extinguish it.
I don't know who was first to start the dialogue, but there was a certain
point when everyone understood that this could not continue. When there
was a group of fans at a match, anything could have led to a fight with
the police. It might have been a big one, or maybe not, but all same there
would have been a fight. The police also realised that using force was
not going to solve this issue, there needed to be agreement on all sides.
So, we entered into negotiations, we compromised with each other. The
police removed the OMON from the terraces, the OMON were banned from being
in the stands, only in extreme circumstances. The police started to police
games in a different way: not provoking, not taking the bait when they
We contacted the club, and we tried to get them to start some form of
dialogue with the Saint Petersburg Police in order to avoid [large-scale
clashes between fans and the police]. We understood that there was provocation
coming from fans, when disorder broke out in the stands, and from the
police too. Because the police had authority, [it was assumed] there wouldn't
be any repercussions, they could behave as they liked, with impunity,
like some kind of mob, and they made the most if it. I am not saying that
all officers were like that but it only takes one to light the blue touch
paper and add fuel to the fire.
As of 2003, we've not had one serious fight with the police. There have
been misunderstandings, disputes, but nothing serious. And attendances
for Russian league matches have started to grow, and to grow at a normal
rate. If in 2002-2003 the average attendances for matches in Moscow were
around 10,000, then now it's getting closer to 20,000. In the space of
three to four years it has practically doubled. This is because people
have stopped being afraid of going to the football. As of 2004, fans have
started to be included in dialogue, being invited to police meetings.
Of course, we are heard, but the question is: are we being listened to?
We have told them our position, everything is changing gradually, some
common ground has been found.
We met with the Saint Petersburg Police; the first steps were very difficult
because they thought that fans were marginal figures who provoke themselves
and go to the football just to be hooligans. Then they started to understand
that they are dealing with normal people, decent people. Plus, the club
management helped, especially [Zenit's president in 1997-2003 Vitaly]
Mutko who was personally involved in addressing the sources of conflict.
You can't say that it was just the police and OMON officers who were the
only guilty parties in the stadium wars. There were situations when fans
openly provoked them and they themselves started fights.
The contact we now have with the police is more than OK. We have a working
relationship. There is a dedicated team we can contact who deal with any
issue a fan might have, such as bringing in items of paraphernalia like
banners and flags. I can easily phone the relevant people and the issue
will be sorted out. One of the very few ongoing, contentious issues between
fans and the police is bringing pyrotechnics into the stands. But here,
as has become apparent, there is room for compromise.
by Thomas Dixon