UEFA Cup Final preview

Zenit St Petersburg represent the city that has often defined relations between Finland and Russia, and therefore the security and prosperity of the Finnish people. The area around St Petersburg was at one time inhabited by people speaking Finnic languages, and on the southern coast of the Gulf of Finland there still exists small pockets of Ingrians.

Since Peter the Great drained the swamps around his new capital city, the relationship between Russia and those to its west has been a defining feature of Russian policy. For those who lived to Russia’s west this was an uncomfortable situation, as first the Tsars and then the Soviets felt the need to protect their western territory. As Finland was first annexed and then declared independent, the implications became clearer to those in charge of both Finland and Russia, and the importance of St Petersburg (or Leningrad as it was then known) declined. The capital reverted to Moscow, and the Soviets concentrated on building ‘socialism in one country’.

Then came the Second World War. A horrifically bloody affair in this part of the world, it involved huge invasions and re-invasions, and a massive miscalculation on the part of the Finnish command when deciding the relative importance of areas of forest in Northern Karelia and the security of the second city of the Soviet Union. Despite the snafus, Finland defended most of its territory, but it was clear from the subsequent negotiations that the Soviet Union was not prepared to countenance even the impression of a threat to Leningrad, as it was then known.

Zenit won their first honours during the war, the Wartime Soviet Cup of 1944. At this time Finland was engaged in heavy fighting with the Soviet Union just to the north of Leningrad, and those Zenit players who were not conscripted to go to the front were working in the metal works that was at that time the owner of Zenit. After the war they were taken over by the makers of LOMO cameras.

During the Cold War, Finns had more person-to-person contacts with Russians than many other nationalities. Trade, which was mandatory under the terms of Finland’s Friendship and Co-operation Agreement with the Soviet Union, ensured that decision makers in both countries had an interest in not questioning the values of the other side too closely.

Zenit’s fortunes were up and down after 1945, as it was always difficult for teams outside of Moscow and Kiev to make an impact in the Soviet league. They did escape relegation in 1967 when they finished in the relegation places though, as it was felt that Leningrad needed a top flight team in the year in which the 50th anniversary of the October Revolution was celebrated. In the 80s things picked up, and they won a league title in 1984.

Since then, the pendulum of political and economic power in Russia has swung back towards St Petersburg. Both the current and previous Presidents (I’ll pretend it matters that there’s a new one) are from St Petersburg and Medvedev at least is an avid Zenit fan. They are now owned by Gazprom, which is expected to become the biggest company in the world in the next few years, and has its headquarters in the city. As Gazprom searches for legitimacy in Europe, financing pipelines here and ice hockey tournaments there, Zenit are expected to become a power in the world game by virtue of sheer financial clout.

They are supported by Russia’s president, by the most important Russian company, and by a small section of ultra nationalist and racist fans. This combination of monopoly capitalism, massive wealth and populist xenophobia is a microcosm of much of Russian politics and society, which is crucially important to Finland and for locating Finland in the context of Europe. Is Zenit’s success a sign of Russia’s westernising impulse? Is the bigotry in the stands an indication of the popularity of a virulent nationalism that Finland should take note of? Is Gazprom’s rise a benign case of a company searching for recognition through sponsorship of sport, or is it a more sinister indication of control in Russia passing from private to semi-state hands?

None of those questions will be answered or even discussed on Finnish free-to-air television tonight, because as someone so appropriately put it, ‘it’s HOCKEY TIME!’ right now. YLE don’t have the rights to the Zenit v Rangers UEFA Cup final, so they’re not showing the game. Anywhere. At all.

With each passing day I feel less and less like paying these people for the privilege of owning a television set, and this may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back.

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7 Responses

  1. I got a very nice picture of Zenit’s beautifully located stadium beside the Neva river.

    I looked for a Zenit t-shirt as a souvenir of my last trip. Didn’t get it, though.

    Somehow, now I know about their racism and I feel happy I didn’t buy the t-shirt.

    As a black human being, it is unexceptable that they still have a strong and official racist attitude.

    I wish UEFA had banned them from the competition. Imagine having them bragging about their white supremacy.

    Hopefully, Rangers will do the job and not let them win.

  2. I think Advocaat is a little bit weak there. Saying so out loud is pretty much confirming and accepting this attitude, and he shouldn’t have done that.

  3. Yeah, and the way he puts it he sounds like a miserable man who can’t do anything about it since the strong and imposing crowd demands a very stupid and unacceptable behaviour.

    If he is there, he agrees with it.
    If the directors follow the fans rules, they agree with it.
    If they don’t do anything to change it, they agree with it.

    If they agree with it, why arent they punished as many other teams around europe have been?

    And I hope they lose the Russian league to CSKA with Wagner Love scoring and doing the samba on their smashed pride.

  4. Its a shame you can’t see the final on Finnish Tv. I’m moving to Pori in 5 weeks and am going to miss my football bad.

    Wait and see.. Advocaat is not a silly man.. i think you will find a black player at Zenit next season. If you read between the lines, he has stated, that Zenit can not improve as a team WITHOUT “dark skinned players” but won’t sign one unless the fans say so.. This means that the fans will be held responsible for the non progression of the side.

    I’m a Rangers man. A club with its own bigoted past (although, still an element survive). Rangers are a protestant supported club, our city rivals are Celtic, a catholic supported club.

    While it wasn’t against the club rules to sign a catholic player, it wasn’t encouraged either. However in July 1989, i was standing in the lounge when the news came on and the headline was that Mo Johnston had signed for Rangers. Mo was a Celtic hero, who had held a press conference the week before saying he had signed for Celtic (the only club i want to play for-he said). Season tickets were ripped up, fans vowed never to set foot in Ibrox again, such was the bigotry at that time.

    However, now its not a big deal. The real fans, fans of football for the right reasons, welcome any player as long as its good for the team and they devote themselves to the team.

    Mark my words.. There will be “dark skinned player/s” at Zenit in the not to distant future if Dick has his say. If he is not allowed to sign anyone he wants, then he will walk and i don’t think the fans will want him to leave.
    The Little General is not a daft man.. he is using the media to apply pressure to get a player..

    Mon the Gers..

  5. Paul: the spam filter got this comment, sorry about that. I only just noticed it.

    I hope you’re right about Zenit and Advocaat, they could do with some good press. I think they are viewed as a symbol of Russia, so for them to welcome black players would be a very big thing. We’ll see what happens.

    Why are you moving to Pori, btw? It’s a bit of a hole. Albeit, a hole with a nice beach and a jazz festival. They also have Musan Salama, probably my favourite club in kolmonen. It’s not a complete football desert.

  6. What type of football do you yourself play?

    Can I ask though – how did you get this picked up and into google news?

    Very impressive that this blog is syndicated through Google and is it something that is just up to Google or you actively created?

    Obviously this is a popular blog with great data so well done on your seo success..

    Soccer / Football greats you should write about next!

  7. Er, thanks, I think. Might I ask what you were searching for when you happened across the blog?

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