One of my classmates, an unreasonably dedicated fan of St. Petersburg’s football team, Zenit, organized home game seats for about half of the AIFS students (the half that regularly leaves the dorms). Although recently out of the running for the Euro Cup (or something) after a beating from Portugal’s Benfica, Zenit still has decent odds to win the Russian national championship. Today’s match was against Kuban, a region in the south. Zenit has been in a slump and nobody played particularly well, but I would still consider it a cultural experience.
First of all, learning Russian at a Zenit match is easy, because the fans rarely stop chanting. Zenit is in fact the most-fined team in Europe, not for their playing, but because its fans are so passionate as to become violent and destructive towards opposing fans/property at away-game stadiums (celebratory flares are also a favorite). Each chant usually goes through a minimum of twenty repetitions before it dies out, which provides the non-Russian speaker plenty of time to practice pronunciation and ask around for new vocabulary definitions. The most initially confusing chant of the day was “don’t forget to water your tomatoes,” a mockery of the opposing team’s rural origins.
The current stadium (easy walking distance from metro stop Sportivnaya), is a small multi-purpose stadium located on its own little island. Zenit used to have one of the highest-capacity stadiums in the world under the good ol’ days of Soviet rule, until it was eventually closed for being structurally unsound. Once again, I don’t know if we should blame the Soviet engineers or the fans—who enjoy linking arms and jumping for minutes at a time, a tradition probably brought about out of necessity, given the average temperature at an outdoor stadium in St. Petersburg. The benefit of the cold, however, is that unlike in America, your beer actually gets better as the night wears on.